Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Wonders of Batanes

Batanes is an island province in the region of Cagayan Valley, Philippines. It is the northernmost and isolated province of the Philippines and is also the smallest province, both in terms of population and land area. The provincial capital is Basco on Batan Island. The island group is located about 162 kilometers north of Luzon and about 190 kilometers south of Taiwan, separated from the Babuyan Islands of Cagayan Province, Luzon, by the Balintang Channel and from Taiwan by the Bashi Channel. Batanes is a memorable place with other worldly scenery, where doors are rarely locked and welcomes are warm even by Filipino standards. The people are different, the language is different, even the weather is different. The coolest months are from December-February. Batanes has a population of 16,604 (2010 Census).
Ivatan Woman
The native inhabitants of Batanes, the Ivatans, trace their roots to prehistoric Formosan immigrants and latter-day Spanish conquistadores. The ancestors of today's Ivatans are descended from Austronesians who migrated to the islands 4000 years ago during the Neolithic period. Most still make a living from the cultivation of yams and garlic or the raising of goats and cows. If you visit a village during the daytime, be prepared to find that almost everyone is out in the field. Some women still wear rain capes called vakul, made from the stripped leaves of the voyavoy rice.


In 1783, the Spanish claimed Batanes as part of the Philippines under the auspices of Governor-General José Basco y Vargas. The Bashi Channel had come to be increasingly used by English East India Company ships and the Spanish authorities brought the islands under their direct administration to prevent them falling under British control. However, the Ivatan remained on their idjangs, or mountain fortresses.

Toward the end of the Spanish regime, Batanes was made a part of Cagayan. In 1909, however, the American authorities organized it into an independent province. Because of its strategic location, the “islands” was one of the first points occupied by the invading Japanese imperial forces at the outbreak of the Pacific War. During the American colonial period, public schools suddenly boomed, and more Ivatan became more aware of their place in the Philippines. One of the first School Superintendents was Victor de Padua, an Ilocano, who in 1942-45 during the Japanese occupation was made Provincial Governor.

Steep road in Batanes

The province comprises ten islands that are located in the Luzon Strait between the Babuyan Islands (belonging to Cagayan Province) and Taiwan. The islands are sparsely populated and subject to frequent typhoons. The three largest islands, Batan, Itbayat, and Sabtang, are the only inhabited islands. The northernmost island of the province, also the northernmost island in the Philippines, is Mavudis Island, also known as Y'ami Island. Other islands in the chain are Misanga, Siayan, Ivuhos, and Dequey. The islands are part of the Luzon Volcanic Arc.

Because of the terrain of the province, drainage is good and prolonged flooding is non-existent. The main island of Batan has the largest share of level and nearly level lands, followed by Itbayat and Sabtang, respectively. Itbayat has gently rolling hills and nearly level areas on semi-plateaus surrounded by continuous massive cliffs rising from 20–70 meters above sea level, with no shorelines. Sabtang on the other hand, has its small flat areas spread sporadically on its coasts, while its interior is dominated by steep mountains and deep canyons. The terrain of the province while picturesque at almost every turn, has limited the potential for expansion of agriculture in an already very small province.
Lighthouse in Batanes
Batanes is subdivided into 6 municipalities. Batanes has only one congressional district. The municipalities are: Basco, Itbayat, Ivana, Mahatao, Sabtang and Uyugan.

Batan Island
Batan Island
The island of Batan is the biggest in the group and site of the tiny capital, Basco. It is the most populated island of the province. It is composed of four municipalities namely Basco, Ivana, Uyugan and Mahatao. Basco is the center of commerce and seat of the provincial government. The town boasts a spectacular location right on the lower slopes of Mount Iraya, a volcano that hasn’t erupted since the 15th century but is still officially active. You can walk around the town in half an hour, and there are no specific attractions, but it’s a pleasant and friendly place to spend time. Batan Island, with a land area of 35 square kilometers, is generally mountainous on the north and southeast. It has a basin in the interior.
There is a tiny airport within walking distance of Basco; a tricycle will take you for just a few pesos. The town is built around a rectangular plaza with the municipal buildings and church on the north side and the sea to the south. Opposite the church is a small police station. If you are in a group the easiest way to get a quick overall picture of the beauty of Batan is to hire a jeepney through your accommodation. It’s also possible to travel in public jeepneys which connect towns along the coastal road, but you’ll have to be prepared to wait and probably to do some walking. Alternatively hire a motorcycle – the roads are very quiet, the only real issue is the blind bends so take it easy.
Mahatao Lighthouse

Sabtang Island
Nakabuang Beach, Sabtang Island

Sabtang is unspoiled and peaceful island dotted with Ivatan stone villages where life seems to have altered little in a hundred years. The island has lots of natural attractions guaranteed to satisfy the most sophisticated nature lovers. It has intermittent white sand beaches with steep mountains and deep canyons with small level areas sporadically found along the coastline. Mountains cover the central part of its 41 square kilometres area, making the island slope outward to the coast.
Ivatan stone villages
Ferries arrive in the port on the island’s northeast coast, in an area known as Centro where there’s a Spanish Church, a school and few houses. Sabtang lies southwest of Batan, a one-hour journey by ferry from the pier at Ivana. Avoid the crossing in rough weather, as the channel is known for its strong current and big waves.

Itbayat Island
South West of Itbayat

Itbayat is located north of Batan Island. Itbayat is shaped like a giant bowl. The island is surrounded by massive boulders and cliffs rising from 20–70 feet above sea level and has no shoreline. Of the three inhabited islands, Itbayat is the least accessible. The island has a total area of 95 square kilometers, slopes gradually to the west, being mountainous and hilly along its northern, eastern coast. There’s no public transport on the island so you’ll have to get around either on foot or by asking one of the residents who owns a motorbike to give you a lift. It’s crisscrossed by trails made by farmers and fishermen, making for superb trekking in good weather.
Chinapoliran Port in Itbayat

A daily ferry to Itbayat leaves Basco between 5-7 AM, a two and a half hour travel, and returns the same day. You won’t have enough time to see much without staying the night. Be warned that it can be a very rough crossing, and the ferries can be cancelled for several days in a row if sea conditions are particularly poor. The ferry lands at the west coast harbor of Chinapoliran, from where you can walk or hitch a lift to Mayan. There are great views of the island. It has a dirt airstrip for light aircraft. A light plane flies from Basco Airport to Itbayat and leaves only when the plane is full.


The main languages spoken in Batanes are Ivatan, which is spoken on the islands of Batan and Sabtang, and Itbayaten, which is spoken primarily on the island of Itbayat. The Ivatan which is dominant in the province is considered to be one of the Austronesian languages. From college level down to elementary level, the language is widely spoken. About 75% of the Ivatans are farmers and fishermen. The rest are employed in the government and services sector. Garlic and cattle are major cash crops. Ivatans also plant camote (sweet potato), cassava, gabi or tuber and a unique variety of white uvi. Sugarcane is raised to produce palek, a kind of native wine, and vinegar. Distance and bad weather work against its economic growth. Certain commodities like rice, soft drinks, and gasoline carry a 75% to 100% mark-up over Manila retail prices.

Accommodations in or around Basco:
  • Batanes Resort. The resort is made up of six little stone duplex cottages sitting on a breezy hillside, with a steps leading down to a marvellous black sand cove. The restaurant has good food and a pleasant terrace while the cottages have hot showers. It is 2 km. south of Basco.
  • Brandon’s Lodging House. There are two buildings, with one on top of a small hill boasting great views.
Fundacion Pacita

  • Fundacion Pacita. The home of artist Pacita Abad, a beautiful stone building, has been turned into an exceptional hotel. Quite expensive, and there’s a minimum stay of two nights. The rooms have been impeccably designed and some have great views. The restaurant serves traditional Ivatan cuisine.
  • Ivatan Lodge. Faded yellow building on the seafront side of the National Road, with some of the cheapest accommodation in town.
  • Pension Ivatan. The comfortable rooms are good value and include breakfast.
  • Shanedel’s Inn & Café. This is a congenial little guest house. Grab yourself a cold beer in the terrace restaurant at the rear and watch the sun set over Basco harbor. There’s a reasonably reliable wi-fi for a small daily charge.
  • Octagon Bed and Dine. The rooms have a great view of the ocean and Naidi Hills with the lighthouse. The staff are generally helpful and are willing to make concessions, if necessary. They have an extensive menu enough to provide tasty nourishment to the tired travellers.
  • Marfel’s Lodge. The place is very nice with a yard in front, a porch where you can sit and relax, and a hammock in the little hut by the yard. Most of the rooms are with twin beds with a little table and built in drawer and cupboard. The windows got screens though there is not much mosquitoes. There is only an electric fan but it is not hot in Basco. It can be quite cool. There is a TV, radio and karaoke in the shared living and dining room. It has a wi-fi connectivity.
  • Timetravel Lodge. A walking distance from Basco Airport. The lodge offers 3 rooms only, so its peaceful and not crowded. Rooms are very clean and spacious with 2 queen size beds, and own bathroom and kitchen (not to mention complete kitchen utensils) if guests wish to cook since food in Batanes are pricey. They have a common dining area beside their well-maintained lawn.  
Batanes Seaside Lodge
  • Batanes Seaside Lodge. The rooms are decent and clean and the showers are spacious enough. The hotel could also help you sort out tours. This is actually a good service since it's nearly impossible to tour Batanes on your own unless you're willing to ride a bike around.

  • Amboy Hometel. The room is new, clean and spacious. The owner and staff are very accommodating.
  • Crisan Lodge. It is located at the city center, about 10 min walk from the airport. Crisan Lodge boast of its homey and clean facilities, just what every tourists need to experience a great stay in Batanes. One of the biggest convenient store in the city is located just at the ground floor.
DDD Habitat
  • DDD Habitat. A budget friendly hotel. It has a roof deck with a mountain view. Near souvenir shops, market and airport.

Getting There
Basco Airport
The island province of Batanes is accessible by air via the Basco Airport and Itbayat Airport. There are 3 flights per week from Manila by SkyJetAir, and from Tuguegarao (Cagayan) by small local airliners (as of January 2013). Tourism is expected to boom in the island as budget carrier Airphil Express started to have flights to Batanes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday since May 1, 2013.

Tourist Attraction (Natural)
Mt. Iraya
  • MOUNT IRAYA is a dormant volcano standing at 1,517 meters whose last eruption was recorded in 505 AD. Mountaineering, trekking and trailblazing are recommended sports activities on the mountain. Walking distance from Basco, the top of Mt. Iraya can be reached in about three hours.
Amianan Island
  • YAMI/AMIANAN is the northernmost island of Batanes. It is also called the Orchid Island. One can see Taiwan on a clear day. Tatus or coconut crabs abound in the island surrounded by rich marine life.

  • DI-ATAY BEACH is a beautiful cove with multi-colored rocks and white sand ideal for picnics and beach combing. Located along the highway of Mahatao, it is 9.85 kilometers from Basco.

  • SONGSONG in Chadpidan Bay is an hour of exhilarating trek from Basco proper (3 km). It is famous for its beautiful sunset view.
Naidi Hills
  • NAIDI HILLS is walking distance from Basco.

  • CHAWA CAVE is for the more adventurous. An enchanted cave with natural salt bed whose mouth opens to the south China Sea and is accessible through the boulders of Chawa Point in Mahatao. It is four kilometers from Basco.

  • MT. MATAREM is an extinct volcano 495 meters at its summit. It is eight kilometers from Basco.

  • WHITE BEACH at Vatang, Hapnit and Mavatuy Point all in Mahatao.

Tourist Attraction (Man-made)
Radar Tukon

  • RADAR TUKON was a United States weather station on a hilltop. It offers a magnificent 360-degree view of Batan Island, the South China Sea, Mt. Iraya, Basco proper, boulder lined cliffs and the Pacific Ocean. At present, it houses the last weather station in the north, the Basco Radar Station and is only 2.75 kilometers from Basco.
San Jose Church in Ivana

  • SAN JOSE CHURCH in Ivana was built in 1814. It has a crenellated fortress-like campanile. The church is fronting the Ivana Seaport and is 14 kilometers from Basco.
Basco Port

  • KANYUYAN BEACH; PORT at Baluarte Bay in Basco is the port of call of the cargo ships bringing goods from Manila.
San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao

  • SAN CARLOS BORROMEO CHURCH and a convent at Mahatao are six kilometers from Basco. It was completed in 1789 and still retains its centuries-old features.
Ivatan House
  • BUILDINGS are traditionally two-storey LIME AND STONE HOUSES AND CHURCHES with meter thick cogon roofs believed to last 60 years.