It’s been a year since my trip to Batanes, but I still can’t forget the wonder I had felt at seeing the islands for the first time. Everything was so green, so fresh.
This northernmost province in the Philippines is considered the country’s last frontier–with distance from the mainland and bad weather keeping most local and foreign tourists away.
When I went to Batanes on the first week of June 2013, however, everything was perfect. The sky was amazingly clear, I found an inexpensive (and highly-recommended) accommodation in Basco, and the tour guide, Ryan Cardona, was very accommodating. We went to North Batan on day 1, to Sabtang the next day to take advantage of the good weather, while day 3 was devoted to exploring South Batan.
A reader once asked me: is it worth it to go to Sabtang, given the cost? Of course, I said yes. The tour costs only P1,000 per person (it may depend on the number of people in the group, it can be higher), and given everything one will see there, it’s definitely worth it!
Here are the things you’ll love about Sabtang.
1. The Faluwa Ride
Okay, if you’re prone to get seasick, you may not like it much. But the faluwa is unique to Batanes, and you’d enjoy the half-hour trip from Ivana port to Sabtang. It’s the primary mode of transportation between the islands (there are 10 islands, but only three are inhabited), built small and rigger-less to withstand the huge waves.
Don’t worry if you see people loading the boat with sackfuls of sand, bicycles, and various animals. The boat can handle it! Don’t ask me how our ride went though, since I fell asleep a few minutes after the boat left the port.
2. The Beautiful Traditional Stone Houses
The Ivatan stone houses are quintessentially Batanes: traditional and unassuming, but beautifully made and sturdy. Locals built their houses with stone to withstand the typhoons that often beset this province. There are stone houses in the villages we went to (Savidug and Chavayan), and even though they looked old (some were modernized already), they’re still very much in use.
If you get a chance to stay overnight in Sabtang, do so in Chavayan. That would be a very cool experience, sleeping inside one of these stone houses.
3. The Ivatans
Visiting Batanes has become more affordable now, with a local airline holding seat sales often. (Read my post: How to Travel Cheaply in Batanes) I often wondered how the locals felt every time plane- and boatloads of tourists descend on their community, taking pictures of their houses and their people.
Everyone I’ve met there were nothing but nice. They smiled, waved, talked to us. They seemed really sincere in welcoming us to their community. Our tour group was small though–there were just five of us plus Ryan, the guide. During the peak season, when there are a LOT of people, I imagine it can get tiring for a while.
4. The Beach, Cave, and Natural Rock Formation in Morong Beach
Those who love the sea would like Morong Beach, if not to swim in then just for resting. It’s a long stretch of white sand with a “cave” set in a rocky cliff at one end of it. When it’s low tide, there would be several small pools of water worth looking at for sea creatures trapped there.
The beach is very nice, but probably not for swimming if you get there during low-tide (as we did). The sea floor is rocky and if you’re barefoot, it can be painful!
The oft-photographed Mayahaw Arch is also located in the area, a perfect spot for a photo op.
5. The Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint
Rolling green hills, a gorgeous view of the sea, and some locals selling coconuts and tea leaves–we found all these in Chamantad-Tinyan. It’s my favorite spot on Sabtang. One of the locals would have the vakul headgear for rent (P10) if you want to wear it for a photo shoot. Try it and see why they wear it on the island.
Go down and then up the trail as well, to get a closer view of the sea. You might want to go down and swim, but you probably won’t have enough time to do so. Just stay for a while and relax. You won’t see this view anywhere else.
If there’s a place on Sabtang I want to go back to again, it would be here. I bought 3 bags of tea leaves and I wish I’d bought more. The lola (grandma) selling it waxed lyrical about its benefits, but I didn’t care. I just liked the taste and the fact that it’s not expensive. I wish it were available in Manila!
6. Chavayan Village
Anywhere you go in Batanes is scenic, but it’s more so on the way to Chavayan Village, especially during low tide. You’ll clearly see the rocks by the beach, and the colors of the sea are awesome!
Chavayan is full of traditional stone houses, and walking along its small streets somehow gives you the feeling of disbelief, that something this beautiful and serene still exists. Virtually anywhere you look is a perfect spot to take pictures.
It’s also here where the Sabtang Weavers Association is located, an organization of local women who weave the vakul, the Ivatans’ traditional headgear which protect them from the elements.
If you have extra cash, support the community and buy one to take home. A medium-sized one costs P330.
7. The Food
We had lobster for lunch. Yep, lobster here is as common as, say, chicken in the mainland. It was so unbelievably delicious! To say we had our fill would be an understatement, indeed.
I stayed for six days in Batanes (spending less than P8,000 including the airfare), six days of utter serenity in a place so beautiful it’s almost unbelievable. I will definitely go back!
Look for a guesthouse / homestay / hotel in Batanes here.