The first time I saw pictures of Batanes, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Did such a place really exist? Weren’t the pictures edited?
It couldn’t be possible that such verdant, rolling hills really existed, or that people really were so honest that mini-stores remained untended. But Batanes really was like that, and I found out, years later, that it still is.
I had been dreaming of going to Batanes for so long, but the prohibitive cost of the flights prevented me from doing so. It was only when I had gotten hold of return tickets for only P2,700—dirt cheap compared to the regular P9,000-P17,000 of other airlines—that I was finally able to go. It was then I learned that, yes, it is possible to travel cheaply in Batanes!
Batanes is the smallest province in the Philippines. It is composed of 10 islands and islets (some locals say it’s actually 11 islands), only three of which are inhabited: Batan (where Basco the capital is located), Sabtang, and Itbayat. Locals bring their cow to pasture in some of the islands; others, especially those which are mountainous, remain empty even of cattle.
It was early morning when I arrived in Basco and met up with Ate Fe of Marfel’s Guesthouse, having contacted her only 30 minutes before my flight’s departure. She connected me with Ryan Cardona, a guide with the Batanes Cultural Travel Agency who had a tour scheduled that day. After a heavy lunch of fresh seafood and fern salad, off we went to begin our tour of Northern Batan Island.
Vayang Ranch (or the Rolling Hills)
First off in our itinerary was the Rolling Hills of Vayang Ranch. The view was quintessential Batanes—undulating hills upon hills of green as far as our eyes could see, amid the clear blue of the summer sky and the calm waters of the ocean.
There were no other tourists; there were no other people, actually. We just saw cattle grazing, standing on the almost-non-existent paths on the side of the hills. We wondered why they didn’t topple over and roll down. For the ultra adventurous, it would be a perfect place to ride a Zorb ball!
From where we were, we could also clearly see Mt. Iraya in the distance, the clear weather giving us a good look of its peak. According to the guide, it is actually a dormant volcano and is a good destination for trekkers and mountain climbers. If I had more time in Batanes (this phrase is really starting to get old!), I would have gone hiking there.
Our guide also said that we were lucky to have chosen to visit Batanes when we did. During the peak months (around April-May), we wouldn’t have been able to take pictures at our leisure because there would be too many people waiting for their turn. For myself, I was just glad the weather was perfect!
The Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel
Our next stop was the Japanese Tunnel. The Japanese arrived in the province during the second world war, in 1941. They destroyed the airport and the communications tower in Basco and hid from the Ivatan resistance and the Americans in this tunnel.
It reminded me somewhat of Cu Chi Tunnel in Vietnam, but it’s much bigger. We looked at a few chambers, including “rooms” for injured soldiers, but eventually went back to the road after a few minutes.
It’s pretty dark there, though, and if it rains, it can get quite muddy. If you’re claustrophobic or hate getting mud on your shoes, you can miss out going inside.
We didn’t explore the tunnel much. The guide said there was a path going down, but that meant crawling in some places. As our group wasn’t ready for that, we opted to go to the next destination instead, excited as we were to see more of the open spaces in Batanes.
Valugan Boulder Beach
Another must-see in North Batan is Valugan Bay. The kilometer-long beach is full of boulders of different sizes, spewed from the eruption of Mt. Iraya in AD 400 (yep, that long ago!). You will notice that on the far right side of the beach, the rocks have become smaller; according to the guide, those were brought there over time by the waves.
If you have more time on your tour, or if you were on a DIY trip with your own vehicle, you can go there and swim, or even go there early enough to wait for the sunrise. Valugan means “towards the east,” so you’ll be in the perfect spot!
(By the way, I brought the traveling stone to Batanes. It had been to Canada, Scotland, Australia, and I also brought it with me to India. I’ll write more about this lucky stone in another post.)
Sunset Viewing at Naidi Hills
We went to a few more spots in north Batan; we went inside the Mt. Carmel Chapel, a beautiful stone church with roof made of red bricks. The colorful murals inside make it deserving of a separate blog post altogether!
We also went to the Philippines’ northernmost PAGASA station in Tukon, which has a really wonderful view of Mt. Iraya and the rolling hills of Batanes. It has a good view as well of the home of artist Pacita Abad, which is now the most expensive hotel in Batanes.
We ended the day going to Naidi Hills to watch the sunset.
Naidi is an old Ivatan settlement. A wireless telegraph facility there was destroyed by the Japanese during the war, leaving it an empty hulk of a building. The first lighthouse of Batanes was built here, and if you’re with a special someone, you can order dinner at the Bunker Cafe just in time to watch the sunset.
The North Batan tour takes only 5 hours, or less, if there are no other tourists which can keep you waiting for your turn to take pictures. It overloaded my senses a bit, which was not surprising since everywhere you look in Batanes, you see beauty.
Still, I couldn’t wait for the next day when we would go around the southern part of Batan Island! Keep tuned. 🙂
Look for a guesthouse / homestay / hotel in Batanes here.