Batanes – The Land Of Storms
Travelling all the way through to the northernmost islands of the Philippines is something of an adventure in itself.
Very few people venture past the northern coastline of Luzon on their Philippine vacation, content to bask in the many beaches and resorts that are found in the more popular tourist destinations.
After all, what’s there to see beyond the South China Sea (or if you subscribe to the strong historical and geographical evidence – the West Philippine Sea) other than, well, the blue stretching beyond the horizon?
The Hidden Jewel of The Philippines
Smack dab in this seemingly forsaken blue waterscape are a smattering of small but picturesque islands like Calamian Group, Babuyanes Group, and Batanes Group of Islands. Because of its distance from the mainland, these island groups have not developed into successful tourism spots.
However, as air transport becomes more available and amenities are upgraded, more and more travellers are beginning to discover what the northernmost islands of the country have to offer.
The Batanes Group of Islands is possibly one of the most typhoon-battered places on earth. Generally, the Philippines is visited by an average of 25 typhoons of varying strengths over the course of a year.
Typhoon season usually begins in June and ends in November for most of the country, but Batanes is lashed by rains almost the whole year round. That’s why getting there can be a little tricky—it’s best to book your flight in March or April where the weather is at its absolute best.
If you want to travel there some other time, be prepared for last-minute flight cancellations, as the weather plays a really big factor on whether or not you can even set foot on the islands.
Getting to Batanes
You can either fly or sail to Batanes from two vantage points: Ilocos Norte and Cagayan Valley. It’s faster to fly, of course, but there are only a handful of airlines that offer flights to Batanes (South East Airlines and Batanes Airlines, to name two), so you don’t have much choice in flight scheduling and airfare prices.
The plane ticket can be pretty steep for a standard island hop—around P7,000 or a little less than US$70 per person. A boat ride will cost you so much less, but you might lose precious time chugging through the sea to get your holiday started.
Add to that the travel time from Manila to Cagayan or Ilocos (you can fly, drive or take a bus to either province) and you’ll be looking at about a total of 4-14 hours on the road. Getting there is basically a budget issue, so you have to choose your mode of transport very wisely.
You Will Need Cash on this Trip.
Every tourist who wants to travel to Batanes and its surrounding island clusters have to be bring as much cash as they are planning to spend, and then some more for emergency purposes like cancelled flights, extended stays, and side trips.
There are no ATMs on the island and possibly no swiping machines for credit cards as well—so be forewarned. Withdraw as much cash you dare to stuff in your bags before you leave the airport or the dock.
There is a Western Union branch in Batanes if you can ask someone to wire you cash from abroad.
You don’t want to cut your trip short just because you ran out of cash, Nor do you want to not visit some interesting location you’ve been dying to see just because the boatman doesn’t accept plastic.
Batanes’ great distance from the economic, political and social hubbub that is Manila may have its drawbacks, but it is also the very thing that makes this province unique and charming. In here you can see only beautiful mountains, magnificent hills, storm-battered seascapes and the blue, blue sea stretching as far as your eyes can see.
When travelling to the Batanes Group of Islands up north remember these two things:
1. Schedule your trip during the small window of good-weather season on the island.
2. Bring enough cash to tide you over for the duration of your stay.
Since the island group has yet to be placed under the tourism limelight, you can count on having a very serene vacation, almost as if you have parts of this lush and pristine location to yourself.
There aren’t as many people as in other, more popular beach spots, particularly because the place is too far away and getting there can be bit costlier than your average seascape. But every peso/dollar that you spend on the island is sure to give you a cultural and environmental adventure like no other.
Mother Nature’s Wonder
The wind and sea have carved the islands into spectacular rock formations, telling of the area’s geological story over thousands of years.
There are only a few places on earth where you can be this close to Mother Nature and witness her power etched into the very landscape.
Batanes is made up of both inhabited and uninhabited islands, all of them filled to the brim with amazing flora and fauna. Situated this far north, the animals and plants have developed into an intricate ecosystem that is virtually untouched by modern development.
At the same time, the extreme weather conditions on this part of the Philippines also make for rather awesome geological formations, such as Itbayat Island, the biggest uplifted coral reefs on the planet. Surprisingly enough, the island is inhabited. It’s so far up north that it’s actually closer to Taiwan than Luzon!
All around the island, you will definitely notice the beautiful yet hardy stone homes of the locals. The Ivatan people have been living in the northernmost islands of the Philippines since time immemorial and have since learned to adapt to the natural calamities that besiege the islands every so often.
The houses have to be strong enough to withstand the 20+ storms that rage across the islands and the harsh winter winds coming off from Siberia from December to February. They have to be cool throughout the short summer on the islands. They have to be sturdy enough to get through the occasional earthquakes that sometimes visit the island.
The seat of government of the province is found on Batan Island. Basco is the center of economic development in Batanes as well as the gateway to the rest of the province. It’s best for you to book your rooms within the town so you can make use of as many amenities as possible—other accommodations might not have running water or electricity 24/7, so if you’re picky about these things, stick to Basco.