The rolling hills of Vayang
Batanes, located in the Philippine's northernmost tip, about 162km north of mainland Luzon, has sheer cliffs alternating with rocky beaches, and some parts that are still pretty much undeveloped despite of the influx of tourism. Head to its main island of Batan, to see Vayang's rolling hills. Walk up to the top of the hills for a spectacular view of the West Philippine sea, cows and goats grazing on the greens, Chadpidan Beach beneath the rocky cliffs, pretty Naidi Hills, Basco Lighthouse, and on a clear day, Dinem, an outlying uninhabited island and the sweeping contours of Mount Iraya in the distance. It’s so unlike your tropical palm fringed Philippine island that you’d be forgiven for thinking for a moment you're somewhere in Scotland. While you’re in Vayang, go and see the idjang, an ancient fortress built within a hill used for centuries by Ivatans for shelter.
Racuh a Payaman or Marlboro Hills
Racuh a Payaman, nicknamed Marlboro Hills or Marlboro Country by tourists for its wildness and rugged beauty, is located in Mahatao, about a 20-minute ride from Batanes Resort in Basco. Go for its breathtaking views of the rolling hills, rocky cliffs, and the eastern part of Batan Island, including Tayid Lighthouse and Diura village down the hills.
Basco Lighthouse at sunset
Basco Lighthouse is just a few minutes’ walk from the main town. It has six storeys with a viewing deck on the fifth, the best spot to catch the sunset as it kisses the main town, the West Philippine Sea, and stunning Mt. Iraya, one of the Philippines’ active volcanoes. You’d also be able to see the whole of Batan Island as well as Sabtang Island and Itbayat Island.
Valugan Beach, Valugan Bay at sunrise
One of the most dramatic beaches in Batanes is Valugan Beach, locally known as Chanpan in Valugan Bay, part of northern Batan Island. The entire coastline is fringed by round boulders, said to be the result of volcanic eruptions of Mt. Iraya thousands of years ago. The beach is a favorite spot for photography, particularly when the waves are strong, producing a massive water spray. Come at sunrise for a chance to have the beach all to yourself and listen with your eyes closed to the strange rumbling sounds of the rocks, an auditory experience.
Uyugan and Imnajbu
Uyugan, located in the southernmost part of Batan Island, has the most number of traditional old stone houses in Batanes. Nearby Alapad Hills is also worth a visit for its dramatic rock formations. Imnajbu in Batan is where the San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel is located, housing the original wooden cross brought by the Spaniards when they first set foot in Batanes in 1682 to introduce Christianity.
Maydangeb or White Beach, located by the national highway in Ivana town, about nine kilometers from Basco, is a cove with multi-colored rocks, white sand and crystal clear waters, excellent for swimming. Time your dip in the water when the tide is high enough to cover the reefs close to shore and avoid the rocky ridges. Maydangeb is a hangout known mostly to locals, so you’d hardly see a tourist in sight. It's not even marked on google map.
Ivuhos Island for wild snorkeling
The channel in between uninhabited Ivuhos island and the west side of Sabtang Island is a rich fishing ground and a great spot for wild snorkeling. The waters on the side of Ivuhos are thriving with corals and colorful fishes. Ivuhos beach, which looks like a lagoon, is a marvel of fine white-sand. At the moment, there are no organized tours to the area, so you will have to depend on local boatmen for hire to give you advice on the best time to go to avoid rough waters and strong current.
Itbayat, Batanes’ coral island
Itbayat, the largest of Batanes’ three islands, is a known coral island, completely ringed by cliffs. It’s a charming sleepy island with a community of about 400 to 500 people who live in traditional vernacular houses, thatched roof homes that are part stone part woven cogon older than the signature stone houses of Chavayan. Seeing the locals’ way of life is Itbayat’s main attraction, along with visits to the Sta. Maria Immaculada church, an old church built by people in the community, taking stones from the beach all the way up to the promontory, and the Torongan Cave, which used to be the home of Batanes’ ancestors. Remnants of stone walls can be seen inside the cave, and on top of the cave lies a burial ground where you can see boat-shaped coffins and a breathtaking view of the cliffs.
Chavayan for the Ivatan way of life
Chavayan in the island of Sabtang is a place to visit if you are keen on experiencing the way of life of the Ivatans, the native inhabitants of Batanes whose roots can be traced back to prehistoric Formosan seafaring immigrants and latter-day Spanish conquistadores. Chavayan has well preserved centuries-sold stone houses with thick walls and cogon roofs, still in use by the local people who follow the old way of life — planting crops, fishing, tending cattles, picking herbs from the mountains to make traditional tea, and living on produce grown locally like camote or sweet potatoes, uvud and delicacies like seaweed balls. The traditional vakul headgear worn by Ivatan women to shield them from the elements are also sold in Chavayan. Electricity supply is now available, but only from 6pm until 12 midnight. If you’re up to it you can ask to sleep in an Ivatan home for the night and experience genuine hospitality.
Contact the Batanes Eco Cultural Tourism Cooperative (+63919 369 5341, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The zipline of Chavayan
Although Chavayan has kept its pocket of narrow streets and authentic Ivatan stone houses intact and preserved the old way of life, it has also made some concessions to modern life, like installing a zipline at the top of the highest point of the island, stretching to about 800m all the way to Murong Beach, the landing point. Get your adrenaline pumping as you zipwire your way across the island, taking in the view of both the hills and the beach.
Contact Batanes Zipline & Resort (+63987 654 3211, www.bataneszipline.com)
Wakay Tours also offers packages that include flight onboard AirSwift, accommodation and tours.
Getting around. For Batan Island, motorbikes for hire are from P800 (US$16) to P1,000 per day, while tricyles are at P1,000 per day. For point to point tricycle ride, hire costs P100 from one point to another in Basco, P200 from Basco to Mahatao, and P450 from Basco to Imnajvu.
To get to Sabtang Island, take a tricyle to the Port of Ivana or Mahatao, and catch the commuter boat, a 45-minute ride. The boat leaves very early so be at the port at 5am. Tricyle hire in Sabtang is P800 to P1,000 per day. Upon arrival, register and pay for environment and entrance fees at the tourism center located right within the port area.
To get to Itbayat. take a tricyle to the Port of Ivana or Mahatao, to catch the commuter boat — also a once a day trip at about 6am. Get off the Chinapularan port from where you can hitch on a truck to the main town, a 15-minute ride. Asked to be dropped off at the Sta. Maria Church then walk to the tourism office where you can arrange for your stay, meals, transportation and tours.
Where to stay. In Batan Island, within town, Marfel’s has a network of homestays at P300 per head per night without meals, or book DDD Habitat, which has big rooms, a rooftop and WiFi at P1,400 per night for up to three people. Octagon Bed and Dine is in outskirts of town but they have nice rooms, great views, and a restaurant. About P2,000 per night for sharing with breakfast.
For Sabtang, homestay and meals have to be arranged with the tourism center upon arrival. P200 to P250 per person per night. P150 to P300 per meal.
For Itbayat, homestay and meals have to be arranged upon arrival also. P200 to P250 per person per night. About P100 per meal. Contact Mrs. Cano at +63919 300 4787, +63921 567 3409.
Other fees. Zipline in Sabtang, P300, to be arranged upon arrival. Mahatao charges entrance fee.
For Itbayat tours, contact Mrs. Cano at +63919 300 4787, +63921 567 3409.
Ferdinand Decena is a blogger with over 10 years of backpacking experience behind him. He won the grand prize for the travel photography category, The World Around Us, at the 18th TNT Travel Writing and Photography Awards in 2008. His blog Ironwulf.net won several awards at the Philippine Blog Awards in 2008, and the Nuffnang Blog Awards held in Singapore in 2009.
Decena is also a frequent visitor of Batanes, and has published an ebook on each of the three Batanes islands. Visit www.ironwulf.net/travel-guides-ebooks/batanes-travel-guidebatan-island-eguide/ to download.
Originally published in InFlight Traveller Volume 4 Issue 15. Updated April 2017.