Beautiful Batanes: 10 things to do

MANILA, Philippines - To escape to Batanes is to escape to a different world.
Geographically, this description is not that far off. The Batanes Islands are almost as close to Taiwan as they are to Luzon with Taiwanese radio stations only a knob-turn away. Its 10 tiny islands are in common possession of craggy cliffs pummelled at the feet by angry waves, emerald hills perfectly manicured by a legion of cows, and boxy, cobblestone-walled houses topped by cogon-thatched roofs.
Indeed, these 3 features form a typical picture of Batanes — a picture of Batanes that rises from the sea of clouds as the plane dips for touchdown in the only airport in the province.
But the adventure begins when you take that first step on solid ground.

Batanes is an overwhelming combination of majestic, imposing landscapes and quaint lifestyles. The cliffs are larger than life, the hills seem to roll on forever; the houses tend to be small and the Ivatans — the natives of Batanes — are a close-knit, (mostly) friendly bunch.
Because of Batanes’ natural features, expect to be outside 80% of the trip. Prepare for this by bringing along a wide-brimmed hat, shades and sunblock. But don’t expect perfectly sunny weather, even in summer. Batanes is infamous for its moody weather. Bring at least one jacket and an umbrella regardless of the time of year.
Like any destination, no standard itinerary can fully capture the Batanes experience. There are limitless ways to get to know Batanes because Batanes itself is a bottomless trove.
But first-time visitors may benefit from these suggestions:
1. Rent a car

The best way to get around Batanes is by car. Most tour packages offer van rentals with a driver. The major islands of Batanes — Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat — may be small, but getting around them is difficult because there is no major form of public transportation. Renting a car for your entire trip is hassle-free and saves time since many of the must-see sites are found in different towns.
Having your own car also gives you more freedom to request for a stop-over whenever you see something interesting (you’ll see plenty). You won’t have to worry about traffic because there is virtually none, except for those caused by herds of cows or families of goats.
2. Ride a bike through the hills

That said, you can devote one day and all of your energy to biking through a specific locale. The steep, rolling hills of Batanes mean this is no small feat. Only do this if your body can handle the exertion. But all the sweat will be made worth it by the view and the freedom.
You can stop any time to catch your breath or take photos of a beautiful sunset. Each hill gives you a unique view of the East Philippine Sea, whether pierced by a lighthouse or underlined by a row of stone houses.
Best of all, you can indulge in the urge to burst into song. Cue — “The hills are alive…”
3. Step inside a traditional Ivatan house

In many ways, the Ivatan house is perhaps the one artifact that reveals the most about Ivatan culture, history and life. The limestone walls were a Spanish addition to strengthen native homes against earthquakes that often ravaged the land (Mt Iraya, the highest peak in Batanes, is an active volcano).
Like the bahay kubo, the Ivatan home is composed of a major space shared by the entire household. Its cogon roof is constructed and repaired through a bayanihan system called kayvayvanaan orkamanyiduan.

The Dakay House in Sabtang Island is widely-regarded to be the oldest house in Batanes, built in 1887 and the lone survivor of a major earthquake in 1918. Eighty-seven year-old Florestida Estrella (or Aling Ida) still lives there, greeting visitors with a gap-toothed smile and many stories to tell.
Abandoned due to a tsunami in the 1940s is an old village now simply called Ghost Town, also in Sabtang. Far from being creepy, the town is criss-crossed by cheerful hedges of pink, orange and yellow flowers and traversed by the friendly Ivatans who have now begun to re-inhabit it.
But one can easily admire the variety of traditional houses by simply walking through the villages and towns. Many Spanish-period homes are still used by the Ivatans. Some of the newer structures stay faithful to the traditional elements, combining the stone walls with modern sliding windows.
4. Walk to a lighthouse

Nowhere else in the Philippines will you find so many lighthouses. There are recently constructed ones, such as the Basco lighthouse built in the 2000s visited for its spectacular view of the sea and the restaurant beside it.
There are two lighthouses in Sabtang, the new one built right beside the sea and the first one, built during Spanish colonial times, a tiny stone structure standing far inland from the shore because when it had been built, no other structure rose above it.
5. Visit World War II memorials

Though Batanes seems cut off from the rest of the world, it was also touched by the ravages of war.
Traces of this time in history can be found in the concrete remains of the American radio center and the old Japanese hideout, a tunnel dug by Ivatan hostages as their Japanese captors tried to escape from the victorious Americans.

6. Step into an old church
Visitors of any faith will find that a tour of the many 17th- and 18th-century churches in Batanes is worth their while. Aside from being a place of worship, they are beautiful structures with their large, bright-colored wooden doors, machuca tiles and cogon-lined high ceilings.

The Mahatao church was where Katipuneros raised their flag to claim Batanes during the Revolution in 1898.
Many villages also maintain their own ancient church, smaller than the town churches but more cheerful-looking than imposing. Some of these quaint structures have been painted in happy yellows, blues and pinks, yet manage not to look garish.

Another vestige of the Spanish times are the Old Spanish bridges. There are one or two in every village because they were used by the Spanish to encourage Ivatans to attend mass.
The bridges linked villages together and made it easier for Ivatans to travel to the church. Incredibly, bridges built as far back as the 17th-century are still used by Ivatans today.
7. Try on Chavayan-crafted goods

Those lion mane-like wigs of dried cogon grass worn outdoors by Ivatans are woven in Chavayan in the southern-most tip of Sabtang. Sadly, the craft of weaving this traditional headgear is in danger.
The aged weavers I met there told me that young Ivatans do not bother with the craft anymore and they have difficulty passing on their skills and knowledge. Aside from these hats, sandals made of twisted cogon — fondly called Chavaianas — are also found in this far-away village.
8. Revel amidst majestic natural features

"Dramatic" is one word you can use to describe Batanes' natural features.
Valugan Beach, piled from end to end with gigantic boulders textured like quail eggs, is one of the most distinctly Batanes shores. The boulders are spewings from a 15th-century eruption of Mt Iraya. The green cliffs that rise in the distance complete the picture of a land before time.
The Nakabuang Natural Arch that rises above a white sand beach is an ideal picnic spot (as long as you clean up after) that is doubly visit-worthy because of the Batanes cuisine restaurant just a few steps away.
9. Eat Batanes cuisine

Perhaps the two most famous Batanes dishes are coconut crab and flying fish. While availability of coconut crab is seasonal, there is always flying fish. Some Ivatans complain that they eat too much of it!
Uvud balls, a native version of meat balls, and bukayo, a dessert dish made of strips of meat from young coconuts are also must-tries.
10. Visit Pacita Abad's home

Pacita Abad is one of the most famous Ivatans, being an internationally-acclaimed painter who brought her art all over the world and even painted a bridge in Singapore before dying of cancer. She also belongs to the powerful Abad clan, a family of Batanes governors and congressmen (several streets are named after them).
Fundacion Pacita in Basco, once her home and studio, is now a premier hotel, the proceeds of which go to her foundation for young Ivatan artists. The young artists of her foundation painted the ceiling of Mt Carmel church in Basco.

Visiting Pacita's garden-ensconced grave a few steps from Fundacion Pacita allows visitors to contemplate the life of a great Ivatan. If it is within your budget, I fully recommend that you stay a few nights in Fundacion Pacita.

Places to See

The second largest island in the province of Batanes, this is  where the capital town Basco is situated along with three other municipalities.  The entire island is blessed with natural the rolling hills of Na-idi and Payaman, the majestic Mt. Iraya, beautiful beaches, old Spanish churches, buildings, fortresses and pre-Hispanic settlements.
Seat of Government and center of economic development and gateway to the rest of the province.
The first (Spanish) Catholic Church ever built in Batanes in the early parts of 18th century. The roofing was originally cogon grass. The first church to have G.I. roofing in the early 1890’s.
From this side of the island, one has a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean. The smooth stone spewed by nearby Mount Iraya in AD 400 is found here.  It is also right along the beach where the thriving cultural practice called Kapayvanuvanwa is performed before the yearly start of fishing season.
It is an old Sitio derived from the Ivatan word called “Na” which means past and “Idi” meaning settlement or community.  Best spot to take a Basco sunset photo. Site of the American period wireless telegraph facilities that connected Batanes with central government until its collapse from a Japanese Imperial Army bomb attack at the start of World War II.  It is also here where the first lighthouse of Batanes was built.
This is heaven on earth. Spectacular view of the South China Sea and the Western part of Basco. Can see Itbayat and other islet north of Batan. One the most beautiful spots in Basco.
Site of the boat-shaped burial markers of ancient Ivatans. They can only be found in Batanes and are thought to be similar with the sites in Europe where Viking kings once dominated. Area of high biodiversity.
Location of the country’s northernmost PAGASA station, reason why Batanes is frequently associated with typhoons because Basco station is usually used as a reference point.  It has a spectacular view of Mount Iraya and Basco town with a commanding view of Batan hedgerows.  It is the home of endemic flora & fauna. One can view 360° of Batan Island in Tukun.
Site of an elaborate Japanese-constructed World War II tunnel around three kilometers from town center.
About 1,900 feet above sea level, it is the second highest peak in Batan island. The mountain houses the spring water from where the main town sources its drinking water.
Good for mountain climbers. Home of the Batanes pit viper,  an arboreal snake found only in Batanes, just one of the abundant endemic flora & fauna species in the island.
Basco Airport is located at foot of Mt. Iraya.
Site where the Provincial Capitol Building now stands. Original structure was built by the Spaniards in the 18th century.  It is the seat of the Provincial Government in Batanes.
This town holds the Ivatan’s birth certificate. First town from Basco. Rich in Cultural Heritage sites & practices.
Birthplace of the Ivatans. One of the largest settlements on the eastern part of Batan Island built in the pre-Hispanic period.
Built recently in 2000, the lighthouse boats of an uninterrupted spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean well as the other part of the Batan Island and its rugged mountains cliffs facing South China Sea.
This is where you marvel about God’s creation. When you’re in this spot, a visitor oftentimes silently stands in awe and whisper a prayer. The endless rolling hills, wind-swept communal pasturelands for cattle and horses, . Perfect scenery for nature lovers & photographers.  The Sound of Music should have been filmed here.
A tiny village facing the Pacific Ocean around three kilometers east of Mahatao town. Site where local fishermen perform the Kapayvanuvanua ritual to signify the start of the fishing season. The local government maintains a traditional house that it rents to visitors. Perfect site to escape crowded town centers.
Built in 1873 A.D. by Onesimo Polo using limestone for wall and cogon roofing. Declared by the National Museum and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as one of 26 churches in the Philippines recognized as cultural icons.
It’s water as far as your eyes can see. Perfect spot to enjoy Batanes sunset facing the South China Sea.  You can take the 100-plus steps down the adjacent cliff to fish, take more pictures, or simply to test endurance.
Row of privately-owned picnic houses with basic house facilities which are offered for rent. It’s the best beachfront spot there is in this part of town. The place is adjacent to a government-operated recreation building featuring two bowling lanes and billiards room.
The locals call this the Spring of Youth. It is quietly tucked in below where the first Ivatans lived. One can also offer prayers at the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto located near the spring water’s main source.
You come here not to see windmills. You endure rough roads and an uphill trek to be on the finest spot to relish a 360-degree of God’s magnificent creation. The island’s two highest peaks stand guard on opposite ends. On a clear day, you can view the northernmost islands of Batanes.
It may as well be the smallest of the towns in Batanes, but its hold on the most epic stories of Ivatan gallantry is incomparable. Around 14 kilometers south of the main town, its two municipal ports serve as gateway to Sabtang.
Built in the 18th century, it is probably the most photographed house in Batanes.  It is one of the last few standing century old houses being used to date.
The only church in Batanes with a separate campanile built in 1784. The campanile was built in 1814-1817 by Fr. Jose Fausto de Cuevas. The present façade is built by Fr. Fabian Martin in 1866-1869.
Unmanned refreshments store famous worldwide for showcasing Ivatan’s ‘honesty.’ There’s no standby seller and instead rely on the honor system when paying for goods taken from the store.  It is located in front of the Ivana Church near the Radiwan Port.  It has a commanding view of Sabtang island.
Located in middle of town, this is likely the oldest bridge in the entire province still used to date. Built by the Spaniards.
The fourth and last town in Batan island. Traditional Ivatan houses line the entire stretch of the main road in the This town pioneered drift net fishing for dibang and it is the site of the thriving palek (local wine) industry.  The traditional building of house through cooperativism called kapañidungan or in Uyugan, Kamañidungan is still strongly practiced in Uyugan.
What remains of this village wiped out in a 1954 tidal wave are ruins of a once vibrant community. This group of destroyed lime and stone houses is seen a few meters from the beach in Songsong.
The town is divided in the middle by a narrow national road. More traditional Ivatan houses may be found here. Located 23 kilometers from the main town, it is where you can buy the best tasting local wine (called palek). The main road leads to the church at the far end of the village.
One of the highest points in the community, this was once a settlement of old Ivatans.
This is the last village from Basco. Said to be the site where the first mass in Batanes was said and consequently, where the first baptism was administered during the Spanish times. The village chapel was named after San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first canonized Filipino saint. Only a few families live here today. Chances are, when you visit, the townsfolk are tending the farms. Yet you see all the doors and windows in the village open.
A visit to Batanes is never complete without staying in Sabtang. Make sure you move heaven and earth to get to this heaven on earth.  Of the three islands in Batanes, this is the smallest.
One of the most pictured beach spot in Batanes.  Famous for its stone/rock arch formation in a very private cove. Ideal site for picnic, snorkeling and camping.
Idjangs are ancient Ivatan settlements which served as fortresses against invaders. The idjang found in Savidug is considered to be the most beautiful and perfectly shaped among the Batanes Idjangs. A visit to Savidug is like being transported to a different world.
Only around three kilometers from town center, this village is abounds in traditional houses.  It is the site where the endangered black face spoonbill was sighted years ago, the number of the bird worldwide is not more than 2000.
Walk past Savidug village to get to Chavayan. Spending the night here is the essence of a Sabtang visit. Famous for its rows of old houses, old streets, old sites. Chavayan is likely what you will forever remember about your vacation in Batanes.
This church is not special because it’s the only remaining church in Batanes roofed with cogon grass. Neither is it extraordinary because it’s ten meters away from the beach. It is exceptional because it makes you feel closest to God at this remote place. Most romantic church there is.
Site of the most pristine coral conditions in Batanes. In Sumnanga, you’re in Little Hongkong, they say.
There are other islands farther up north, but this is by far the closest inhabited island to Taiwan. Being in Itbayat makes one closer to Taiwan than mainland Luzon.  The island of Itabyat is one of the world’s largest uplifted coral reefs. It is northwest of Batan island bounded on the east by Pacific Ocean, on the west by South China Sea and on the north by small uninhabited islands such as Siayan, Matarem, Misanga, and Mavudis, which form the northern most tip of the Philippines.
Highest point in Itbayat, about 280 meters above sea level. Its historical significance is being the other pair of Mt. Riposed, considered to be one of the island’s foundations.
It is also an old settlement for the early settlers of Itbayat.
The most ancient dwelling place in Batanes. Believed to be the first landing place of the Austronesians from Formosa, 4000 BP.
An area where stone boat-shaped burial markers are found. This area is believed to be the burial ground of the ancient settlers of the Torongan Cave.
It is an underground stream on the Northwest of Itbayat.  It flows to the sea and is a newly develop water source for the community.
An ancient settlement with boat-shaped burial markers. Its Idjang has a spectacular view of Dinem and the eastern coast of Ibayat Island. It reflects the material cultural remains of ancient maritime people.
With its panoramic views, one of the two volcanoes considered to have been the foundation of Itbayat. On top, you will see the view of the southeast of Itbayat. Across the plain is the airstrip and on the southern tip of the airstrip is Lake Kavaywan.
A natural park. It comprises of forest, natural cliffs and rocky hills where natural bonsai arius tree abound and a grazing area for goats. Amidst this natural splendor is a natural stone bell. It is a flat stone which lies naturally upon another stone, which when you strike with another stone, it produces a sound which resembles a bell.
Accordingly, it serves as an alarm for the ancient inhabitants when enemies are approaching. It also serves them as a signal for meetings and gathering their goats.
The nearest island to Itbayat about 5.5 nautical miles point to point. It has a total land area of 87.63 hectares surrounded by beautiful white beaches. Surrounding the island is a rich coral which is sanctuary of hundreds of marine life. This is one of the most beautiful spot in Itbayat.
This sinkhole serves as a giant drainage of the town of Itbayat. It was explored by a German, Dr. Gechard Schmit on March 16, 1993 and was found to be around 45 meters depths and has two big chambers with a narrow passage between them. Manoyok is found to be a haunted sinkhole because it is a place where our ancestors used to throw witches as punishment according to local justice system during the ancient times.
Roman Catholic Church was founded in Itbayat in 1845. It took more than forty years later to complete the church and finally blessed in 1888 by Fr. Manuel Blasco.
A combination of European and Itbayat architecture, with thick wall of stone and lime and several layers of cogon for the roof. These Ivatan houses are adapted for strong typhoon, earth quakes and other kinds of calamities. Itbayat houses have to be built this way since they receive the harshest winter winds from Siberia in December to February.