To travel solo. To travel to a new place—alone. In 2011, I resolved to tick this off my bucket list. Vaguely knowing what to expect aside from its postcard-worthy sceneries, I booked a flight to Batanes, the northernmost part of the Philippines.
It may as well be one of the remotest provinces in the Philippines, but Batanes did not disappoint me during my five-day trip. It offered a safe place for my adventurous heart and a sweet escape to my wandering feet.
Here are (more than) ten awesome things to do in Batanes:
1. Explore Batanes in two wheels
The best way to explore Basco (capital town of Batanes) is to cycle around its peaceful streets. There is a bike renting shop downtown. But for someone like me who does not know how to ride a bicycle, you can also opt to leisurely walk around Basco and find your way to the Provincial Capitol, public park, cathedral, market, and even the airport. You can also drop by the police station to see the prison cells collecting dust and cobwebs. Batanes has the lowest crime rate in the country, a negligible 0.007%.
From the heart of Basco, traverse the long, winding, cliff-hugging National Road in a motorcycle. The winding road cliff serves as a long view deck and provides the best vantage point to admire the ocean and the mountains. There are also catchy yellow “Blow UR Horn” signs along its snaky parts and blind curves, which remind me of London’s “Mind the Gap” signs.
2. Walk in the sandy shores
Listen to the steady rhythm of waves as you stroll in the shores or reef walk through the shallow coves.
3. Brave the seas in a falowa
To get to Sabtang Island, one of the three main islands of Batanes, ride a falowa (Ivatan U-shaped boat) through the big waves of the channel where the Pacific Ocean kisses the South China Sea. The 45-minute ride is more like surfing without being wiped out. For the best view, sit outside or at the roof of the falowa, and be sure to take your motion sickness pills.
4. Top load in a jeepney
I missed the opportunity to top-load in a jeepney (a modified Jeep that is being used as one of the main means of public transport in the Philippines) en route the zigzag roads of Benguet, home of the world famous rice terraces. So when I had the chance to do it Batanes, I readily jumped for it. Top loading in a jeep while exploring the island of Sabtang gives you an unobstructed 360 degrees view of the island. Oh, and to make it more fun, do this with friends or co-travelers.
5. Talk to Ivatan people and learn their ways
Throughout all my travels, I found the Ivatan people to be the warmest and most approachable hosts. Listen to their stories. Ask about the concept store called Honesty Café and the statue of the Virgin Mary with gold crown, gold earrings, and gold rosary that displayed in an unlocked church. Ask about the stories behind Racuh a Payaman, Sung-Sung Ruins, Fountain of Youth, Japanese Tunnel, Valugan Boulder Beach, Fundacion de Pacita, Old Loran Station, Ivatan stone houses, and churches. Ask about their daily life. And do not miss out on the rich narratives of Lolo Elo Hostallero of Sabtang Island (oldest man in the island) and Lola Ida Estrella of the House of Dakay (oldest house in Batanes). Learn more about their heritage, culture and practices.
6. Admire indigent architecture
From their houses to churches, the architectural designs and use of locally available materials— stones, boulders, and lime for the walls, reeds and cogon for the roofs, and trunk of the bread fruit tree for their traditional locks—are a showcase of Ivatan ingenuity, resourcefulness, and meticulous artisanship.
7. Spend an afternoon at Racuh a Payaman
Racuh a Payaman, or Marlboro Country as it is popularly known among tourists, is a communal pastureland in Batanes. Enjoy the lush green panorama, the sight of the sea, cliffs, and mountains, the fresh air and cold breeze, the grazing cows and goats, and even mud-bathing carabaos—such raw beauty.
8. Eat, eat, eat!
Have your fill with sumptuous fare of seafood: coconut crabs (tatus), lobsters, and flying fish. Pair this with the Ivatan version of seaweed soup, fern salad, and meatballs called uvud balls. Also, try their camote (sweet potato) cookies. The melt-in-your-mouth goodness will surely leave you wanting for more.
9. Do endless jumpshots
Batanes is like one huge stage for The Sound of Music. Its mountains and rolling hills are great for jumpology. Every angle is postcard worthy. Every sight is photo op material. You offer 360 degrees of purely majestic beauty. And did I mentioned you provide a scenic background for jumpology? Truly, it is a haven for shutterbugs and camwhores.
This is one of the things in my bucket list that I was able to tick off: To have a jumpshot taken with the majestic beauty of Batanes as the backdrop.
10. Trek Mt. Iraya
Mt. Iraya provides a picturesque backdrop to the lush green panorama of Batan, the main island of Batanes. Scale its summit and take part in its commanding view of the province.
While you’re enjoying the sceneries of Batanes, here’s another awesome thing to do: try naming a place that closely resembles a particular landmark in Batanes. (Hint: rolling hills of Scotland or New Zealand, grazing cows in the pasturelands of New Zealand, wind turbines of California or Ilocos in the Philippines, boulder beach of New Zealand or Canada, lighthouses of USA, France, England or New Zealand, infinity pool of the famous resorts of Bali, Mexico or Thailand, stone houses of China or France).
When you leave Batanes, prepare to come back. I promised to come back to experience its winter (Batanes is the only province in the Philippines which experiences four seasons), to explore the island of Itbayat, to conquer the grand Mt. Iraya, and to simply to fall in love again with its magnificence.
I do not mind traveling back here again, solo.
Featured Writer: Aireen Keith Macalalad