Batanes is one of the top travel destinations in the Philippines. Its culture, valued heritage, rustic ambiance, rugged landscape, and relative isolation (airplane tickets to Basco can be quite expensive) give it a different appeal compared to other Philippine travel destinations. Being able to explore Batanes is perceived to be a different level. It is not surprising that the province attracts all kinds of travelers, from the seasoned explorers to the luxury travelers to social media travelers. All of them wanting to partake the province's rustic feel.
Batanes is on my list of provinces to explore for my #GOT81 project. Part of my plan was to end the project with Batanes but when a good friend scored a good deal on airline tickets for us, it was an opportunity that I could not miss out. Batanes opened my 2018 travels.
On this third and final installment of my Batanes blog, we explored the southern part of Batan Island. The tour would cover the towns of Ivana, Mahatao, and Uyugan. The itinerary was packed and gave us a visual treat of Batan's amazing landscape and a taste of Ivatan's culture and history.
Batan's landscape, in general, can be characterized into two kinds - the rolling hills and the rocky cliffs. There are a few pockets of sandy shores in the island but the ruggedness dominates its landscape. The Chawa Viewdeck, a few kilometers away from Basco, is a good vantage point where you get to see the rough waters of the sea crashing onto the rugged coastline of Batanes.
The view deck gives you a commanding view of the sea and cliffs of the island. The way the waters meet land gives you a preview on how rough the interaction can be between the two elements. We came in on a relatively good day but you can see the rough play along the rocky coastline below the viewing deck. The stairs leading down the shore were damaged so we were not able to go further down the cliff so we had to content ourselves to enjoying the view from above.
Mahatao Boat Shelter
The Mahatao Boat Shelter was inaugurated in 2007 to serve as a boat shelter during weather disturbances. The landscape of Batanes is rough but the weather can be rougher. Our guide, Kuya Joaquin, shared with us that winds can be unrelenting during a typhoon that all you hear is wind whistling its high pitch tune. The shelter was built to reduce damage to sea vessels when rough weathers hit the island.
Tucked in a cove that was improved by man-made structures, the Mahatao Boat Shelter is now part of the usual tourist stops in Mahatao. The view from the roadside is impressive with its still emerald green waters. I highly recommend that you make a stop at the actual to shelter and be amazed by man-made structure.
The Tayid Lighthouse is one of the three lighthouses commissioned in 2000 to serve as a beacon to seafarers navigating through Philippine waters. The aesthetic design, with its colonial looking hexagonal tower and Ivatan inspired stone base, was commissioned to make it a tourist attraction of the province.
The lighthouse, standing on on of the hills of Batan, has the best view among the three lighthouses of Batanes. It sits right smack in the middle of the province's rolling hills making it the most picturisque. The views from the lighthouse was so beautiful and relaxing that I could sit there and just enjoy the view for hours. It was like I was transported to a movie location. The mood and the views was simply breathtaking.
I fell in love with the Tayid Lighthouse and its surrounding views. It is something worth coming back to on my future visits in Batanes.
The Mahatao Church, also known as the San Carlos Borromeo Church, is recognized as a cultural icon by the National Museum and the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts. Built in 1873 under the leadership of Father Polo, its parishioners was able to preserve the original limestone structure of the church.
The simple facade of the church, with its belfry atop its facade, is a dominant structure in the town of Mahatao. The simplicity of its design transcends even inside the church. Its central attraction is its two-tierred retablo bearing the image of its patron saint.
One of the interesting thing that you can do in the Mahatao Church is to write down your thoughts on their Blank Books. It is a collection of numbered book-binded empty pages where guests are encouraged to write down their thoughts. I did mine which I hope to read when I visit Batanes again.
Mahatao Spanish Light Post
A few steps from the Mahatao Church is one of the two Spanish Lamp Post of Mahatao. These Spanish-period lamp posts served as a beacon or lighthouse during those times to fishermen who were out at sea. These lamp posts were manually lighted by locals. The second lamp post is located 30 meters away, within the compound of the school right across the church.
Kuya Joaquin shares that during those times, the two lamp posts guided those who were at sea as they headed home. He shares that when fishermen can only see one light then these men were headed to the right direction. If they were seeing the two lights from the two posts then they were headed away from home.
And then I swept off my feet by Batanes' Marlboro Hills!
If there was one thing that had the biggest impression on me from this trip, this was it. the views, the feel, the beauty, and the ambiance was so overwhelming that all I can do was drop anything that I was doing and to just sit down to enjoy and savor the moment.
Racuh a Payaman, more popularly known as Marlboro Hills, is the most popular viewing deck for Batanes' rolling hills. It is popular because it offers tha most breathtaking view of endless rolling hills and rugged coastlines meeting the sea. You also get to see how the Tayid Lighthouse completes the scene. The views give you an impression that the scene is straight out of a movie setor from another world.
Marlboro Hills has that amazing hold on you that you just want to sit still to enjoy the beauty and serenity that surrounds you. I tried to capture the moment with my photos but none of my photos gave justice to the beauty that was in front of me. You got to be there to experience it.
After several attempts to take photos of Racuh a Payaman, I did what I think woud be the best way to enjoy the spot. I sat down, immersed myself with the beauty around me, and just savor the moment.It was that moment that left a lasting Batanes imprint on me.
Alapad Rock Formation
Who would have thought that a rock formation and a road sign would turn out to be another iconic tourism image and slogan for Batanes?
This was the case of the Alapad Rock Formation where a huge chunk of the rock was sliced through to pave the way for its road construction. The most striking portion of the rock was the part where the rock looked as if it was sliding towards the sea. To add to its charm is a "Blow Ur Horn" road sign. The combination created an interesting icon for Batanes.
The place was also immortalized on film in the movie "Hihintayin Kita sa Langit" where the famous "i-Dawn Zulueta mo ako" scene was shot. The small hill where it was shot overlooks a rocky cove where the Lauren Station is located. The station is now being developed To serve as a National Museum site.
Mutchong View Point
When God blessed Batanes, He made sure that its locals and guests will get a fill of rolling hills and rugged coastlines. The Muchong Viewpoint is another theater of rolling hills and rocky coastlines. What makes it unique are the limestone rocks that are scattered along its shores.
It was relaxing to just sit still and listen to the sound of waves crashing on the shore.
Honesty Coffee Shop
“The Lord is my security guard.”
This gentle reminder encompasses the basic essence and value of the Honesty Cafe in Ivana. This small cafe beside the Ivana Port started out as a small store that catered to locals who was out for an early travel to Sabtang and needed coffee. Since the owners were teachers who cannot fully man the store, they both relied on the local’s honesty for their unmanned store. That is the story behind the most popular coffee shop in Batanes.
Not only has it grown to become an icon of the province’s ingrained values, the cafe has also grown to offer an assortment of goodies and even souvenirs. The quaint cafe has that homey and personal feel where you can even post your own note or thoughts on one of its walls.
To get a full experience of the Honesty Cafe, I strongly suggest that you bring along loose change so that you can drop the exact amount on its designated “payment boxes”. Should the case be that you need to collect your change, you can press the buzzer for an attendant to assist you. But then again that would spoil the experience.
Simbahan ng Ivana
The Ivana Church, or San Jose De Ivana Church, is another national historical landmark in Batanes. Established in 1787, the church was actually built bigger to its actual size now. Part of its nave was closed off after Sabtang residents opted to return to their island. Part of the ruins of that part of the church is still visible today behind the church.
The church with its simple facade is a dominant structure in town. It faces the island of Sabtang and seemed like a sentinel guarding the port and the municipality. A circular grotto stands at the front of its courtyard honoring its patron saint.
The simple life of Ivana also trascends with the church’s interior. The church is void of any intricately-designed retablo and what they have is a simple altar with a crucifix as its central figure.
Interestingly, the Ivana Church played a part in Philippine history when the Katipunan flag was hoisted onnits belfry in 1898.
House of Dacay
The House of Dacay is the oldest surviving stone house in Batanes. It has weathered storms and an earthquake that left only 5 stone houses standing in its aftermath. Built in 1887, the house is kept in its original form by the descendants of its first owner, Luisa Estrella. The house was named after her favorite nephew to whom she entrusted the house.
The house is open to the public and its owners are more than happy to accomodate guests who want to view the house. Inside the main house are memorabilias of past owners and a brief history of the house.
If there is one place that I recommend to have your picture taken with Batanes’ stone house, this is it!
Bridge of San Juan
If North Batan has a touch of Japanese influence, South Batan has the touch of Spanish influence.
In the midst of the busy town of Ivana is a Spanish bridge built using lime, stone, and gabi leaves. The stone bridge is fortified that it has also weathered storms and earthquakes. It sits along the road that leads to the church’s doorstep. It is the only Spanish period bridge still being used today in the province.
Batan’s coast are characterized with rough and rugged shorelines but it is not void of small pockets of sandy shores. Maydangeb Beach is a popular cove for picnics and beach bumming by locals.
The cove is popular for its cream-colored sand. The huge boulder on its side is a perfect backdrop for pictures. Rows of coconut trees obscure its view from the roadside. On a good day, which we happened to chance upon, you can enjoy the cove all for yourself.
Homoron Blue Lagoon
On the other side of the boulder is a concealed blue lagoon - the Homoron Blue Lagoon. During earlier times, access to lagoon was restricted to the Spaniards that it was referred to as the Spanish Lagoon.
A trail that traverses its steep and rocky slope can be accessed to reach the pool.
Post Travel Notes
Two things stood up for me that defined Batanes – its rolling hills and its amazing culture and heritage. These two things make Batanes unique among all other Philippine destinations.
The Marlboro Hills really made an impression on me with its awesome and unending views of its rolling hills, coupled by the serene and tranquil atmosphere. I could really sit there for hours just getting immersed with what is before me.
The old stone houses, the local’s humility, and the honesty of the Ivatans make Batanes a unique place to visit. Their way of life blends perfectly with the landscape of the province. This is where you get to see and realize that life is very simple and that it can be simple.
Batanes is a league of its own, no doubt about it, but I would not consider it to being my heaven on earth. Some of its tourist spots are comparable to some off-beat destinations in the Philippines that have recently hugged the headlines. It’s just that it was first seen and made popular by Batanes. The only thing about this trip was that I probably expected more from what I have read and seen prior to the trip – the “expectation vs reality” kind. I found the exploration very “touristy” which is really not my style of traveling. On my next visit, I would probably enjoy it more if I go biking around some of the spots that really stood out for me.
Nevertheless, Batanes is a one-stop shop where you get to be amazed by its landscape, its history, and where you get to enjoy the raw Ivatan culture. I just hope that they will be able to retain the same vibe, now that the province is being opened up to the world.
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 their 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.