They say that Batanes, the northernmost group of islands in the archipelago, is the place that is the least Philippines without leaving the Philippines (gaze into the landscapes and try not to say the word “Scottish”) Climate-wise, it is the only place in the country that experiences four season year-round (blame it to its very close neighbour, Taiwan). The place can be found on almost everyones travel bucket list, and in my opinion, the ultimate baptism of fire to become a certified lakwatsero or lakwatsera.
So after months of tedious hunt for seatsales (the plane fare to the island is almost the same price going to Japan or Taiwan) planning the perfect itinerary, after days of praying for a perfect weather (the possibility of getting stranded on the island is very high) and making sure that all the details of your trip are ironed out, YOU FINALLY MADE IT! The only thing you need to do is to make the most out of your trip to this UNESCO World Heritage Site nominee. So these are some of, if not, the best spots that you should not miss:
1. Liveng, the Batanes hedgerows – One thing that would grab your attention when you look at the hills on the island are this complex network of tall vegetation that seems like boundaries of a giant jigsaw puzzle spread over the verdant hills. Liveng to the locals, are small trees, tall grass like talahib, bamboo, shrubs and/or corn that are planted to serve many purposes: protection of crops against grazing animals, windbreakers, protection from soil erosion and serves as boundaries or demarkation lines of the lands they own.
2. Chawa Viewdeck – heading to the hills you would pass by a viewdeck on a steep mountainside where the cliff meets the sea. From the south of the capital on the way to Mahatao, you can easily see the viewdeck with a grotto of the Virgin Mary and few stone benches where you can photoshoot and admire the view. Since it faces the South China Sea, this spot is ideal for sunset watching. From the viewdeck, you can descend to more than a hundred zigzagging steps leading to a small rocky coast below where you can find naturally made pools. Climbing back up is not for the faint of knees though.
3. Marlboro Country/ Racuh A Payaman – get your “The Sound of Music” game on and head to Uyugan to check one of the popular place for tourists to marvel the scenery and for livestock to graze at. Seriously, when you reach the rolling hills of Uyugan you will fight the urge to either 1. do a selfie 2. take a jumpshot 3. sing Julie Andrews “The Hills are Alive” or do all of them! Marvel the spectacular panorama of hills and hedgerows and slopes and mountains and sea as you listen to the gentle song of the wind. The image in your head surely will linger for days, months, even years to come. One interesting fact: Each family can only have up to ten cows to freely roam in the pasture. A limit is imposed to prevent overgrazing. In return for use of the land, family members of the livestock owners must help out in community activities such as building houses, maintaining the hedgerows around the land and other cooperative works.
4. Mahatao Viewdeck – Another view deck you should not miss is the Mahatao. Going to Marlboro country, you can head to the viewdeck. You cannot miss it as it is the stop leading to the hills. You can also arrange to have lunch here and your stomach and eyes will surely be full with Ivatan cuisine and scenery. This is also where one of the lighthouse of Batanes is situated – the Tayid Lighthouse.
5. Imnajbu Road Cliff – “imnajbu means settlement to the lowland or downhill, Imnajbu is the smallest baranggay of all Batanes. The place is significant for this is where the first mass and baptism in the islands was celebrated according to church records,. Fr. Mateo Gonzales, OP, Apostle of Batanes, first landed in Imnajbu in 1682 A.D. Passing at Imnajbu you will find the interesting Alapad Rock formation, a stonethrow away from the rock formation is the hill where the Old Loran Station, an abandoned US navigational facility, provided a good focal point on the landscape below Alapad Hill was one of the popular stop in the area. This was the location of the movie “Hihintayin Kita sa Langit” which featured Richard Gomez and Dawn Zulueta. This place is perfect for your “I-Dawn-Zulueta-Mo-Ako” moments.
6. Mahayaw Arch – In Sabtang, there is a naturally made stone arch that is so heavily photographed, it became an icon and a symbol of the island. Sometimes called as “Nakabuang” or “Mahayaw” or just simply “Ahaw“, this arch was carved by geologic forces together with the sea. The arch also serves as a cooling shade under the scorching sun. Tourists stop by to this beach to have lunch
8. Valugan Boulder Beach – another favorite spot for tourists and photographers alike, the beach is unique in such a way that it has no sand, instead the beach is surrounded by boulders of igneous rocks said to be spewed by Mt. Iraya long ago when it was geologically active. Swimming is impossible here as you can easily get smashed by the crashing waves and big boulders of rounded stones at the beach. This is frequented by photographers who wanted to do sunrise shoot amidst the fantastic backdrop.
9. Vayang Rolling Hills – Another popular rolling hills in Batan Island is the one up north of Basco. The hills give you an unobstructed view of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). This is one of the most visited spot north of Basco. This, together with the Marlboro country south of Batan somewhat epitomises what Batanes to the general populace is all about- endless verdant rolling hills, deep blue skies and magnificent view of the sea. Perennial postcard-ready view.
10. Chamantad-Tiñan Cove – If Batan Island have Racuh A Payaman and Vayang Rolling Hills, Sabtang boast pride on its cove called Chamantad-Tiñan. This cove on the southern most part of Sabtang is arguably the most scenic spot of the island. Get lost in thought while basking the windswept hills and amazing rock formations that leads all the way down at the cove. These rugged hills, where cows and goats freely wander, is where you can sample tubho Ivatan wild tea and sugarcane wine for free in one of the huts that sell traditional Ivatan stuff and souvenirs.
11. Diura Fishing Village – A tiny fishing village facing the Pacific Ocean around three kilometers east of the town of Mahatao. Every year, around mid-March, this is where local fishermen perform the kapayvanuvanua, literally means “cleaning of the shore” ritual to signify the start of the fishing season. The ritual involves a shaman sacrificing a pig then interpret its liver looking for good omen and good catch. This tiny village by the Pacific is home to Ivatan fisher folks and offers a refuge to those who just want to experience rural, seaside living in Batanes. Not far from the village, a short hike will take you to the Fountain of Youth, which is actually a freshwater spring that the residents have diverted into a catchment and sits in front the sea.
12. Chanarian Beach – They say its a crime not to witness at least one sunrise and/or sunset in Batanes. For sunset, one good spot is to visit Chanarian beach, few minutes off the town proper of Basco. It’s a long stretch of light black sand and pebble beach suited for refreshing dips and sunset viewing. What makes it unique is the interesting stone stacks near the beach.
13. The Light Houses of Batanes – Batanes has three lighthouses. The construction of three lighthouses around Batanes was a project of then Congressman Florencio Abad in the early 2000′s. These parolas were built not only to guide seafarers across the treacherous waters of the Pacific Ocean and West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), but also as tourist attractions. All three lighthouses are open to visitors anytime, accentuating the vista with their magnificent and imposing presence.
BASCO LIGHTHOUSE (NAIDI) Inaugurated in 2003, it was the first to be completed among the three. The lighthouse was erected in Naidi Hills, where the site of the old telegraph facility used by the Americans and was destroyed by the Japanese during World War II stood. The Lighthouse have an imposing and unobstructed views of the Mt. Iraya to the north, West Philippine Sea and the Basco Town Proper to the south. The 6-story structure has its gallery or viewing deck on the fifth floor. Located next to the 66 feet (20 m) tower is a dwelling of vernacular Ivatan architecture
TAYID LIGHTHOUSE (MAHATAO) Mahatao’s original, non-functional lighthouse was constructed in 1700s near the San Carlos Borromeo Church and the structure look like a very tall lamp-post. Like the one found in Basco, Tayid Lighthouse was built around year 2000 and completed in 2004. It was This octagonal-shaped lighthouse is now regarded more as a tourist attraction rather than a beacon to seafarers. It is perfectly located on a hill at the east side of Batan Island, from which you’ll see cows gazing on the hills, the massive rugged mountains cliffs facing South China Sea, as well as a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and other parts of the Batan Island. It best seen from Marlboro Country (Racuh a Payaman) and Diura Fishing Village.
SABTANG LIGHTHOUSE On the northern end of Sabtang lies the village of Malakdang. The picturesque Sabtang lighthouse standing on a hill overlooking the sea is only a few minutes hike from the Malakdang welcome arch. Perched on a cliff on the right side of the port, Sabtang Lighthouse is the first man-made structure to greet you as you approach Sabtang island, posing like a sentry to the unpredictable waters of Batanes.
14. The Churches of Batanes
All 10 existing churches, chapels and cathedrals in Batanes share the same distinct feature native to the island. Originally, thick buttresses are constructed to withstand typhoons and earthquakes with cogon grass as the main material for its roofing. Majority of the churches are built late 1700s to early 1800s. Like the typical Spanish layout of towns in the mainland Luzon and the Visayas, churches are constructed in the middle of the town, usually fronting to the sea. Fortress like design and architecture is the preferred choice. Here are the list of the bastions of faith found in Batanes:
• Sta. Rosa de Lima Chapel in Chavayan
• San Vicente Ferrer Church in Sabtang
• San Jose de Obrero Church in Ivana
• St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel in Savidug
• San Antonio De Florencia Church in Uyugan
• San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel in Imnajbu
• Sta. Maria de Mayan Church in Itbayat
• San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao
• Our Lady of Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral in Basco
• Tukon Chapel in Basco
15. Fundacion Pacita The last, but definitely not the least is the place where the internationally renowned artist, Philippine-American contemporary painter, lived – Pacita Abad. Fundacion Pacita, once her home and studio, is now the premier hotel and an art museum, wherein parts of the proceeds go to her foundation for young Ivatan artists. You have to book early if you wanted to stay here as despite of steep prices of their accommodation, they are always fully booked. A trip in Batanes is never complete unless you drop by at Fundacion.
Been to Batanes and missed some of these spots? Maybe going back would be a nice idea!
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