I had to pinch myself as I threw another admiring gaze at Chadpidan Boulder Beach from the top of a hill. Even before we landed, there was an great sense of accomplishment in me just looking at the gorgeously wrinkled landscape of Batan Island. Batanes has always sat comfortably on top of my list of dream local destinations, and I was finally here. Batanes is surreal.
The 10-piece Batanes Group of Islands formed after colossal underwater volcanic activities millions of years ago. Batan Island was the first to take shape. The capital, Basco, is in the north, in the shadow of Mt. Iraya, an active stratovolcano which last erupted in 1454.
Batan Island is small and can be explored by bicycle, if you have the stamina. The hilly terrain can be quite a challenge. For most tourists who wish a more relaxed tour, the tricycle is a good option. Most tourist spots on the island are divided into two: North and South.
North Batan Tour covers the sites in the capital Basco, which takes the northernmost third of the map. Many who have been to Batanes consider it the least overwhelming of the arranged tours (by trike or van), but that may be because it is also the shortest. This makes it the ideal activity on the first day as it gives you a sneak peek of what’s to come. But to give you a sneak peek of what North Batan can offer, here are the places that make up the tour.
1. Valugan Boulder Beach
Mt. Iraya’s restlessness reached another peak in 400AD when it coughed out countless boulders into the surrounding beaches. Valugan Beach lies on the eastern foot of the volcano. The boulders are actually andesite rocks, which have been continuously polished by the tides and the waves.
Boulders disappear toward the southern end, where shingles and smaller pebbles fill the coast. But if you have swimming plans, forget it. It’s not going to happen here. The waves are wild, raging, and as angry as your boss that they are ready to toss unsuspecting swimmers straight onto the rocks. Strangely enough, it is a perfect spot to chill and simply watch the day go by.
2. Nakamaya Burial Grounds
Like most indigenous groups in the Philippines, the Ivatans believed in life after death. They considered the sea their final resting place. This belief is visible in Nakamaya Burial Grounds, which is shaped like a boat and faces the water. Human skeletons discovered here date back to AD 1600.
3. Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel
The 5-door Dipnaysupuan Tunnel was built at the height of World War II, when Batanes was also occupied by the Japanese. Hidden in the hills of Tukon, these tunnels served as shelter and even a lookout post for the Japanese soldiers.
You can explore the tunnel’s many chambers or climb to the hilltop for another breathtaking panoramic view of the island.
4. Fundacion Pacita
Fundacion Pacita is a boutique hotel (pricey and way out of my budget range), but day trippers are welcome to explore many parts of the place. The place is owned and run by the Abads, the province’s most influential family.
If you have the dough or you’re on a honeymoon, this scenic hotel has the best accommodations Batanes can offer.
5. PAGASA Weather Station – Basco
The search for the best vista in Batanes doesn’t stop. Another good contender is the PAGASA Weather Station in Tukun. Perched atop a hill, it allows a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape which is composed of Mt. Iraya, the sharp cliffs by the beach, and the rolling hills gridded by a web of hedgerows called liveng, used to shield the crops from strong winds.
Farther into the horizon is Dinem Island and the faint silhoutte behind it is Itbayat, one of the only three inhabited islands of Batanes.
6. Tukon Church (Mt. Carmel Chapel)
One of the most visible structure from the weather station is a small hand-hewn chapel built the traditional way. Boulders make up the church’s walls, interrupted only by carved wooden doors and stained glass windows. Inside, hand-painted images of the province’s patron saints, one for each municipality, wrap its ceiling.
Batanes representative Florencio “Butch” Abad had the church built as the realization of his late parents’ wish to have a place of worship within walking distance.
7. Vayang Rolling Hills
This is the part where you would want to burst into song and, on top of your lungs, belt out a lyric about the hills being alive and all. And they are alive, indeed. The crumpled landscape creates layers of different shades of green, and amid them are cows and goats grazing and resting prettily.
The virid land fades out to the blues of the West Philippine Sea below, whose playful waves tickle the commanding cliffs. Their fresh breeze are carried by the wind, sometimes dangerously pushy. From here, the Naidi Lighthouse (Basco Lighthouse) can be easily seen, standing majestically as it prepares to welcome seafarers.
8. Chadpidan Boulder Beach
Another impressive sight from the Rolling Hills: the Chadpidan Beach. The twin sister of Valugan, this boulder beach lines the western coast of Basco, facing the West Philippine Sea.
9. Naidi Hills (Basco Lighthouse + Bunker Cafe)
The province’s most iconic structure, Basco Lighthouse is one of the only two in the island and three in the entire province. (The other two are in Mahatao and Sabtang.) The six-story tower stands mightily in the middle of Naidi Hills. Naidi comes from two Ivatan words: Na, meaning “past”; and Idi, meaning “settlement.”
A viewing deck circled the fifth floor, providing a fantastic view of the West Philippine Sea and the town proper.
Basco Lighthouse was erected in 2003 at the site of the town’s former lighthouse and American telegraph facilities, which were destroyed during the war.
10. Basco Town Proper
After the tour, walk around the town center if you still have the energy. Try the many restaurants (some require advance reservation) and street foods in the streets.
End the tour with a visit to the Sto. Domingo Cathedral (Basco Cathedral), the first Catholic Church in Batanes, built in the early 18th century.
Note: Chadpidan Beach and Nakamaya Burial Grounds are NOT usually part of North Batan Tour. If you want to visit these sites, please inform the tour guide/coordinator. Additional charges may apply.
Batanes Tricycle Driver: Our contact was Dale Veracruz. +63 929 341 0941. Rate: P1000, good for 2pax.
How to get there: From Manila, fly to Basco via PAL Express (Philippine Airlines) or Skyjet. At the town center, you may rent a bike or hike a tricycle for a North Batan Tour.