Gateway to Batanes

    When people ask me about my favorite Philippine destination, I always reply “Batanes.”

    I have visited this island province thrice, and I’m now preparing to go for my fourth. In all my visits, I always use Basco, the provincial capital, as my base for exploring the rest of the province.

    The name Basco came from the name of Jose Basco y Vargas, the 53rd Governor-General of the Philippines, from July 1778 to November 1787. In 1782, he succeeded in sending an expedition to Batanes to get the consent of the Ivatans to become the subjects of the King of Spain. On June 26, 1783, Batanes became the last territory to be added to the Philippines. The new province was named Provincia de la Concepcion, and the capital town, Basco, was named after the Governor-General.

    But it took Spain over two hundred years to formally colonize Batanes. English freebooters headed by William Danpier came first to the islands of Batanes in 1687, stayed for a few months but did not claim the islands for the British crown. After the short British occupation, the Spaniards sent several expeditions.

    Basco was the first town to be founded in 1784, followed by Ivana in 1784 and Mahatao in 1796.

    Today, Batanes remains as the Philippines smallest provinces in terms of size and population. Its less than 18,000 population inhabits the three major islands, Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat.

    Half of the province’s population lives in the capital town of Basco, which is also the educational, religious and commercial of Batanes. Basco is also the only way to get to Batanes from the rest of the Philippines.

    How to get there
    Batanes’ growing popularity as one of the country’s premier eco-cultural-tourism destinations makes getting an air ticket to Basco difficult and expensive. Flying is the only way to reach Batanes.

    Fortunately, both Philippine Airlines and Skyjet now have daily flights to Basco. During peak seasons, they add additional flights to accommodate those who wish to spend summer or winter there. Peak seasons, however, mean that tickets must be booked months in advance, and they never come cheap. Roundtrip tickets for the week of Easter usually cost P15,000.

    Northskyair based in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan has thrice-a-week flights to Basco, while Sky Pasada has regular weekly flights from Tuguegarao and from Binalonan, Pangasinan.

    What to see, what to do
    Dominating the Basco landscape is Mount Iraya. It is a dormant volcano at 1,517 meters above sea level. Hire a local guide to climb Mount Iraya. The summit can be reached in three to four hours of moderately easy trekking.

    At the back of Mount Iraya is Valugan Boulder Beach. The boulders of igneous rocks were spewed by the volcano when it was still geologically active.

    A short distance from Basco is Naidi Hills. From there, one can get a spectacular view of Basco town, Mount Iraya and the rolling hills of Batan Island. Still standing at Naidi are the old American telegraph facilities that now lay in ruins. One of them was recently converted into a café. Another new addition to Naidi Hills is the picturesque Basco Lighthouse.

    It is also worth to explore Basco town. Here one can still find some old houses built during the American period. At the center of the town is the capitol building and the Basco municipal hall standing close to each other. The old elementary school building at the back of the municipal hall was also built during the American regime.

    The Our Lady of Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral was one of the very first structures in 1783 to be constructed by the Spanish government. It was originally made from wood and cogon and was changed to concrete in 1795. The original name Provincia de la Concepcion was in honor of Our Lady of Immaculate Concepcion, who continues to be the patron saint of the province.

    At the center of Batan Island is the Vayang Rolling Hills. Here, the hills are alive with the sound of silence as one takes in the breath-taking view of the dramatic landscape framed by beautiful blue skies.

    Located at Barangay Tukon is the old Radar station that was used to house the United States weather facilities. It now houses the northernmost Pagasa weather station in the Philippines. Also in Tukon is the lovely Tukon chapel, which was built from local stones.

    And finally, there’s Fundacion Pacita, built by the Abad family in honor of Batanes artist Pacita Abad. It houses some of the works of Pacita and also serves as a bed and breakfast.

    Basco’s attractions are located very close to each other, so it is best toured on a bike and on foot.

    Where to stay, what to eat
    Basco’s premier place to stay is Fundacion Pacita. It offers a very charming lodging facility in a very romantic setting. Its rates, however, are a bit stiff for the common backpack travelers.

    But there are now many alternatives in getting affordable places in Basco, where the usual cost per person starts at P400. There’s the old Pension Ivatan and Shanedel’s Inn, and the newer Mafel’s Lodge, Time Travel Lodge, Nanay Cita’s Homestay, Martin’s Inn and Brandon’s Lodging.

    For dining, there are a few restaurants and carinderias in Basco that offer affordable meals. There’s an Italian restaurant called Casa Napoli that serves tasty home-made pizzas. There’s a carienderia called D.Y. that serves affordable meat, fish and vegetable dishes.

    Those who wish to try Ivatan cuisine should get the the Ivatan Platter at Pension Ivatan. The platter contains Ivatan favorites like lobsters, coconut crabs, grilled flying fish, their own version of adobo, fern salad and grilled tunaserved with turmeric rice. It has to be ordered in advance because it takes hours of preparation. It is one of the many reasons why a trip to Basco will always be delightful as ever.


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