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.
Years later, I would learn that, yes, Batanes is really everything that people had said it was: so beautiful and so serene you’re tempted to keep all pictures to yourself, hoping against hope that by keeping its beauty to yourself, it wouldn’t be overrun by tourists and would stay beautiful forever.
I had wanted to go to Batanes a long time ago, but the prohibitive cost of going there left me just dreaming for a while. This smallest province of the Philippines is so far up north that it’s closer to Taiwan than to the mainland. When it’s rainy season, travelers have been known to be stranded there for days (even weeks!), because only small airlines go that route.
Airfare would cost anywhere from P10,000 to P19,000 for a return ticket, every meal costs around P300, and tour guides charge you an arm and a leg for tour packages.
Fortunately, it turned out that you can do something about all these (and no, it’s not true that you can’t use your mobile phone in Batanes). Indeed, you can go there as a budget traveler, even when you go solo!
Here are my tips on traveling cheaply in Batanes.
Wait for Airline Seat Sales
A regularly-priced return ticket to Basco can indeed be expensive. However, you can wait for seat sales; PAL Express runs one regularly.
My return tickets for example, cost only P2,700, a far cry from the P12,000 that others in my tour group had paid! Aside from PAL Express, two other airlines serve the Batanes route: Skyjet and Sky Pasada, although the latter only goes to Tuguegarao, not Manila.
Join a Tour Group
I’m primarily a DIY solo traveler. I would prefer to go on my own pace at my own time. However, public transportation is not so convenient in Batanes. To go around the two main islands–Batan and Sabtang–you have to have a vehicle and hire a guide, which can be pretty expensive.
I did what every sensible solo traveler would do; I joined a tour group.
I contacted Ryan Cardona of the Batanes Cultural Travel Agency (you can find his number on his website, Discover Batanes) and he agreed to accommodate me. My payment for a three-day tour included lunch, transportation, the guide’s fee, and the driver’s fee. I’ll write a comprehensive post about each tour later, but in brief, our itinerary went like this:
Day 1–North Batan Tour
Day 2–South Batan Tour
Day 3–Sabtang Island
If I had more time, I would have gone to Itbayat Island, the third major island in the province which is well known for its adventure activities like hiking, caving, and jumping off the boat into the pier!
Take a look at the following video; it’s what they consider good weather in Itbayat and it’s the usual way that passengers get off the boat in Chinapoliran Port.
Stay in a Lodge, Not a Resort
One couple I was with during the tour was quite well-off. They stayed at Fundacion Pacita, the most expensive resort in Batanes. Rates start at P5,500 per day, inclusive of breakfast.
Unfortunately, I’m not as well-heeled, so I stayed in a lodging house called Marfel’s Lodge. I paid P350 per day for a fan room. The best thing about it was that there were only two other guests, and we had the whole two-storey house to ourselves. We could use the kitchen, there was a dining room, a living room, and, best of all, there was a fast Wifi connection which the other resort didn’t have!
Read my review of the lodging house as well as see pictures of it here: Where to Stay in Batanes–Marfel’s Lodge.
Cook Your Own Meals
Food can be expensive in Batanes. If you eat out every meal that’s not covered by your tour package, it can easily set you back P300 or so for each meal.
I was lucky to stay at Marfel’s Lodge because I got to use the kitchen. I usually cooked breakfast (fried egg or just cereal) and dinner (I had pasta once).
If you can’t be accommodated there anymore, find other homestays. It will really save you a lot of money to be able to cook your food instead of buying it outside in restos. (Find hotels/guesthouses in Basco, Batanes here)
Find Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in Batanes
Once you have taken the 3-day tour (and if you don’t want to go to Itbayat Island), the question becomes: what else can you do in Batanes?
You can hire the guide to take you snorkeling for an additional P1,500, or accompany you biking around the island, for another P1,500.
Or you can also do what I did; I went to the beach in Basco with a local family (the owner of Marfel’s Lodge) and swam for around an hour. Total cost: zero.
The next day, I rented a bicycle from her and went biking around town with the other guests in the lodging house. Total cost for 2 hours of biking: P50.
Curious as to how much I spent for 6 days and 5 nights in Batanes, including airfare? My total expenses was P7,800, and that included the really good massage (hilot) I had.
I would definitely go back to Batanes. I just wish that next time I would do so, I would still find it as beautiful and as pristine as I had found it to be when I was there the last time.
Dios mamajes, Batanes!
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Read my new post: Why You Should Go and Visit Batanes Now [21 Photos]