The Batanes Islands are the northernmost province of the Philippines, a largely undeveloped region known for its beaches and natural attractions. It is also the smallest and least populated region in the country, a land ideal for relaxing far away from the hectic urban life. Imagine a place with no traffic, no industrial pollution and no crime, and Bataan will come to mind.
Here are some of things you can do in Batanes:
Photo courtesy by Bingbing:
Hop the islands. Only 3 of the 10 islands comprising the Batanes are large enough to sustain communities, while the rest can be experienced by boat. Sabtang Island is a highlight among the islands; it was named one of the country’s 12 best destinations by the Department of Tourism for its white beaches and deep canyons. Itbayat Island and Mavudis are other points of interest.
Ascend Mount Iraya. The highest point in the province at 1,517 meters, this dormant volcano is great for trekking and mountaineering. While there are no clear paths along the rain forest surrounding the volcano, the summit can be conquered in 3 hours with the aid of a guide.
Satisfy the pilgrim in you by visiting San Jose Church. This church stands out from all the rest in the province by not being designed in the espadana style; rather, its crenellated bell tower resembles a fortress. Other churches worth visiting are the San Carlos Borromeo Church and the Basco Cathedral.
Dine sumptuously on lobster. Lobster is only USD 6/kilo here, and simply preparing it by steaming brings out the natural flavor of the meaty crustacean. Another delicacy is coconut crab, which is larger and more elongated than ordinary crabs. While pricier at USD 12/kilo, the hint of coconut milk in its meat is well worth it.
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Visit a local village. The Ivatans, as the locals are called, build their houses out of stone and lime, and their roofs out of cogon grass to resist the harsh monsoon rains. The boats are also distinct from the common outrigger vessels, having short keels and fins on the side for stability. There are ghost towns here as well like the Ruins of Songsong, a number of stone residences which were abandoned after a tsunami struck back in the 1950â€™s.
Dine on seafood during the Pavanuvanuan Festival. A mid-March celebration which marks the start of the fishing season, Pavanuvanuan is held in Sitio Jura at Mananoy Bay. The day’s fresh catch is served to visitors amidst market stalls and activities.
To get to Batanes, take one of the thrice-weekly SEAIR flight from Ninoy Aquino Domestic Airport and land in Basco Airport 45 minutes later. You can also take a cargo boat from Manila to the islands. The best time to visit is during the dry season from December to May, as the region is particularly vunerable to monsoon season. Batanes may come as a shock to those addicted to modern life with its lack of amenities and creature comforts, but those who need a break from urban living will find the province a blessing.