Sabtang Island is one of three inhabited islands of Batanes, the northernmost province in the Philippines. With its well-preserved culture, beautiful natural landscapes, and friendly people, this remote island is such a refreshing escape. It’s one of the most laid-back and peaceful places I’ve been to in the country. Most people who travel to Batanes visit Sabtang Island on a day trip just to see the main tourist spots. During my last trip here, I got to spend three days on the island, while covering a local festival. If you want to experience how it is to live off-the-grid, I recommend you stay here a few days.
WHERE EXACTLY IS SABTANG ISLAND:
Batanes is an archipelago province in the Philippines situated in the Cagayan Valley region. It is the northernmost province in the country, and also the smallest in population and land area. Sabtang is one of the three inhabited islands of Batanes, the others are Batan and Itbayat.
HOW TO GET THERE:
The only way to get to Sabtang Island is by boat from Ivana Port, roughly 30-45 minutes away from Basco, the capital located in the island of Batan. Fare costs roughly P100 per person. Travel time on the boat is about 30 minutes depending on the wave conditions. Boats usually leave in the morning, with last trips going back to Batan at around 3:00 pm though sometimes boats can leave as late as 5:00 pm. It’s possible to get stranded on the island if waves are too rough.
The boat used is a faluwa, a traditional boat without any outriggers that is made for strong waves. Boatmen steer the boat with their feet while keeping an eye on the waves from above the deck. The boat can also carry cargo like mountain bikes and motorcycles for a cargo fee.
Batan is reachable by 3 commercial aircrafts from Manila and Tuguegarao. Aside from Philippine Air Lines and SkyJet, Wakay Air, an Ivatan-run airline launched chartered flights to Basco starting late March 2016 in partnership with AirSWIFT.
For big groups, it’s best to rent a jeep or van to visit all the sights in Sabtang Island. For smaller groups (up to 4 pax), you can hire their “Tricy-cool,” open-air tricycles with nipa hut cottage roofs, which are stationed right outside the port.
If you know how to bike or drive a motorcycle, Sabtang is a great place to explore on two wheels. There are no shops renting out mountain bikes or motorcycles yet with fixed rates, but you can talk to locals about borrowing these for a fee. I was able to borrow a mountain bike from the police station there to go around. Try to get a mountain bike instead of a vintage bicycle because the roads are quite steep in Sabtang.
READ MORE: Biking in Sabtang Island, Batanes
There are more options for bike rentals in Basco, so you can also borrow or rent from there and bring it on the boat when you go to Sabtang. Locals who come to Sabtang also bring their own motorcycles on board the boat.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO DO IN SABTANG:
Savidug Village: A traditional village which showcases the Ivatan stone houses built to withstand typhoons.
St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel: A quaint chapel in Savidug Village. Next to it is an old priest’s house that is no longer used. The houses’s wide windows are commonly used for photo ops by tourists.
Chamantad Cove and Tinyan Viewpoint: One of the highest points in Sabtang Island, this beautiful scenic spot has rolling hills and a small trail leading to a dramatic seascape. One of the most iconic spots in Sabtang Island. There are now native huts near the road going to the lookout point, where you can enjoy refreshments like kamote cue, bocayo, and tuba.
Chavayan: A small village located in the Southern end of the island nestled in the mountains. The village is known for its well-preserved stone houses and for being the home of the Sabtang Weavers Association. These women weave the vakul, a traditional headdress made of dried palm leaves that Ivatans use to protect themselves from the sun, wind and rain in the fields.
Sta. Rosa de Lima Chapel: A small chapel in the village of Chavayan. Like the other stone houses, the chapel has a cogon grass roof.
San Vicente Ferrer Church: A century-old church dedicated to San Vicente Ferrer originally built by the Dominicans in 1785 and restored with stones and lime in 1884. The church has been named a national historical landmark.
Sabtang Lighthouse: One of the four lighthouses in Batanes and the only one in Sabtang Island. The lighthouse offers a beautiful view from the top.
Makabuang Arch: A natural arc formation that can be found on Morong Beach. This is one of Sabtang Island’s famous landmarks.
Sumnanga Fishing Village: Located in the southwestern side of the island, Sumnanga is a sleepy fishing village. Locals have dubbed it Little Hong Kong named after real Hong Kong, which used to be a fishing village.
Vuhus Island: An uninhabited island accessible by a 15-20 minute boat ride from Sabtang. This island is also called Cow Island because residents keep their cattle here. There’s a marine sanctuary near the island.
WHERE TO STAY:
As of April 2016, there are seven accredited homestays in Sabtang Island. If you’re not part of a package tour, you can head to the barangay center, so you can get assigned to a homestay. Some are traditional stone houses, while others are more modern structures. Most of the homestays are located near the port area, but you can also opt to stay in the more remote villages like Chavayan.
Some of our companions were booked in Candel Homestay, a stone house just across the police station on the main highway. The homestay had several rooms, a large bathroom and airy sala with large windows, where we ended up drinking almost every night we were there.
The rest of us stayed in Neyala Homestay, which can accommodate 10 pax total. They have 3 rooms, with 2 rooms good for four pax and one room good for 2. The rooms good for four have one double deck bed and one single bed each, a closet, and an electric fan. There’s a common CR and outdoor porch area on the 2nd floor. The homestay is walking distance from the port. Our host family was very accommodating. They provided towels, soap, and pamaypays (which I found out are necessary at night because electricity is cut off on the island at midnight). They also offered to let us sleep in the porch where it was cooler and invited us to eat dinner for free since they prepared a lot of food for the fiesta. Rooms cost P300/person per night. For inquiries, contact Teresita: 0920-6200754, Rita: 0919-8885141 or JB: 0949-9922551
WHAT / WHERE TO EAT:
There are only two restaurants in Sabtang Island where most tourists eat. We took most of our meals at Pananayan Canteen & Catering Services in Malakdang, near the port of Sabtang. The eatery, owned by Mr. Pinding and Mrs. Fafa serves simple family-style meals and original Ivatan dishes depending on what ingredients are available daily. For reservations, contact them at: Smart: 0929-6676715, 0908-5022900. Globe: 0917-4467934.
The same owners also cater at the restaurant at Morong Beach, where most visitors have lunch during day trip tours. During our stay, we got to try a lot of Ivatan specialties. Must-eats include turmeric rice, uvud (meatballs made with banana pith), dibang or flying fish and lunis (Ivatan adobo). Though some local still consume it, officials are discouraging tourists from eating coconut crab since they’re endangered and have become overharvested. Alternatively, you can have other seafood like crabs and lobsters.
WHAT TO BUY:
Sabtang Island now has their own version of the famous Honesty Coffee Shop in Batan Island called Conscience Cafe. Located right next to the church near the port, Conscience Cafe is a self-service shop where you can buy a range of souvenirs like t-shirts, magnets and bags. You can also buy light snacks, 3-in-1 coffee and refreshments here.
The vakul is the most sought-after souvenir item from Batanes. This traditional headdress is an icon of the province and can cost from P200 to P650 depending on the size. There are only a handful of old women weavers in Batanes left, and purchasing the vakul gives them an additional source of income. Miniature versions of the vakul, hats and native baskets which can be used as backpacks are also sold.
The best place to buy the vakul is from the Sabtang Weavers Association in Chavayan. They also sell unique woven abaca sandals which locals have dubbed “Chavayanas.”
There are also a range of souvenir shirts and bags, mugs, keychains and magnets. For food products, you can buy dried flying fish and dorado, turmeric powder, bottled flying fish & vegetables like onions and garlic. You can buy these from Conscience Cafe, the canteen and various stores around Sabtang.
In 2016, Sabtang Island launched the 1st Vakul-Kanayi Festival which coincides with the feast day of St. Vincent de Ferrer, their patron saint. This festival, celebrated from April 25 to 27, highlights the traditional garments which are symbols of the Ivatan people’s creativity and resilience.
TRAVEL TIPS AND USEFUL INFO:
- It’s possible to visit Sabtang on a day tour only, but to maximize your stay and visit most of the towns, I recommend you stay at least one night.
- Bring enough cash and small bills because there’s no ATM in Sabtang. There are ATMs in Basco.
- If you’re leaving the same day, catch the boat that leaves at after lunch because waves can get rough towards the evening.
- As of April 2016, there is no WiFi anywhere on the island. Cell signal is sporadic, but I could still send and receive text messages.
- Data was very weak. Some of my companions were able to check mail and upload on Facebook and Instagram, but most of us didn’t have any luck using various networks.
- The best chance of getting a data signal (Edge or 2G) is near the church.
- Electricity on the island is cut off at midnight. Be sure to charge gadgets before this time.
- It can get pretty hot during summer. If you are staying overnight, you might want to opt to stay in a homestay with an outdoor area where there’s a breeze.