I heard a lot of good stories and read great online reviews about Batanes. Many people claim it as the New Zealand of the Philippines so I thought to see it myself. I booked for a package tour with BISUMI and flew to Batanes from Tuguegarao City on an eight-passenger Cessna plane and roamed around its two main islands for six days.
Since I was travelling solo and I wanted to enjoy the sceneries, I opted for a cogon tricycle ride. This is way much better for a small group of tourists (1-3 people) than to rent a van mainly because it is open and you can already take pleasure of the sight around from the commencement of your journey. However, if you are going in bigger groups or joining other tourists and budget is your consideration, then a van hire is more suitable. Both are usually provided by travel and tour operators whose number is quite many in Batanes. I’d like to do all things myself but I’m not good at riding a bike, let alone a motorbike. The latter can be rented on a daily basis.
The three main islands in Batanes are relatively small that you can actually drive around and visit the sites of interest in a day or two provided you will be sight-seeing only. You will need more days if you want to do certain activities like trekking and swimming.. . and if the weather changes too.
Batanes is a haven for Filipinos who love nature and for those who hanker for a temporary quietness from the daily grinds of work and all things that occupy their minds. It is the exact opposite of what life is in big cities like Manila. It is a place where one can unwind and slow down.
Batanes stands up to its reputation. It doesn’t only boast its amazing landscapes and seascapes but tourists are also assured of their safety and ultimate delectation. I learned a little bit of its verse in my short stint in the island. One evening, I decided to have a walk in the National Road in Basco when the two young police officers I met on my incoming flight called my attention. They were walking behind me. We shot the breeze for a while before I proceeded to my destination. Shortly after, they hailed a police vehicle that was passing. They let me hop on the transport and dropped me to ‘Welcome Basco’ site where I intended to go. I strolled in the area transiently before I decided to look for a place where I can have dinner. Post major munch, I started promenading back to my accommodation. It was already dark and I was actually quite dead on my feet so I was hoping that a police vehicle may pass again so I can get a hitch. Not long after, a father and a daughter offered me to ride with them on a motorbike, one was to be left to be picked up later, so I can be dropped off to my homestay. They probably read the little reluctant look on my face so they were quick to assure me not to worry because ‘this is Batanes’. Needless to say, I was delivered to my accommodation safe and sound.
There are a few information I learned from my conversations with some Ivatans, the local people in Batanes. Interestingly, they want to preserve their culture which is really amazing. With the Lilliputian stretch of Batanes and its small population, hardly can anyone doesn’t know anyone. Here, I noticed how Ivatans greet each other through a simple nod or a smile or a brief salutation when they meet each other. Same courtesy is extended to tourists and other nonlocals. Where else in the Philippines will you experience such cordiality. Maybe, there are still some… that, I still hope to find.
I also caught the word that Ivatans do not allow nonlocals to purchase properties in Batanes unless one is going to marry a local. By the way, the group of islands is a protected area. They prohibit big developers to enter their territories primarily to avoid ruining their environment. As a Filipino who knows enough that the Philippines has almost run out of a decent conservation area, I could not agree more.
In my almost a week of wayfaring in Batanes, there were only two occasions when I saw guys smoking in public and did not witness anyone drinking alcohol. My tourist guide gave me a lowdown of the strict implementation of smoking and alcohol drinking ban in public places. Isn’t that great?
One of the biggest factors to consider when coming to Batanes is the travel cost. It is true that it is way cheaper to go to Korea or Hong Kong or even to Japan than to come in Batanes, at least considering the average price of an airline ticket. Expect too that everything within the islands is substantially dearer than in the mainland. Because of its isolation, a great number of its commodities are shipped in from Manila, Tuguegarao and other places, thus the high price. I’m not writing any figures here because there are too many blogs out there where you can get an idea of how much you need to prepare to see Batanes. If money is not an issue, then good on you mate.
As you may have imagined by now, Batanes is laidback… a countryside. You can unquestionably find opportunities to talk to people unhasty. In my discourse with a couple of nonlocals who have been staying in the islands for nearly a year, they said that haggling for a price of anything here is a big no no! Prices are set and everyone adheres to it. After all, honesty is held in high regard by Ivatans. Priceless!
Church and chapel visits are part of tour itineraries set by travel operators. Many travel bloggers also include this in their must-see places in Batanes. No religious edifice here is grand in scale and architecture but each has significant history that are important to the people. A large percentage of Ivatans is Catholic.
There are several beaches in Batanes especially in Batan where it is sure as it can be safe and enjoyable to swim. When you come here, make sure you don’t just sight-see, be prepared to take a dip in the water as well. The tourist guides are willing to wait for you so you can have fun. This is more possible when you are travelling in small group. It’s a different story when you are joining other tourists in a bigger group. You know what I mean.
A few tourist guides imparted that Batanes does not have zero crime rate as what outsiders usually hear but it is at minimum. However, they feel that the worse type of transgressions are committed by nonlocals like a few laborers who shift to Batanes to do roadworks. Police and coastguards are usually in check of Taiwanese fishing vessels that encroach the Philippine waters. Ivatans do not want to see policemen carrying their guns so, now they don’t.
I did not see any beggar in the streets. No one is very poor. Everyone has something to do for a living whether it be touring people, farming or fishing.
Before I forget, prepare not only your budget but also yourself when you come over to Batanes. Expect some short walks. Be ready to get drenched in your own sweat. Umbrella is not usually usable when you thread over the hills and cliffs as it can get windy. However, if you want the best views and the most beautiful photographs and exciting experiences you can share with your pals, by all means get out there and forget about getting tanned (I’m referring to Filipinos and other Asians who are anxious to get dark). It’s part of the adventure!
Maybe the only thing less indulging in Batanes (at least for me) is the food unless it is wrapped in kabaya. If you happen to get a chance to eat vunung, eat it with your clean hands. Their paco salad is also an interesting choice. Other than these, foods are prepared simply and less than flavory. But guess what, that depends on your palate and your preference . You might find their cuisines exquisite and absorbing.
Here’s a good tip. They said that the low tour season in Batanes is in July and August as it is rainy during these months. But still take your chances and enjoy the place with fewer visitors. Guess what, the whole time I was there, I was lucky to cotton to a great weather. There was a brief pour of rain that otherwise has not affected my wandering.
I’m not giving you a list of must-see places in Batanes because they are just next to each other. You’ll never get lost here. Some sites like the Old Spanish Bridge in Batan or St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel in Sabtang may not strike your eyes as you hope but again, they have historical, spiritual or practical values to people. You may opt to see them or not but if you want to feed your curiosity, just go. To perceive something as beautiful is a choice. Maybe, just appreciate all these simple little things too.
I’d like to see Itbayat too but during my entire stay in Batanes, only once was a boat allowed to set sail in the sea. The water is almost always rough and dangerous going to Batanes’ biggest island and the chances of getting stranded is high. Since obtaining a flight reservation anytime you want to leave is very slim unless you book way in advance, I decided to do other activities like visiting the Rakuh-a-Idi Spring and climbing Mt. Iraya. You can try these too when you happen to wander here.
Batanes is one of the last frontiers in the Philippines. There are very few unadulterated places left in this country. When you visit, leave nothing and take nothing from its domain. For those who want to relax from their busy lives, Batanes is a place to ease off. For those who dote on nature, Batanes is a perfect destination.
But do you know what is more impressive in visiting Batanes? It’s its people. Their politeness and graciousness and honesty are something foreign to most places these days. So please when you decide to call in, give them back the same courtesy that they afford you.
Now, is it justifiable to dub Batanes as the New Zealand of the Philippines? With its rolling hills, coastal views and clean air, it is absolutely comparable to a part of NZ. But Batanes has its unique beauty as NZ has its own. With its gorgeous surroundings and its lovely people, Batanes is a true paradise.
Dios Mamajes Batanes!