Ask any Filipino what is on their bucket list and almost every one will mention visiting Batanes. Although tourism is a big part of what sustains these islands — life here is not cheap given the fact that everything has to be flown in from Manila — nearly all tourists are Pinoy. Perfect for me because as most of you already know I love going places where other white people don’t…or won’t 😉
Welcome to Batanes!
Batanes is a cluster of ten islands (three of them inhabited) in the farthest northern reaches of this sprawling archipelago. Located less than 200km south of Taiwan, the region is known for it’s beauty as well as its tendency to attract rain and typhoons. Although I escaped the latter during my four days there, I couldn’t escape the rain, which found me on all four days unfortunately. Because of that some of my photos are a bit cloudy, so please excuse them.
The primary island — and the only one with an airport — is Batan Island. Daily ferries transport both people, livestock, and supplies between Sabtang Island to the south and Ibayat Island to the north. However as the distance between Batan and Ibayat is more than six times that of Batan and Sabtang, foul weather frequently cancels that ferry and only a fraction of visitors to Batanes actually step foot on Ibayat. How I wish I’d been one of them! Of course just because one makes it to Ibayat does not mean they’ll have a prompt ferry ride back to Batan. Given my limited three-week stay on my sixth trip to the Philippines and the full itinerary I had this was not a risk I was willing to take.
Photographers and Filipinos love this region because there is plenty of varied landscape, untouched corners, and all-in-all a simpler way of life here. Bicycles far outnumber motorcycles and a large portion of the roads are still unpaved. Even those that are paved are essentially just wide cement sidewalks and not the asphalt variety.
🏝 Batan Island
Batan Island is the centerpiece of Batanes and Basco is the primary town on Batan — and home to the only airport in Batanes. Most visitors to the region stay at a small resort or homestay here and use that as their base while they explore the rest of island cluster.
There are two phenomenal tour options which I highly recommend as they will give you a better view of the islands and their history. The first is a full-day complete circle around Batan, stopping in each of the small barangays as well as numerous beaches, sights, and scenic view points.
Not only can visitors climb to the top to see the Basco Lighthouse but there is also a phenomenal restaurant that is open daily for a mere 3hrs and is reservation only. They have no menu and don’t even bother to ask if you have any allergies when taking your reservation. (This is fine for me because I don’t have any, but if you do, speak up.)
Upon arrival guests barely even have time to sit down before their first courses are delivered to the table along with drinks. The meal varies every day depending on the chef’s whims and of course what is fresh and available in the markets that morning.
See More Beautiful Batan Island
🏝 Sabtang Island
The second must-do tour is a 3/4-day trek out to Sabtang that involves a sunrise ferry ride from Ivana Port on Batan and a half circle around the island visiting two of the most well-known places there, Chavayan village and Morong Beach. Ferries depart every morning around 7am and make a return trip around 2pm.
See More Sabtang Island + Chavayan, a proposed UNESCO World Heritage Site
If you are thinking about visiting Batanes, here is what you should know:
Bring cool weather clothes. The region is located very far north compared to the rest of the Philippines and as such the temperatures can be considerably cooler, especially given the wind factor and tendency towards rain.
Check out all-inclusive-packages before just booking a flight. I have never before recommended doing this for anywhere and I most certainly did not. However after talking with other Filipinos while traveling the islands most of them did and were able to save some money that way.
Bring cash. There is only one ATM located near the town square but it has been known to run out of money.
For even more detailed information on Batanes visit my friend Dreidel’s blog, Why Stop Over — she was also kind enough to provide a couple of the photos for this post.
7 thoughts on “Batanes: A Photographer’s Dream Destination”
Cool! So what comes next after this? Go for Itbayat! 😉
One thing to be noted here is that locals (Pinoys) mostly buy their tickets ahead of time. Airline ticket sales happen usually couple of months in advance. Price usually drops up to 80% off. A friend who after seeing my Batanes pic messaged me last January and told me she has booked for Batanes in June. Another friend just booked for September trip this week (of March) and got the ticket for P1300. That’s a lot cheaper compared to our P10000 airfare. Anyway, I used to patronize those ticket sales when I was still in Manila. If I missed my flight, who cares? The ticket is just so cheap. However, those tickets on sale are usually non-refundable and non-cancelable. Rebooking must be done 24 hours before the flight, the new date must be definite, and travel must be completed in the next 365 days. Like when I had to give up my Hanoi trip in November 2012 for my US assignment. I actually did not bother to rebook it as rebooking costs P1500 which sometimes as expensive as the ticket price itself. Plus I had no idea then when I’d go back and if I’d have enough time to visit Vietnam (no re-routing). If ever I would return, that was to renew my visa which means, the embassy would be holding my passport for stamping for a week or two.
Another option the locals have are websites having promotions like groupon, metro deal, etc. They usually offer a complete package (airfare, airport transfer, Batan and Sabtang Islands tour (w/ breakfast & lunch – they leave out dinner so at least once the person will have the chance for food tripping or can try to explore other food establishments in town) for a lower cost. When I told my friend I wanted to go Batanes and it’s on top of my list of things to do on my visit, he advised me to check those websites. Metro deal was offering P16000 complete package for two pax. However, those kinds of deals are usually offered months in advance. And for us who just decided to pursue the trip just two weeks in advance, the deal was definitely not applicable.
When going to Batanes, one must not worry going on solo. You can always find a group to join in like what we did because going on solo trip is as expensive as hell.
When I asked one person from the group that we joined in, she said they got their package for P4300 per pax, which included airport transfer, 3d2n hostel stay w/ breakfast, and Batan and Sabtang Islands tour w/ lunch. I think we just got ours fair as we paid P6000 for the two islands tour w/ lunch and P2000 for 4d3n hostel stay w/o breakfast, though both for two pax. They got their air fare for P5000 per pax on a September sale (four months advance), which is 50% of ours however. Well, we had no choice and should just be fine for us whose trip was impromptu.
Anyways, I’m giving away clues on how the locals can travel back home. That’s applicable to domestic and some international flights. Thanks to all the ticket sales, but one just needs to be brave enough to take the risk. If not, no one can afford those expensive flights.
Thanks Derek for the post… Batanes is a dream come true for me (an affirmation of what you said about Filipinos having this in their bucket list). I really wanted to go since years ago but the flight then was so expensive and not daily so there’s more risk of being stranded if a typhoon is coming. Oh and just recently, it was featured on national TV. I read lots of comments, so it looks like more Filipinos are eyeing to visit it too. The place may become touristy but not so soon as it’s still expensive to go there. The only way is to fly as it’s not accessible by ferry from Cagayan (northernmost part of mainland Luzon). Also when I spoke w/ one of the locals in Batanes, he told me they want to preserve the place, it’s conservative image. They don’t have plan to commercialize it, like putting up bars for night parties like Boracay and other destinations that are usually flocked by foreigners and tourists. I think it’s one of the reasons why it has a very low crime rate. We’ll see… 🙂
I know. I could have written a separate blog for this. LoL
hi were going to batanes 1st week of nov any contact nos for tour guides and accomodations thanks
I went with Filipino friends and they arranged most everything, sorry I don’t have any contact numbers. I recommend staying at Crisan Lodge but regardless of where you stay it’s a small island — everyone knows everyone and everything can be booked through your lodging. Let me know if any more questions and have a great trip!
I never knew how beautiful Batanes is if I wasn’t able to see your blog! Amazing! I am not a photographer but I am hoping to visit the place in a year or two. The town seems serene and therapeutic.
Elize – http://www.dumaguetenyo.com family
It most definitely is both serene and therapeutic. Quite refreshing. Hope you get the chance to visit soon 🙂 I was there in January though so there was lots of rain and clouds…my pictures don’t do Batanes justice.
P.S. Please forgive my late response, I was doing a race across India then in the Nepal earthquake and have been doing relief work ever since…so I’m very far behind on writing and emails and, well, everything 😉