Nothing beats lying down along on the grassy slopes while enjoying the cool breeze and the amazing views of Batanes’ green rolling hills and the sea. If there was one view that really captured the essence of my first travel in 2018, this was it. The view simply exuded peace and tranquility, not to mention that it gave me the peace of mind that everything was going to be fine. I literally could spend hours just watching the amazing views of its famed Marlboro Country. That moment will forever be etched in my Batanes memories.
Arriving in Basco quarter past 7am, you could already feel the different vibe of the province. It is void of the usual fanfare of a tourist destination airport. You take your time walking from the plane to the tarmac without ground crews urging you to go faster. You walk into the arrival hall, register, and wait for your luggage to be released. No one is in a hurry as if time slowed down its pace while we were cruising at 20,000 feet on our way to the north.
Basco is the gateway of the Philippines’ northernmost province. Nestled at the foot of Mount Iraya, this 5th class municipality serves as the province’s capital to a population of only 18, 000 scattered in its 6 municipalities. The whole province is a protected area because of its amazing landscape and seascape, its colorful culture, and rich flora and fauna. It has 10 islands under its jurisdiction but only 3 islands are populated because the other islands have no source of potable water. Batanes is on every traveler’s bucket list and, as our visit progressed, it did show us that it is definitely a league on its own.
Batan is the largest among the three inhabited islands of the province. It has four municipalities - Batan, Mahatao, Ivana, and Uyugan. The province’s main gateway, the Basco Airport, and its provincial capitol are both located in Batan.
Biking Around Basco
One of the best way to go around Basco that I highly recommend is by bike. There are bike rental shops in Batanes where you can rent bicycles and motorcycles. Bike rentals are at Php25 per hour for the Japanese bikes and Php50 per hour for the Mountain bikes. Our group rented out the Japanese bikes because it would look good on photos. Here’s a tip - make sure though that you are ready and fit to huff and puff on the bike.
Basco Lighthouse and Naidi Hills
One of the things that Batanes is known for are its dramatic lighthouses and the Basco Lighthouse sets the mood as soon as you lay your eyes on it. I highly recommend that you make this as your first stop in Batanes.
Completed in 2003, the Basco Lighthouse is the most accessible lighthouse in the province. You can actually walk to the lighthouse from the town center and it will only take you 15 mins. Its current location was once the site of a telegraph facilty that was destroyed by the Japanese forces during World War 2.
The 6-story lighthouse offers an amazing 360-degree view of Batan Island. The rolling hills of Naidi and its rocky shores will give you a taste of the views that you will get to enjoy when you tour the province. You will
get to see Mount Iraya looming above Basco on one side and the view of the sea on the other. On a good day, you will even get to see the islands of Sabtang and Itbayat.
For those who have watched the movie “Sakaling Hindi Makarating”, you will be surprised that the house where the postcards originated sits adjacent to the lighthouse. The caretaker said that the house is actually a cafe but is currently undergoing restoration after it was damaged by a typhoon.
As you head back to town, you will come across the Basco Cathedral, also known as the Santo Domingo Church - in honor of the patron saint of Basco. However, the cathedral is actually dedicated to the Immaculate Concepcion. The foundation of the stone church was laid in 1795 and it has undergone a lot of renovations due to natural calamities, the latest was in 2000 after the facade of the church was damaged by an earthquake.
The cathedral’s simple facade mirrors the simple living of the Ivatans. The belfry of the church is unique as two bells sits on top of the facade. The current belfry was reconstructed after it was damaged by the 2000
The interior is as simple as that of its exterior. The altar is the main highlight of the church with its two-tierred retablo. The image of the Crucified Christ is at the center of the retablo with the images of the Immaculate Conception and Santo Domingo displayed adjacent to it.
Basco Provincial Capitol and Basco Plaza
At the heart of Basco is the Basco Provincial Capitol. This is the local seat of the government since the Spanish period. A historical marker recognizing the heroic action of Kenan Aman Dangat against Spanish oppression can also be found within its grounds. The capitol is a great evening stop, at the time of our visit, for its Christmas light decorations and Christmas mood music.
Right in front of the Capitol Grounds is the sprawling Basco Plaza. It is an open space park that is frequented by locals especially in the afternoon. Adjacent to the park is the track and field grounds where locals hold their sporting events against the backdrop of the Basco Lighthouse.
The North Remembers
Visitors of Batanes will not have a hard time going around its tourist spots. The province has a very effective and efficient tourism sector that standardized the rates of a three-day tour of North Batan, South Batan, and Sabtang Island, inclusive of lunch, depending on the headcount. I highly recommend that you avail of these tour packages if it is your first time to visit Batanes.
Mount Carmel Chapel
The Mount Carmel Chapel, also known as Tukon Chapel, stands atop a hill surrounded by green rolling hills. The design of the church is based on the traditional Ivatan stone houses. Its design and its location make it a picture-perfect spot for visitors of the province. I initially thought that it is one of the old heritage structures but it is not. It was opened to the public in 2008.
The church was going through restoration at the time of our visit. Apart from the facade, the church’s interior is a showcase of the Ivatan creativity. The ceilings carry the paintings of the patron saints of Batanes’ different municipalities.
PAG-ASA Weather Station
A few meters away from the Tukon Church is the PAG-ASA Weather Station or Tukon Weather Station. The station monitors the weather in Batanes since the province is located along the typhoon belt. Its concrete structure was damaged during the 2016 typhoon. The actual dome was blown off and has not been restored at the time that we visited. This gave us a clear picture of how strong and damaging the typhoons that hit the province.
The weather station once served as the weather station for the Americans. A lighthouse once stood in the same location as the station.
At the heart of Ivatan’s creativity is the Fundacion Pacita – a small countryside boutique hotel that sits along the dramatic green slopes of North Batan. The lodge once served as an art studio for world renowned Pacita Abad, a local of Batanes. It is now a quaint hotel that gives you a peek at Ivatan artistry set against the dramatic landscape of Batanes.
The lodge is open to the public but there are certain areas that are reserved only for its guests. Guests of Fundacion Pacita can enjoy having their artistic shots against its Ivatan-inspired lodge house and its manicured lawns. You can sit down by the lawn and just enjoy the beauty of the green pastures that surround it.
Guests can also enjoy coffee and light snacks at the lodge’s café before heading to the next destination.
Idiang Ivatan Fortress
As we trudged along our tour, we passed by the Idiang Ivatan Fortress - a huge rock that served as a refuge of the early Ivatans against their enemies. Kuya Joaquin shared with us that their ancestors would climb to the top of the natural fortress during the attack and then throw rocks against their enemies.
Access to the fortress is limited which is good because it actually protects the historical site. But it would be good to actually have a viewing platform for guests to fully appreciate the historical value of the place.
Nestled along one of the slopes overlooking Mount Iraya and Basco is a man-made structure that the Japanese built during World War 2. The tunnel has a series of chambers and a bunker served as a defensive look-out post by the Japanese invaders. Interestingly, Batanes was one of the first provinces to fall under the Japanese rule during the start of the World War.
It is a strategic location as it offers a commanding view of Basco. Guests could enter the tunnels that was built by the Ivatans to serve as a shelter of the Japanese.
Valugan Boulder Beach
Also known as Chanpan, the Valugan Boulder Beach was a by-product of an eruption of Mount Iraya. The stones and boulders spewed out by the volcano was smoothened by the rough waters of the West Philippine Sea through time. The result of which is an amazing seascape of boulders with the strong waves crashing onto these rocks. The stretch of the beach is just boulders so extra care is needed in navigating through these rocks.
The beach is also a sacred fishing port where the “Paypatawen”, the traditional fishing season of the Ivasay, are practiced during the months of March to May.
Vayang Rolling Hills
Batanes is a land where rolling green meadows are in abundance and the Vayang Rolling Hills was our first taste of these majestic views. This is where land meets the sea along the west side of Batan Island. The views are simply intoxicating and the peaceful mood the views evoked was too much to take in. I just felt like just sitting down and indulge with nature’s beauty.
Too bad though that the weather was not cooperating when we got there. They say that on a good day, it is a spot, close to Basco, where you get to see all three islands of Batan, Sabtang, and Itbayat in one sweeping view. It was a privilege that Batanes did not afford us at the time of our visit.
Post Travel Notes
I had mixed feeling after our North Batan tour. I was waiting to be swept off my feet and, honestly, I did not get that “wow” feeling during the tour. I know that it was still our first day but I was expecting to head back to our lodge, feeling elated by what I have seen but the feeling was a deep longing for better views. Funny that my travel buddies felt the same way.
Do not get me wrong. North Batan is beautiful but I was waiting for that one perfect view that will make me stop on my tracks and just enjoy the view. North Batan was beautiful but I felt that it was not enough to “wow” me. I had expectations and I wanted something more.
Will Sabtang Island give me that much needed traveler jolt? Find out on the second part of my Batanes blog.
Getting there: Air Swift, Philippine Airlines, and Sky Jet have direct flights to Basco from Manila and Clark. We scored good priced airline tickets in one of the travel fairs held here in the metro through Air Swift. Air Swift flies to Basco 4x a week and there services are good. You can check out Airswift's ongoing promos here.
Marfel’s Lodge is a great place to stay-in when you are in Batanes. They have great accommodations and their staff are very helpful. You can check them out on Facebook or you can also call (0908) 8931475 for your inquiries.
You can also contact Kuya Joaquin at (0947) 1069342 for your Batanes tour packages. Remember that the rates for their tours are standard. Their 3-Day package costs Php4500 per head for a group of three and it covers the North Batan tour, the South Batan tour, and Sabtang Island. Lunch for the three days are already included in the package. Kuya Waks will make sure that you get to enjoy Batanes with fun facts about Batanes to bring home.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.