Some people love lighthouses. Granted, it’s not a huge segment of the population who are enamored with these tower-like weather and lookout stations, but those who love them, REALLY love them. In fact, my own mother is a huge fan (as well as castles), and she often ends up with a lighthouse calendar as a Christmas stocking stuffer.
Even here in the Philippines, I’ve run into one or two lighthouse lovers. One, a. Filipina-American who lives and works on the island of Boracay, woke up one morning with such a newfound obsession with these seaside sentinels, that she actually went down to a tattoo shop that day and got a sizable tattoo of a lighthouse on her thigh.
And while the Philippines isn’t known for lighthouses as, say, Ireland or the coast of Maine, there are few remarkable ones in the nation. With 7,500 islands – the largest archipelago in the world – and severe weather that includes seasonal typhoons, these lighthouses are far more than ornamental or just tourist attractions.
The Basco Lighthouse is one of them.
Located on the island of Batanes, the furthest northern island in the entire Philippines, it stands guard over the main town, Basco. While Basco is charmingly small (it’s home to 8,000 of the island’s 18,000 total inhabitants!), it’s also a vital port for shipping, both with huge trawlers coming from the mainland Philippines carrying goods and supplies, and for merchants vessels stopping off before heading north.
And what lies north are some vast and desolate waters. Right from Basco, you can sail or motor for more than 500 kilometers until you reach the next land mass, the island nation of Taiwan. In fact, Batanes is so isolated and vulnerable to all sorts of high winds, squalls, and rising seas, that it’s closer to that island than its own capital city of Manila.
Placed like a crown above the perfect rolling green hills of the Batanes countryside sits the Basco Lighthouse, which is one of the most photographed vistas for tourists visiting the island. There is also full access, as you can take a van or trike ride (I highly recommend it) touring the island, which usually wraps up at the Basco Lighthouse right at sunset. But, you can also rent a bicycle and sweat and struggle your way up the Naidi hills to this tourist attraction, or even walk if you have time and don’t mind a little exercise.
The Basco Lighthouse stands 66 feet in the air, coated in weather white paint with a red top portion. You may think it’s a venerable icon, but it’s actually pretty new – built in 2003 to help passing ships keep from bashing on to Batanes’ rocky shores and guiding boat captains through white-knuckle weather.
But the site – not lighthouse – does have a longer history. Batanes was actually a crucial and strategic location during WWII, with the Japanese quickly invading and occupying the island and U.S. troops reclaiming it. Back then, the site where the lighthouse now stands was a telegraph station, but it was taken down and destroyed by the Japanese troops.
It’s still operational, but you see more tourists than anything else, and it’s a delight to climb the steep staircases to the observation deck, where you can walk around and get 360-degree unobstructed views of breathtaking Batanes.
Enjoy Batanes, one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been, and don’t miss the Basco Lighthouse!