We’ve finally visited one of the places in our Philippine bucket list, Batanes, an absolutely gorgeous province consisting of a few islands (for starters, see the 12 Ordinary Things that Look Gorgeous in Batanes). Before heading out to Batanes, we had some notions on what it would look like and what we should expect; confirmed a few and reconsidered most of those Batanes notions. We thought we’d share our realizations with the VisitPinas community:
1. When to Travel
Some places are easily accessible any time of the year. Not Batanes. Not a good idea to visit Batanes (just like Coron) during the rainy season. Rain messes up a lot of things in Batanes — flights are cancelled, huge waves when crossing to Sabtang Island, Mt. Irayat is covered with clouds, no nice view of Marlboro country and the rolling hills, falling rocks on cliff-hugging highways. Summer, on the other hand, turns the grass into crispy brown (view is better with rich green foliage). Batanes folks suggest that guests visit Batanes around January to March.
2. Must-visit sites
No visit to Batanes is complete without going through the usual scenic sites. The Marlboro country, with smooth grass-covered hills and the breathtaking view of the entire island. The Rolling Hills, with it’s, well, endless rolling hills, fading into the ocean. The lighthouse. Sabtang Island, with its gorgeous promontory, old Ivatan houses, fresh seafood, white-sand beach, and landmark earth-arch. Fundacion Pacita, with its majestic location high above the hills, a clear view of the Pacific Ocean, and its lovely camote loaf. Mt. Carmel Chapel, with an ambiance that would make any bride giddy.
3. Poor internet connection
Cellular sites are available in most areas of Batanes, so there’s no problem with phone calls and text messages (SMS). Internet connection is an entirely different story. We were not able to connect to the internet the whole time we were in Batanes, with only the 2G signal. To post your beautiful photos of Batanes in facebook or your blog, you’ll have to wait to get back to Manila or wherever your next destination is.
Power in Batanes is provided by a couple of diesel-powered generators maintained by the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR). They have no problem with the fuel, they said, but the lines and generating capacity sometimes hit a snag, resulting to intermittent brownouts.
5. Modest accommodations
There are no 5-star hotels in Batanes. Not even a 2-star. Which is ABSOLUTELY fine with us. There is a purported plan to construct a 200-room hotel in the heart of Basco, which doesn’t really bode well for the local inn owners and, more importantly, may not be environmentally sustainable. There are small inns. And, with the onslaught of tourists, there’s an increasing number of home-stay options.
Out of the 10 classmates in elementary, our host told us, only 2 of them stayed in Batanes. It’s quiet in Batanes. Less people (as compared to the provinces in the mainlands of the Philippines) and lesser vehicles. This is nirvana for those who are taking a break from the city. And we hope it stays quiet and peaceful (non-existent crime rate?) for a much longer time.
7. No nightlife
You must have seen that coming with the previous entry on Batanes being a very, very “quiet” place. It gets specially quiet once the sun goes down. No bars here, just one or two restaurants which, you guessed correctly, close really early in the evening. That is why “no nightlife” gets special mention. But who needs a nightlife in Batanes? You go here to soak its natural beauty and, after a whole day of touring, you’re too tired to go out anyway.
8. Make reservations
It’s perfectly fine to be adventurous and simply head off to Batanes on a whim. This, however, is not possible if you have kids in tow. And it’s going to be very expensive. We were told that there were a little over 3,000 tourists in 2013 — a figure breached by the first 3 months of 2014. In short, sudden spike in guests and limited supplies (Batanes has to import everything, including sand for construction, from other provinces). We made a reservation in the restaurant by the lighthouse and, upon arriving, we asked to include one more person — they had to beg off because the food is just enough for the reserved guests.
9. It’s Hot in Batanes
It’s really a small island-province, with not much tree cover because of constant typhoons and the extensive grazing lands for cattle. It’s hot really hot when exploring the open fields of Batanes, but then again, it’s extra hot anywhere you go this summer. One discovery in Batanes, though, is the surprising cool temperature when staying under the cogon-roofed huts, even in the middle of sun-scorched hillsides of Batanes (and it’s cold at night). There’s no shame in bringing an umbrella and other protection against the harsh sun. And there’s no excuse not to wear sunscreen.
10. Fare is expensive
It’s cheaper to go abroad than go to Batanes (we must emphasize that it’s really worth it). Round-trip fare is P15,000. And that’s a promo fare. So plan ahead. And carefully. Imagine going to Batanes during the rainy season, when the flight gets cancelled (make a guess, would you get a full refund?).
11. Transportation blues
There’s not much vehicles in Batanes. The day we arrived in Batanes, we were lucky two new vans were unloaded from the boat. The tourism industry in Batanes was caught off-guard by the sudden rush of tourists. Make sure that your agent make transportation arrangements (see #15 below). Otherwise, you’ll take the whole-island day-tour in a tricycle.
12. 2 full days
That’s actually three days, including travel time. First day, go straight to Sabtang Island from the airport. A whole day is needed for the 30-minute wave-induced-coaster boat trip from Batan Island (the main island, where the capital Basco is found) to Sabtang. Bring your swimming gear because there’s a nice beach in Sabtang. The second day is best spent with a full tour of the main Basco island (see must-visits when in Batanes).
No trip to Batanes is complete without crossing the West Philippine Sea, from the main island of Batan to the island of Sabtang. There’s only one way to get there — by boat. Little boats. Crossing the West Philippine Sea. Taking the waves for 30 minutes (so go there during summer so the sea is calm). Sure, you can opt NOT to go to Sabtang, but remember that a Batanes trip is not complete without visiting Sabtang. So do NOT forget your seasickness pills.
That’s what they call the flying fish. Batanes is abundant with a lot of flying fish. We suggest the day-old sun-friend dibang. Crispy, golden brown. Not too salty, not too bland, not too soft. Perfect (we brought some to Manila, and discovered that it doesn’t taste the same).
15. Be nice to your travel agent
In case of rebooking and close coordination with the local tour providers, it really helps if you have close contact with your travel agent (we have our own boutique travel agency, GTB, so arranging our trips is no problem for us, see disclosure). The secondary reason why we at GoTravelBliss visit these places is to strengthen our linkages with travel professionals. This, in turn, makes us more confident when referring guests to them. So, you see, travel is a bliss if you’re nice to your travel agent.