Since I promised not a few people that I would be sharing travel tips to Batanes, I’m finally making an entry just for that purpose after I’ve managed to finish my blogs.
(I’m not even going to assume that any of you are interested in traveling to Batanes by ship, so I’ll just confine my discussion on air travel.)
Air travel going to Batanes is generally very expensive. I had to shell out P13,650 for a round-trip ticket last December. The thing is, I traveled to Batanes during a time in the year when tourists visit the least and there was only one airline (SEAir) servicing the Manila-Basco route. I hear that in summer (during peak tourist season), the air fare gets slashed by as much as 50%, but you’d have to stay tuned to various airline promos around 2 months before summer in order to avail yourselves of any special discounted rate. In the summer during peak tourist season, I hear that PAL and ZestAir also travel to Basco – that’s probably the reason why airfares aren’t as expensive.
Personally, I’d highly recommend that you go there in December. That way, you won’t need to compete for picture space with other tourists traveling to Batanes. (According to my tour guide, the tourist spots could get really packed in the summer.) And also, it would just be the onset of winter, so it won’t be as bitingly cold as, say, February. When I was touring in Batanes, I frequently felt that I was the only tourist for miles and miles, and it was great!
Here’s the catch, since only SEAir travels to Batanes in December, the likelihood of flight delays and postponements is very high. I myself experienced this when I got deceived by SEAir’s promise of daily flights to Batanes in December. What happened was that my flight got bumped off to the next day with only a 48-hour notice period. I was lucky because I was on vacation for the whole of December, so the 1-day difference was just a slight adjustment on my part. However, if you have a tight schedule, please make sure that you have a one- or two-day allowance for delays and postponements.
PLACES TO STAY:
For your entire stay in Batanes, the provincial capital of Basco in Batan island would essentially be your home base. There are a number of inns and lodging houses within walking distance of each other in Basco (that’s because if you’re within the town proper, everything is walking distance – even the airport.)
You’d have to do a lot of internet research in order to canvass for room rates. In my case, I found the following link helpful and I suggest that you read it before going further in this blog:
You’d have to make follow-up research though, as some numbers Ironwulf listed there aren’t working anymore, and the prices might have gone up. (*FYI, Ironwulf is something of a god among local travelers, and you can look up his website for information about traveling anywhere in the Philippines.) The good thing about all these places listed is that they will send someone to pick you up from the airport as long as you inform them of your arrival date and time beforehand. And most of them have their own canteens, so food is not really a problem.
1. DDD Habitat – This is the place where I stayed in at Basco. It’s a fairly new building, which was finished just May of 2009. DDD has clean rooms and running water (no water heater though) and a multi-purpose roofdeck with which to view the town, and is perfect for inuman at night. On the right is what my room looks like. It’s a fan room (because I really didn’t need aircon in the Batanes winter) that has it’s own restroom, but which was a bit too small for my purposes. It cost P600 for each 24-hour period and you’re given a towel and a small bar of soap. It’s cozy and spacious enough for two people. The only disadvantage of DDD is the fact that it’s relatively hidden, being located in obscure Llopes St., unlike the most of the others that are along the National Road.
The reason why I chose to stay here was because of its manager’s (Noemi Cruz) persistence that I stay with them from the moment that I texted her number to inquire. (This only goes to show that salestalk does work on me.) She assured me that they have an in-house tour guide who is capable enough, which really figured a lot in my decision-making process.
2. Shanedel’s Inn and Cafe – I saw for myself how Shanedel’s is at the best possible location in Basco, i.e. the corner of Abad St. and the National Road, which means it’s in the middle of where all the action is. (picture it this way: In Metro Manila terms, Abad St. is EDSA, and the National Road is SLEX). Shanedel’s is reputable mainly because of the reputably homely service of it’s proprietress, Ma’am Dely, as well as the fact that it’s the best in arranging tours in Batan and Sabtang. However, I made friends with a number of fellow-tourists in Batanes who were staying in Shanedel’s and they were not too impressed with the service and amenities, so you might want to take that into consideration. When I contacted their number, they texted back a generic message with a price list of their room rates.
3. Ivatan Lodge – This is one of the older lodging houses in Basco and was once the site of the local NAPOCOR office. Nothing much to say about this except that it’s one of the cheaper lodging houses in Basco, and that it’s a few meters away from Shanedel’s. When I contacted their number, Mrs. Margarita Varga texted back and was accommodating enough to keep me interested. What made me decide not to stay with them, however, was the fact that they don’t seem to have a permanent tourist guide contact when I was inquiring about it. Overall, I don’t have anything bad to say about this place, and I’d recommend it to budget travelers.
4. Brandon Lodge – One thing good about this place is that it is built on a hill within Basco, which gives anyone who stays here a unique elevated vantage point with which to view the entire town. Rates are comparable to Shanedel’s. It’s also closer to both the town Plaza and the airport than the previous two. I didn’t try to contact this place though, so you’d have to text or call them to see how much they’re accommodating to tourists.
5. Batanes Seaside Lodge and Restaurant – A bit more expensive room rates, from what I hear. The building looks modern enough, and is a stone’s throw away from Shanedel’s along the National Road. I didn’t try to contact the numbers listed in Ironwulf’s blog as I specifically was looking for a cheap lodging house. However, for those who can spend a few more hundred pesos, this place is still very accessible.
6. Batanes Resort – This resort is run by the Basco Municipal Government and has the best views among the Basco-based lodging houses. Rather than rooms in one building, the arrangement here is via separate seaside stone huts. I originally wanted to stay here because of the good reviews and the presence of Nards Garcia, who is reputedly the best tour guide in Batan. But unfortunately ALL of their telephone numbers were not working at the time I was canvassing for room rates. (Not even the phone number of their Manila office and Nards Garcia’s personal cellphone number). Upon reaching Basco, I discovered the probable reason why – there was a Christmas party for municipal employees and that Batanes Resort was the place where the party was being held. I later on learned that Nards Garcia was no longer connected with Batanes Resort, and was instead directly employed by the municipal government.
7. Fundacion Pacita – This is undoubtedly the most expensive place to stay in at Batanes, with rooms costing at the very least P4,000 a night, and with a minimum of 2 nights. It’s located far from the town center in Tukon, and is perfect for honeymooners, or simply for people who desire a genuine hotel experience with a majestic view of the Pacific Ocean. Since it’s a long way off from the town proper, you’d have to spend more to go from place to place for an in-house vehicle as jeeps and tricycles don’t normally go here. (It’s pretty isolated.) But hey, if you can spend P4,000 a night, then you probably won’t mind the extra transpo expenses. I didn’t even try to contact them, but you certainly can, if you have money to burn.
But even if you are not staying here, the place is picturesque enough to be on most Batanes travel itineraries. Although one can no longer go inside the building ever since it has been converted to a hotel, one can still take pictures of it’s surroundings. (The picture on the right was taken when I was already leaving the place and approaching the PAG-ASA weather station in Tukon.)
GETTING AROUND (Batan):
If it’s your first time to travel to Batanes, I highly recommend that you hire the services of a tour guide. Most inns and lodging houses have their contacts. From my research, the standard rate is P800 per day. But that’s just the tour guide fee. My guide and I had to hire a motorcycle for P1,000 per day. That’s expensive if you are traveling alone. Luckily, it fit right into my budget as I had money to spend. It would really do you a lot of good if you travel in groups, as the cost would be divided into smaller amounts – whether you’re talking about transportation fees, tour guide fees, or lodging fees.
It might be that I was limited by what DDD was offering, so if you want, you can go ask directions going to the tricycle terminal. If you are solo or in a small group, you can probably make arrangements with any tricycle driver to hire his services for the whole day. The friends I made in Batanes – Eunice and Lorraine – were able to hire a tricycle for P150 per hour, all in. I’m sure tricycle drivers know the places as much as the tour guides do, but I’m not sure they would be able to give additional information.
My tour guide is named Joaquin Cantor. His telephone number is 09155552747. He’s an able-enough tourguide for first-time visitors who want to tour Batan in 3-4 days. If, however, one wants to reach other less accessible places of interest in Batanes, such as archaeological sites and idjangs, I’m afraid Joaquin might not be able to help you in that regard.
Another option for solo travelers is to hire a motorcycle and explore Batanes on your own. The advantage here is that you can bring the motorcycle everywhere, and pass through even the narrowest dirt roads to get to the interior. You can also bring the motorcycle to Sabtang island (more on this later). However, this is only recommended for travelers who have already been to Batanes. If it’s your first time, you might spend a lot of time just figuring out where to go, or worse, get lost in the interior paths.
In my previous two blogs, I talked about how I rented a bicycle to visit other towns in Batan island. If you wish to also do this, you can rent a bicycle at F.V. Amboy Gen. Merchandise at Nuñez St., Basco. Mr. Amboy has different kinds of bicycles that he rents out. If you intend to just bike around Basco town proper, then rent a regular bike. If however you plan to visit other towns, then better take a mountain bike with you. For both types of bikes, the rental fee is P25/hour.
GETTING AROUND (Sabtang):
I think I already posted in this blog on how to get to the port of San Vicente in order to reach Sabtang.
The boat ride is P50 and will reach Sabtang in around 45 minutes in favorable sea conditions. If you are bringing a motorcycle with you, there is an additional fee of P100 or P150 (I forgot exactly what amount Erwin paid for having the motorcycle loaded onto the falowa.) As sea conditions are pretty unpredictable in Batanes, it would do you good to wrap your gadgets and other stuff in plastic bags before putting them in your bag. In my case, I was so scared of the falowa capsizing that I ziplocked all of my gadgets and wallet, and put them all in a knotted trash bag before placing them in my backpack.
Once docking in Sabtang, tourists must walk a short distance towards the Municipal Tourism Office to register and pay a one-time fee of P100 per head. The office also has rooms that they rent out to tourists for P300 per head per night. The staff here can help you get in touch with a vehicle with which to tour Sabtang. Unfortunately, unlike Batan, there are no tricycles here. The flat rate for hiring a vehicle for the whole day is P2,000, which is the same whether you manage to rent a van, a jeepney, or a multicab.
You can ask your lodge or inn personnel in Batan for the telephone number of this tourism office in order to let them know a day or two before that you will be arriving. That will enable them to prepare for your arrival and touring arrangements so that everything is ready and waiting for you when you arrive. This is particularly useful if you want to spend the night in Chavayan – an old traditional village at the southernmost point of Sabtang island – which a lot of bloggers recommend.
I do not recommend doing a day trip of Sabtang, you’d see far too little for the effort of going there to be satisfactory. I’d recommend staying overnight in Sabtang for this reason: Sometimes, the boat rides are delayed. In my case, what was supposed to be a TOA of 7:00 am in Sabtang became 9:00am. You arrive at that hour, you have too little time to have a satisfactory tour of Sabtang because the last trip leaves at around 4:00pm.
WHERE TO EAT in Sabtang:
There really is just one place where tourists can dine at Sabtang, and this is the Elesterio Canteen. This one’s really easy to find. Just ask anyone where the canteen of Bgy. Kagawad Milfa Elesterio is located, and they’ll direct you to a small canteen right behind the water purifying station. Here, she can prepare meals good for 2-3 people for only P300. The thing with this canteen though is that you’d have to inform her around 2-3 hours prior if you are having lunch there, as they only cook meals on a per-request basis. She’d let you choose from available viands, and I’d strongly suggest that you order the Coconut Crab if it’s available.
If you made arrangements to tour Sabtang with Shanedel’s back in Batan, then you might not need to find the Elesterio Canteen as from what I know, former Sabtang Mayor Romy Cielo would handle everything and they have their own different cooking arrangements and tour arrangements. I’ve heard however that meals as arranged by Mayor Cielo costs more than double than that being prepared by the Elesterios.
The Ivatans are generally kind and helpful people. They speak Tagalog with a Metro Manilan accent, which completely erases any language barrier if you are from Metro Manila. Also, similar to most Metro Manilans, they speak the sort of bad English that we always consider “fluent”, so English-speaking tourists won’t have a problem communicating with them. Like most people, however, they have their own idiosyncracies:
1. Like I remarked in a previous blog, Ivatans are the gods of Filipino time. There was never any need for them to rush from one place to another, unlike us who are living in more urbanized areas. To them, everything is a short distance away. Don’t resent them if they seem laid back and relaxed, especially during the boat ride to and from Sabtang. In day-to-day commerce, Ivatans don’t make use of on-the-dot time deadlines. What I observed was that any task that is done in the morning is on time for them as long as it does not cross over into the afternoon. For tasks in the afternoon, it’s okay as long as it’s done as long as there’s daylight.
2. In Basco, I discovered that people are notoriously ignorant of street names. I must have asked three bystanders looking for the F.V. Amboy General Merchandise along Nuñez St to rent a bicycle. I thought that knowing the street name would make things easier. But amazingly none of them knew where Nuñez St. was. Eventually, I managed to find it by trial and error, because I know that it was one of the streets that criss-crossed Abad St. Another example, is when I asked my tour guide and the front desk personnel the name of the street where my inn was located, they didn’t know (!!!)
I think there’s an explanation for this. Since Basco (and any other town in Batanes) is so small, there’s really no need for street names to help people remember where a particular place is. People there have a visual map of Basco that they probably have memorized by the age of, say, five.
Plane ticket expense (roundtrip) – P13,650.00
Lodging expenses (P600 x 4 nights) – P2,400
Tour guide fee (P800 x 2.5 days) – P2,000
Motorcycle rental (P1,000 x 2 half days) – P1,000
Jeepney fare going to San Vicente (P30 x 2) – P60
Falowa fare to and from Sabtang (P50 x 2) – P100
Tourism fee in Sabtang – P100
Lodging fee in Sabtang (P300 per night X 2 people) – P600
Multicab rental – P2,000
Van fare going back to Basco (P30 x 2) – P60
Environmental fee in Diura – P50
Bicycle rental (P25 x 9 hours) – P225
Meal expenses in Sabtang (P300 x 2 meals) – P600
Meal expenses in Batan (approx. P120 x 7 meals) – P840
Other incidental expenses (approx) – P2,000
TOTAL – P25,685 for the whole 5 days
Note: It seems like a lot because I traveled solo. A group outing would effectively lower expenses.
Okay, I hope this helps. If there’s any other details that you need, then leave a comment and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can. ;-) I’ll also be updating this whenever I add stuff.