The tiny village of Chavayan is located on Sabtang Island, part of the Batanes region of the Philippines and permanently locked in a time long since passed. There is just one long and lonely road in and out of the village, which helps keep the village isolated. It is nestled on a thin strip of land between the mountains and the sea, winding along the cliffside like a single stubborn tree root.
This small barangay (Filipino term for a village) has become one of the must-visit sights when visiting Sabtang. One that hasn’t been tainted by tourism….yet. It probably helps that most of the visitors to Sabtang are native Filipinos exploring the farthest reaches of their country.
Only a minimal number of foreigners make it all the way up here, which is one of the reasons that I really enjoyed my trip. As many of you may already know, when traveling I prefer to go to more remote locations where I am not surrounded by white people. Another big factor of why tourism hasn’t ruined this village yet is the low numbers of visitors. We visited on a Sunday but between my tour group and the only other one, there was a grand total of about 15-20 people.
One downside of the lack of western tourists is that our guides spoke Tagalog, Ivatan and one or two other regional dialects, but not English. I had to have my friend translate to fully grasp everything I was seeing.
Chavayan is an old Ivatan village that is most known for its stone houses, some of which are over 100 years old now. This style of construction was introduced by the Spanish when they arrived in the last half of the 1800s and quickly proved perfect for the region, which is prone to strong winds and frequent typhoons. Their roofs are made of thatched cogon (a tall type of grass found throughout Southeast Asia) and are replaced every 25-30 years, depending on the thickness.
In addition to making roofs the Ivatan people also make a variety of additional items out of the local grasses and palm trees. In fact one of the first things visitors will notice right at the entrance of Chavayan is the Sabtang Weavers Association building. Inside are a variety of examples of their handiwork, most notably the valkul, a traditional Ivatan headdress. They cost around ₱175 (just under $6USD) or you can use them to pose for photos for only ₱20, as we did.
After posing for a couple quick photos we each went our separate way and explored the barangay. Because of the limited amount of space, Chavayan village is not very big at all. All of the houses are built along two small parallel “roads” — which is in reality just one road shaped like an upside-down U.
The population of Chavayan is less than 250 people yet they have managed to preserve their way of life really well. Thanks to the mountain nestled against the backside of the village there is no cell service in the village either, further keeping the area locked in a time long gone.
None of the locals spoke any English — in fact they have a completely different dialect from Tagalog, the official language of the Philippines — but in having some of the others from my tour group help translate I found that each of them were very friendly and happy to talk about life in their village.
Reportedly there are one or two homestays in Chavayan, for anyone looking to stay overnight. They cost around ₱150/person ($4USD), or so I was informed. If interested ask your tour guide or inquire at the Sabtang visitors center when first arriving on the ferry from Batan Island.
We were also told by our tour guide that Chavayan was under consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, however I have been unable to confirm this online. It could be true, but it also wouldn’t be the first time that a tour guide has given less than accurate information.