Greatest Islands within the Philippines? What to see and do in Batanes

A group of islands in the northernmost region of the Philippines is so far away that it is actually closer to Taiwan than most parts of the Philippines.

The islands are 100 miles north of Luzon, the largest and most populous island in the country and home to the capital, Manila. However, you couldn’t be further from the stereotypical tropical scene of swaying palm trees and white sand beaches associated with the Philippine archipelago.

Imagine windswept emerald hills dotted with cattle, quaint stone towns with flower-lined paths, rugged cliffs plunging into a deep sea of ​​crashing white-tipped waves, and lighthouses steadfast and strong, much like that Locals themselves.

This is Batanes – a fascinating and magical place that feels more like the historical drama “Outlander” than “The Beach”.

Pastoral landscapes, peaceful people

Batanes is made up of three main islands – Batan, Sabtang, and Itbayat – that lie between the North Pacific and the South China Seas. Often times, Batanes is hit by implacable typhoons that form on both waters.

It is also located on the Circum-Pacific Belt, better known as the Ring of Fire, and is prone to the frequent earthquakes that damaged Itbayat Island in July 2019.

The pastoral landscape of Naidi Hills near the Basco Lighthouse.

Scott A. Woodward

Here the land is forged by the elements and, in many ways, by the people too.

There is a mysterious atmosphere that shrouds the indigenous people of Batanes, the Ivatans. Due to their isolation, challenging climate and difficult landscape, the locals have built a society that values ​​trust and real connection.

In contrast to the exuberant and charmingly chaotic landscapes of the Philippines, which feel more like karaoke than an idyllic paradise, Batanes and its residents are calm, thoughtful, orderly and peaceful. The Ivatans are warm and sincere and strive to be honest with visitors who want to learn more about their culture.

A fisherman in the village of Diura.

Scott A. Woodward

The Ivatans live in symbiosis with nature and maintain their natural heritage with an almost spiritual passion. They recognize the country as a source of their wellbeing and wellbeing and are committed to sustainability.

The best example would be the lack of markets in the province; Agricultural practices aim to produce just enough food for the population, with very little excess.

Here Christian faith and spirituality permeate everyday life. The word “Dius” or God is used in many expressions: “Dius mamajes!” – or God will repay you, is their way of saying thank you; “Dius machivan!” – May God go with you, is their parting; or just “Dius?” asking if anyone is home. There the visitors often hear “Dius mavidin!” or may God be with you, they greet guests.

Where to sleep

Unlike most of the Philippines, Batanes is sparsely populated.

The 2015 census counted only 17,246 people, which is roughly 205 people per mile.

Strict measures are being taken to prevent overtourism, such as limiting the number of flights to the islands. The area is also subject to the Batanes Responsible Tourism Act, according to which the Philippine government declared the province a “Responsible, Community-Based Cultural Heritage and Ecotourism Zone” in 2016.

As a result, travelers can expect to find host families and small inns rather than branded hotels.

The Bed & Breakfast Fundacion Pacita.

Scott A. Woodward

One facility really stands out.

Fundacion Pacita, the former residence of the late artist Pacita Abad, is a charming bed and breakfast on a lush grass slope overlooking the sea.

Built in traditional stone fashion paired with whitewashed adobe walls, it’s quirky decorated with brightly colored tiles, repurposed furniture, and Abad’s vibrant artwork.

Food from the Cafe du Tukon; Patsy, the niece of the late artist Pacita Abad.

Scott A. Woodward

Her niece Patsy, who often walks through the premises with a happy smile and a glass of wine, now runs the inn. She recently opened the fabulous Café du Tukon, which serves delicious contemporary interpretations of local delicacies like carbonara pasta with salted dolphin fish called arayu instead of bacon or guanciale.

What should I do

Batan is the main island of Batanes. Due to the choppy water and unpredictable weather, it can be difficult to cross the Batanes Islands. Fortunately, Batan has a lot to offer and is easy to get to via commercial flights.

It is imperative to work with an accredited travel agency such as IBS Tours and Travels before organizing any trip. The agency can coordinate a car and guide to navigate the stunning coastal road that circles the island.

The Tayid Lighthouse on Batan Island.

Scott A. Woodward

Agencies can also arrange stops at notable locations like the famous Basco Lighthouse and Tayid Lighthouse, the sloping hills of Rakuh a Payaman, and the colorful waters of the Homoron Blue Lagoon.

It’s also worth stopping at small, peaceful towns like Mahatao and Ivana, known for their churches and Spanish bridges, as well as Diura, home of the Mataw caste of mystical fishermen.

A woman in Chavayan wears a hand-sewn palm frond vakul.

Scott A. Woodward

If the weather is nice, Sabtang Island can be reached by a 40-minute ferry ride. The breathtaking views from the cliffs of Chamantad Tiñan are well worth it, as is the stone village of Chavayan, where vakul are made. These are traditional headgear made from stripped palm fronds that protect field workers from the elements.

Arrival to Batanes

The only real way to get there is by flying. Flights can take anywhere from 80 to 100 minutes and can be booked with Skyjet, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines before the pandemic.

Homoron Blue Lagoon.

Scott A. Woodward

A trip to Batanes must be planned in advance and booked through accredited tour operators. The local government is very focused on sustainable tourism and the preservation of the province’s natural and cultural heritage. There are a number of rules and guidelines – such as no bikinis on the beach – that tourists must understand and adhere to while traveling.

When should i go

While the Philippines is currently closed to international tourism, officials last month expressed an interest in establishing “international travel bubbles” or travel corridors with strict health protocols with neighboring countries.

Basco lighthouse.

Scott A. Woodward

Batanes, which registered its third Covid-19 case in December 2020, is currently even closed to local tourists. Local authorities are looking for ways to safely reopen with 14-day quarantines and meet other health requirements.

Batanes’ “good season” runs from November to May. June to October is typhoon time and should be avoided. Travelers are advised to bring a light rain jacket for spontaneous downpours and a light sweater for cool nights on the cool mountain tops.

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