Our Batanes Tour Highlights

We got our Batanes tour package when we attended the Travel Mart Expo at the Mall of Asia last September 2. Our plan was to get a tour package for Coron, Palawan – our favorite island in the country. But when we saw a promo tour for Batanes being offered IBS Tours and Travels’ kiosk, we couldn’t just walk past it without inquiring. Our inquiry turned into a sale for the agency! We decided to postpone Coron for next year instead.

This is one of my favorite photos of me and my son during the travel expo. Part of our homeschooling activity for this academic year was to expose them to different Filipino cultures, food, and traditions. The visit to the expo turned out to be the cheapest way to do it. (See my previous post.)

We were scheduled to fly via PAL on September 26. In the 3 weeks prior to our flight schedule, the country was visited by 3 consecutive typhoons/LPAs, I got worried that our trip will get cancelled. My kids were excited to see the islands, my eldest in particular, as he had read about Batanes in one of his lessons in Araling Panlipunan/Social Studies. I sent God a fervent prayer to give us a good weather before our flight and during our stay in the islands.

My prayer was answered. For 2 days before our tour, the weather was still cloudy with torrential rains. On the day of our flight, the sky was clear and we didn’t get any text from the airline of any cancellation.

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I’m one of those people who take photos of land forms from the plane and it possibly comes naturally to us geologists. The sky was so clear at Clark that I got a clear photo of this meandering river of Pampanga.
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The sky was also clear over Batanes that we got a breathtaking view of this part of Batan Island from the sky, as if promising us that the island will be a piece of heaven. It is! God is so good for giving us the good weather so we could see His masterpiece. Even from the sky, we are awestruck of Batanes.

Included in our package was 4-day, 3-nights stay at Sehdang Homestay (breakfast and bed) in Basco; transportation (a white van with IBS signage); local fees; and lunch during the tours.

Our flight was 6:30 AM but we left home at 1:30 AM to catch the P2P bus schedule of 2 AM that will bring us to Clark Airport. IBS arranged the tour to start at 1 PM so we had a chance to catch our sleep in the morning upon our arrival at Sehdang.

There are so many reasons “Why Batanes Should Be in Every Filipino’s Bucket List”:

Batanes is the country’s northernmost and smallest province. The archipelago province has been declared by the government as a Protected Landscape and Seascape because of its rare flora and fauna, undulating terrain, diverse marine life, limestone bluffs, and panoramic sceneries. Batanes is an archipelago and consists of 11 islands, three (3) of which are inhabited – Batan, Itbayat and Sabtang. A typical tour package includes the North Batan, South Batan and Sabtang Island tours with Itbayat Island tour as optional one. However, due to the recent earthquakes that hit Itbayat Island, some of the natural attractions and old churches and stone houses got destroyed. It is currently off-limits to tourists until restoration process is ongoing and also because the resources in the island is limited. There are also tremors still being felt in the island.

Basco, the province’s capital, is a compact city where almost everything is walking distance from residential houses. Sehdang Homestay is positioned right in the heart of the city and is only 5-minute walk from the provincial capitol, park, 5-minute drive to aiport, and surrounded by famous places to eat in the city. One of the things I also liked about Basco is that they don’t have malls, supermarkets or big grocery stores. So most of the things you would need is readily available in the neighborhood sari-sari stores. I even noticed that most of the houses there have backyard gardens where vegetables are growing. The owner of Sehdang herself go up the hills to plant and harvest from her gardens – most people in the island grow their own food. Also, hole-in-the-wall type of business is common in the islands, and I’m glad that is so. If tourism can help the locals up their income, I’m all for it.

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We had our complimentary lunch at Corner Cafe, courtesy of IBS. Our lunch consisted of beef salpicao, pork adobo, rice, and this mouth-watering pako (fern) salad. Corner Cafe’s beef salpicao is way better than the ones from Conti’s (which used to be my favorite)! Batanes takes pride in their organic food because application of chemical fertilizers is unheard of. For the food alone, Batanes can take my money anytime!

North Batan Tour Highlights

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After our lunch, we visited the provincial capitol to register as tourists and to pay for environmental fees. We then took a short visit of the famous Immaculate Concepcion church of Basco which is only stone-throw away from the capitol. According to our guide, majority of Ivatans are catholics.
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Our second stop was Vayang Rolling Hills which is located due west of Basco.
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Vayang Rolling Hills, from the name itself, is a series of hills that give this side of Batan a hummocky look. It is windy up in the hills, you can practically hear the wind sing while the cogon grass dance in different directions. Because the island is prone to strong winds and typhoons, the hills don’t have tall trees, only cogon grass for the most part.
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After Vayang Rolling Hills, we visited this fairly new lighthouse of Batan Island which is the Basco Lighthouse.
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Tourists are allowed to go up the lighthouse to see the beautiful seascapes and landscapes of the northern side of Batan Island. If you want to see this side of the island from the sky, take photos from the lighthouse.

Our next stop after the lighthouse was the Mount Carmel Chapel, a church made of stone located on top of a hill in Tukon (photo below). It was being renovated during our visit but I really love the vine that canopies the entrance.

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After the Mt. Carmel chapel was the visit to Dipnaysuhuan Japanese war tunnel in Tukon, built during World War 2. Third photo below is of the vent that cuts through the tunnel for ventilation purpose. Middle photo shows one of the steep tunnel that one can access through the slippery steps. We didn’t go down there as there were reports of snakes and bats living deep in that tunnel. It was a short tunnel walk that exits to the other side of the hills where there is a moderately-preserved concrete bunk (last photo) for the soldiers during the war, which is now overgrown with cogon grass.

One of my favorite stops for the North Batan tour is at the Valugan Boulder Beach which is a stretch of boulders and gravels smoothened by the constant onslaught of strong waves of the West Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean. I love this part because I got to see the various rocks of the island in just one place and also because of the amazing cliff nearby that show geology textbook example of a layered tuff rocks. Below is the series of photos we took of the place.

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At the Valugan Boulder Beach with the gang, photo taken by our tour guide.
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One of the things to do for fun at the boulder beach is the Zen experience of balancing pebbles and cobbles.

I had a funny experience on this beach. I asked our guide if I can bring home some of the pebbles. Here was how our conversation went:

Me: Dj, can I bring home some of the pebbles. I love collecting them!

Dj: Ay hindi po mam. Bilang namin yan!

Me: Ah sige, yung boulder na lang.

Dj: Ah yan po pwede. Actually pagdating nyo sa airport, tatatakan pa ng pangalan nyo yan, sa sobrang amazed nila na nadala nyo yan.

Ivatans are the nicest people in the country. Some of them have good sense of humor too.

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We both took our photos but I was actually trying to take a photo of the rolling hills and the nice outcrop behind him. Hehehe.
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We arrived at our hotel before 5 PM but since the weather was nice, we decided to go for a walk around the city. In front of the provincial capitol is this pillar showing our local hero, Andres Bonifacio’s poem, “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” in Baybayin scripts. If you have been following my blog, you would know how I love writing in Baybayin. This isn’t included in the main attractions in Basco but in my book, it should be!

One of the amazing things about the province is their tricycles. Next to jeepney, tricycle is the cheapest way to commute in the Philippines. The tricycles in Batanes are cute because the body is made of wood and flexiglass.

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Ain’t this tricycle cute?! We posed for picture only. On our next visit, we plan to ride the tricycle around the island.

For our first and second night in Batanes, we decided to have dinner at Beehan, one of the famous restaurants in Basco, so we could try local delicacies. We don’t have much pictures of the food but if you plan to eat there, we recommend you try Ivatan Platter and Pancit Beehan (laughed when I read this one on the menu).

Ivatan platter of Beehan consists of turmeric rice, their version of meat balls with minsced banana heart, adobo, and my favorite – fern salad.

Sabtang Island Tour Highlights

We had to wake up at 4:30 AM the next day to prepare for this tour as our van needs to leave at 6 AM to catch the 6:30 AM schedule of the boat going to Sabtang. The sky was overcast when we got to the port, it even rained a bit. From the port, I could already see Sabtang island. However, between Batan and Sabtang, the sea channel shows white rough waves. Our guide reassured us that the rough waves in the middle were normal yet relatively smoother than usual; the vessels in Batanes can withstand the rough waves.

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I took a picture of this particularly high wave that hid Sabtang Island from view from our boat. The channel separating Batan and Sabtang can be rough especially during the months of August to November hence, wearing of life jackets is strictly enforced by coast guards before boarding a boat.
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Thankfully, the sky cleared up when we reached Sabtang Island. This nice view of the lighthouse and cliff greeted us at the approach. Again, breathtaking is the word.

Our first stop at Sabtang was the 650-meter long zipline. Since we don’t have a drone camera, why not fly to get a bird’s eye view of the island, yeah? 🙂 The fee per pax for the zipline is only Php 500.

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This is the hut where the guides will gear you up for the zipline.
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Fully geared up for the zipline. We decided to exclude our youngest in the zipline as he was afraid to try it. It’s my eldest’ second time so we allowed him to go for it so long as he was in seating position. My husband and I chose the superman position so we could take photos. Behind us is the rolling hills of Sabtang. The zipline ends near the Sabtang rock arc.
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If you’re not too scared of the heights, I suggest you try the zipline. It is worth it! I decided against posting the pics and video so I don’t spoil it for you. You gotta try it!!
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The 650-meter zipline ends at a grassy patch of land near the natural Sabtang Rock Arch and white-sand beach. The Sabtang Rock Arc, locally known as Ahao, is one of the most “instagrammed” photo of the island because the natural coraline limestone arc offers a nice frame when taking photos of the hills and cliffs of the northernmost tip of this island. Below are 3 of the photos we took of this beach in Sabtang. The waves are gentler on this side of the island; the water knee-deep, and the slope/bathymetry is gentle so the kids were allowed to wade in the water. No swimming allowed near the rocks were the waves crash of course, as you can see in the middle photo. The natural rock formations are fantastic in this area, we stayed for almost 20 minutes just breathing in the fresh air and appreciating the seascape.

Your Batanes itinerary is never complete if you don’t visit Sabtang Island simply because there are still villages there where houses are made of thick walls of stones, lime, and thatched cogon roof. The Ivatan houses are considered artifacts that relate to their culture, history, and life. For this reason, among others, Batanes is considered a “living museum”. Photos below are just some of the stone houses at Savidug, while the one in the middle is the priest’s house beside St. Thomas Aquinas chapel that is currently under renovation. I’ve read somewhere that this house was a shooting site for a horror movie. I honestly don’t know which ones among the local films.

Part of our reason for going to Batanes is to teach our kids how to take landscape photos using our cameras. The caveat – they maxed out our SD cards!!

Also at Savidug, we saw current restoration efforts of NGOs and the LGUs for the heavily damaged stone houses (photos below). Seeing the restoration efforts brought us so much hope that someday when my kids are grown up, they will come back here and see the houses fully restored. Batanes, after all, is a living museum.

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Photo of me taken by our guide through an old and dilapidated wooden structure that pulls the boats in from the shore. I forgot the name for it.
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Souvenir items on sale outside a stone house in Savidug. 🙂

Our tour guides advised us that though souvenirs are cheaper in Basco, we should also patronize the ones in Sabtang to help up the families’ income. He was right. I love how Ivatans genuinely care for each other. I remember our guide telling us that most tourist guides coordinate with one another on which eateries/restaurants to bring their guests for lunch. That way, clients are distributed at different restaurants so that everyone’s happy. That is another testament on how organized and caring these people are.

On the way to Chabayan, we stopped for a short while along the highway to take a photo of an old site of a Sabtang idjang – an Ivatan citadel/castle designed to keep the enemies away, usually built on a plateau or “talampas”.

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The plateau on the right side used to be an idjang, their local term for citadel, for the ancestors of Ivatan before the Spaniards’ occupation of the island.
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This is a photo of an artist’ sketch of idjang as shown to us by our tour guide. Source: https://twitter.com/hashtag/idjang

Before Chavayan, we took a short snack break Chamantad Tinyan which a series of an undulating hills that offer a fantastic view of the Chamantad alcove from the Tinyan peak, hence, the name. It was already close to noontime and the kids were a bit hungry so we stopped at small stores first to have fresh coconut water. The short break became a 20-minute break because the view from the peak are simply Instagram-worthy.

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View of the Chamantad alcove from the Tinyan hills.
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It was a long hike towards the peak but despite the sun burning our skin, the view from the top is totally worth it.
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Looking back, Batanes is so beautiful, even the kids were in awe. This is my son, silently appreciating the landscape, after taking photos. We allowed him to use our DSLR to practice.
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If you ever get thirsty and hungry, free tasting of wine, seaweed crackers, “bokayo”, and tea is available at one of the stores in Chamantad Tinyan. You’re welcome!

One thing I love the most about IBS Travel and Tours is that they were not stingy with our food. Photos below show our lunch in Sabtang which we had inside a large open dining hall on a short limestone cliff above a white sand beach. I specifically requested for sweet potato or “wakay” fries (2nd to the last photo). Luckily it was in season and thus, available. Last photo was my son’s stone house toy we bought from Chamantad, behind it, is the amazing pristine beach near the lunch hall atop the cliff. The beach may be accessed via a concrete stairs. If one wants to wade in the water, this is another spot where the waves are gentle.

(Edit: We visited Chabayan first before we had our lunch here. Because we stayed long at Chabayan, our lunch break was short and we had to catch the 1 PM boat to Batan island. We caught it just in time. Thank you hubs, for correcting me.)

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We visited Chabayan before lunch and got to go around to see and touch most of the well-preserved stone houses. We stayed here the longest during the tour. If you live in a stone house at the foot of the mountains, would you dream of living in the city? If I were an Ivatan, I’d prolly wouldn’t leave this island for the bustle of the city. But then again, that’s the city girl in me talking.
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Handwoven head bands on sale at Chavayan. I bought one for me of course!

We promised our kids that the next time we visit Batanes, we shall stay in one of the stone houses in Sabtang. 🙂 We got back in Basco around 2 PM and decided to have our siesta. At around 4 PM we went out to go around the city again. The city is such a safe place to walk around in. I noticed that Ivatans are quiet and shy. I was told that they respect each other’s space by not talking loudly and keeping the videoke, a famous pastime among Filipinos, at minimum volume even during parties so as not to disturb their neighbors.

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This is the play ground across the provincial capitol. My kids want to migrate here! Hahaha!
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Souvenir shop inside the SDC canteen where you can buy the creamiest homemade cookies and cream ice cream in the country. My kids think so at least!

If you are looking for a place in Basco to buy affordable souvenirs and snacks, you might want to visit the Pasalubong Center of St. Dominic College’s canteen. They have the best wakay chips in the the province, I kid you not! Their cookies and cream ice cream is also the creamiest. Also, for the ice cream they don’t use oreos, they use their own wakay cookies. This is the place to get tubho (fern) and blue teas (blue ternatea) also. SDC canteen is less than 50 meters away from the provincial capitol.

Remember me mentioning how I prayed for the weather to be great during our stay in Batanes? God didn’t do just that, He also showed us Milky Way and 3 shooting stars on our 2nd night. He truly is the greatest. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. If I had a good camera, I would have taken photos of the Milky Way. Perhaps, next time!!

South Batan Tour Highlights

Just like the North Batan tour, the road going to the south side of Batan offers fantastic view of the verdant cliff side and hills and the highly irregular and steep seascapes fringed in some places with white sand alcoves and coral reefs. The road to South Batan is a two-lane highway cut along the side of steep cliffs. There are so many blind curves in this side of the island that it’s normal to see the signage below:

The circumferential highway of Batanes was built by Americans post-war according to our tour guide. It’s funny how using SMS version of”your” was already being used way before mobile phones were invented. This concrete road sign has become iconic in Batanes, you can buy shirts with “Blow Ur Horn” prints from souvenir shops.

Our first stop for the South Batan Tour was the Chawa view deck where we saw this tunnel cutting through the rocky cliff. Being a geologist, I was curious because the rocks show cooling joints (fractures) and also, I didn’t see any reason why someone would build a tunnel that high in the cliff. I then deduced the the rock surrounding the tunnel is an old lava flow and that the tunnel is actually a lava tube. If you are a geologist, my dear reader, this is one of the sites you shouldn’t miss!

For those who don’t know. Lava tubes form when the molten core of a lava from erupting volcano continue to flow downslope leaving the solidified crust behind thus, forming a natural tunnel.

A well-preserved lava tube along the cliffs of Mahatao near the Chawa view deck.
Chabibi’s lansones plushie, Lance, and the Mahatao seascape. He won this plushie at the travel expo.

Photos below shows the Mahatao Boat Shelter which was built to protect the island’s fishing vessels from the onslaught of waves during typhoons. Historically, the “floating island” in the 3rd photo that protects the boats from the waves used to be an idjang citadel which served as vantage point for the ancestors of Ivatans to watch out for enemies approaching from the sea.

Panoramic photo of San Carlos Borromeo Church, our next stop. Inside is a museum of blank books where people who have visited the island wrote their messages.
My kids wrote their messages on two of the blank books inside the church.
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The whole family outside of Tayid Lighthouse. This was hubby’s favorite spot because this is a nice vantage point when you want to take photos of the seascape. Hubs is a natural photographer so he likes spots like this. This is also the place where we had fresh coconut water and we used thin bamboo straws. Ivatans are so resourceful!
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Let’s confuse the millenials: Tine Turnin’ in Batanes. Haha! (Selfie at Tayid Lighthouse)
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This is Batanes’ “Marlboro Country” or Racuh a Payaman rolling hills. It was named so because the terrain is reminiscent of the old Marlboro cigarette commercial showing similar landscape where western dudes in cowboy hat ride their horses back in the 80s. This was the spot in South Batan where we stayed the longest! I walked all the way down to go near the edge of the cliff and watch the sea.
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I was singing “The Sound of Music” in this photo. Charot! Haha!
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A nicely formed coraline limestone boulder in Marlboro hills that looks like a stapler. 😉
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An apt name for a dipping stratified rock formation, Alapad Rock Formation, is one of the attractions of the southern side of Batan.
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The whole fam with the iconic road sign. Behind us is the Alapad Rock Formation.
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This is a photo of a well-preserved Spanish era bridge made of stone and bamboo. Only bikes and people can cross here now in order to preserve it.
Dropped by Honesty Store to shoplift. Kidding!

Your Batanes tour cannot be considered complete if you have not visited the world famous Honesty Store. It’s the only store in the country now that still trust in the honesty of its customers. When you go inside, you won’t see anyone tending the store so you can help yourself to any item inside and pay by dropping the money in slotted boxes. This is where we went for a snack of coffee and biscuits. I’m glad to know that this store has been operating for 20 years. The one honesty store in Manila City did not even survive a year which says something about the tourists that visit Batanes and the Ivatans, who are known to be shy, conservative, and honest.

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Outside the oldest standing stone house in Batanes.

Another favorite spot by tourists on South Batan side is the House of Dakay which is in Barangay Ivana. This house, owned by Estrella family, is the oldest stone house in Batanes. Everything in the house, from the walls, doors, windows, and floor are still in their original materials except for the cogon roof which has a typical life span of 20-25 years and thus, have been replaced at least four times, already.

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My youngest son took this photo of his daddy seating beside these gears that the Ivatans use for farming – the woven baskets, vest (for men, center), and head gears inside House of Dakay.
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Another shot taken by my 6-year old son of his kuya removing his shoes before entering House of Dakay.

The floor of the stone house is still made of slabs of hard wood. Even at noon, the house is cool inside because of the thick walls, which in my estimate is at least a ruler thick. Our tour guide mentioned that the thick walls and small doorway were the main reason why a stone house could withstand the strong winds brought about by typhoons and monsoon winds. He also mentioned that once the door is closed, you would hardly hear the sound of strong winds outside. “It’s like a different world inside” – were his words.

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We finished our tour of South Batan at 1 PM, had a short afternoon nap, then went out again to go bicycling around the city.

On our last night in Basco, we chanced upon this cute food jeep by Casa Napoli and got to try their fries served in leaves, lemon iced tea in reusable glass, and tacos.

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I wish we have more food trucks like this that serve food in leaves in Manila.

We shall visit Batanes province someday again. Next to Palawan, Batanes is now definitely our second favorite tourist spot in the country.

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