BASCO, BATANES – It will not be a question of “why should we go there?” but surely of, “when?”
Batanes, no doubt, is a beauty. Anyone who had been there can attest to its magnificence, tranquility, and mystery. Being the northernmost and smallest province in the Philippines, it is indeed a place to discover.
However, word-of-mouth speaks concerns on difficulty, risks, and cost of flights.
This a budget guide on how to experience Basco, Batanes for less.
Unpredictability is the primary concern as Batanes is prone to many storms. Some may have their flights cancelled, while some may experience rainy adventures.
But hey! Isn’t adventure about risks? And perhaps, the rain could make the trip a lot more magical like what happened to me.
Going to Batanes
First thing to do is to search for an airfare bargain. If this is not a concern for you, then cheers to that! The key is to get an airfare in advance and know where exactly to find it.
The Travel Madness Expo in SMX Convention is the best place. In the expo, scout for a travel agency that can give you the cheapest price for your desired travel dates. While in there, might as well get discounted travel insurance. The one I was offered costs 300 PHP.
I was able to snag a promo fare for only 3,500 PHP. That’s round trip! Not bad, really. A promo by PAL Express, the plane would arrive in Batanes early morning. Take this chance to roam on the island right after you check-in in the hotel.
Staying in Batanes
In hindsight, a major factor to consider for accommodation in Batanes is the location. This may not matter for you if you would like stay in Fundacion Pacita. However, being in the town proper will surely maximize your stay and resources in Batanes.
A very quick and useful guide will be this map from IronWulf Enroute Travel eGuide for Batan Island. You can download it here for free.
We stayed in Batanes Seaside Lodge. If this place will offer a lower price than Timetravel Lodge or Marfel’s Homestay, it will be worth it. Otherwise those other lodges which you will see in page 24 of IronWulf guide will suffice.
Moreover, you might also enjoy the convenience of Marfel’s and Timetravel Lodge which offer bike rentals right in their premises.
Touring (Batan Island / Basco) Batanes
You can DIY the North Batan Tour. That is up to you but I will say that biking in this town is so worth it. I am no biker and this type of activity is not my cup of tea. I was glad I did it though. In my mind, I am only vouching for the Bagan DIY bike tour experience I did years ago as my test of endurance.
Your first stop will be the Valugan Boulder Beach. The road to follow here is the one beside Basco airport. Does it fork and lead to somewhere else? No. You just need to bike until the end of that road. As a landmark, you will pass by an elementary school along the way. Enjoy the downhill road and curse it afterwards.
After our Valugan Beach trip, we did a little stopover in the lodge. Basco Lighthouse is in another direction anyway. It usually rains in Basco every afternoon (or maybe that was just the case when we were there.)
Bunker Cafe is located here. Some say that they are open, while some say that they are already closed. They have a good reason why a resto-slash-cafe is a good idea beside this Basco landmark.
Getting to Vayang Rolling Hills is quite as easy as going to Valugan Boulder Beach, however farther and steeper. After the lighthouse, you can bike for a few minutes (again biking skills dependent) the first fork on the road, you take the left one. And you are there.
Can you stay for a while here? Sure! Answer the goat’s “meeeeeee” every now and then?
Reflect? Yes. Of course. You will see the hills, the ocean, the clouds, and the endless sky in one perfect unison.
Again, doing this part DIY is purely your choice. But this is in-line with your goal of going to Basco, Batanes for less.
For our South Batan Tour, we were picked up from our lodge. The van is new and spacious. We needed to pick up the rest of the gang (IG: @siisha @jdwithice @akosiamorita @lyndonharry).
These are the interesting parts of this tour:
Chawa View Deck – a perfect place to see the rugged coastline of Batanes. Some guided trips will end here for sunset viewing. For our case, this was the start of the tour.
Mahatao Idjiang and the Boat Shelter Port – this is a given since I work in the shipping industry: I found it fascinating! Hopefully that restaurant/tourist shop being constructed at the end will be finished soon.
White Beach – a strip of sand along the road going to Mahatao.
Batanes Blank Book Archive (Maywang A Libro Du Vatan) inside the San Carlos Borromeo Church – a chance to leave behind something in Batanes. Grab a blank book and write your heart out.
House of Dakay – the oldest existing house in Batan, Island. They offer souvenir items here. Donations are also accepted.
Honesty Coffee Shop – Yes, there is no shop keeper. You take what you need and pay by dropping the cash in a box. Better pay in exact amount. Donations are accepted. This has catered more to tourists visiting Batanes than the locals.
Alapad Hill – the scene where “i-Dawn Zulueta mo ko” was filmed. A good place to chill out especially if the weather is fine.
Lunch time! There is a nipa hut jump-off point before the Marlboro Country hike. They serve local Ivatan dishes.
Racuh a Payaman (Marlboro Country) – this place is awesome! Good thing I was wearing slippers! I will not tell you why. (Go figure.)
This area is just awe-inspiring. You are on top of a hill over-looking the ocean, another group of rolling hills to your left, a lighthouse, some grazing cows and local water buffaloes.
Tayid Lighthouse – our last stop. At this point we were already exhausted. The lighthouse, somehow, offered a shade, though there were nothing to seat on.
Here you can see the Marlboro Country, and imagine that just minutes ago, you were there.
Island hopping in Batanes
We took the South Batan Tour with Ryan. He seemed to be the go-to guy for affordable yet excellent tour packages in Batanes.
His email address is: email@example.com and his number (as of 2014) is +639158034582.
Ryan is connected to a Manila-based travel agency but I suggest that you contact him directly when you are already on the island. He may be in Itbayat or Sabtang islands though, so have some patience. Be sure of your itinerary so you can fully discuss with him your requirements.
1. North Batan Tour can be done in half a day.
2. South Batan Tour is done whole day going back to your accommodation mid-afternoon
3. Sabtang Island Tour can be done whole day going back early afternoon to catch the last Batan Island-bound boat. You have an option to stay overnight.
4. Itbayat Island Tour is overnight stay minimum.
Hence, a 7-day trip is enough to tour the 3 major islands. This will include the 7th day intended for the early morning flight of PAL Express back to Manila.
Also ensure that the Sabtang tour and crucially the Itbayat tour are in the middle part of your itinerary. At all cost, be in Batan Island a day prior your flight departure just to be on the safe side, as you can be stuck in Itbayat if the weather is bad.
Unfortunately I cannot share information on the Sabtang and Itbayat Island tours as we just toured Batan Island (a reason to go back perhaps?). I promise to post links once I’ve visited these islands in the future. Or better yet ask Ryan.
Eating in Batanes
The IronWulf map will come in handy (here’s the link again).
Koochara opens only in the afternoon and maybe eating pizza and pasta may not be something you will crave in a remote island. But what they served was quite okay.
Octagon Bed and Dine is pricey. The restaurant has a great view and it is just beside our lodge.
Pension Ivatan Hometel and Restaurant. Reservation is needed. Check their website here. Suggest that you ask your tour-mates to join you for dinner. Otherwise the platter may be too much (in quantity and in price).
I must say, the real winners are those small carinderias dotting the town centre streets. Cheap and homey.
The moment you have memorized its streets, discovered where to eat and appreciated the roads along the coasts, it will be time to go back to reality.
And with every end of a trip, pleasantries and souvenirs are a must.
Check the Yaru nu Artes Ivatan gallery for souvenirs. Support their local artists.
Here are other things I have in mind for those who will plan a journey to Batanes:
- Check the weather a day before your trip and the day of your trip.
- Bring water – depending on the weather and type of tour, having a filled water bottle may come in handy.
- Weather is usually fine in the morning and becomes erratic in the afternoon so prepare to get wet.
- Bring a waterproof case for cellphones, cameras and money.
- Get the number of your tricycle driver – they do not roam around.
There is a small terminal fee in Basco airport and you will see and encounter an ensemble of people: checking your printed ticket and ID, writing your name in the manifest, writing your border pass, checking your bag and getting your terminal fee.
So yes, this is worth all the planning to ensure you go to Basco, Batanes for less. Enjoy the trip!