I was recently on the wild, remote, and incredibly beautiful island of Batanes, which sits so far north of the mainland Philippines that it’s out there in the middle of the vast sea all by itself, closer to Taiwan than it is to its own nation. It was quite an experience, as I landed in perfect blissful sunshine but within one day, we were blasted by a tropical storm that proved challenging as I got caught in a mudslide and stranded in the country, and then managed to fly out just in time before a super typhoon descends on the island.
But within those few short days, I completely fell in love with Batanes, which is like a combination of the Scottish Coast, Novia Scotia, northern California, and, oh yeah, just a little but of the Philippines sprinkled in. I also fell in love with the people, as the local Batanes folk are so warm, friendly, accommodating, and even more super laid back than the already-mellow and fun-loving Filipinos.
Part of the charm of Batanes is that the main town (and only sizable town), Basco, is so small that you can just walk around within half an hour or so, saying hi to your new neighbors and seeing all it has to offer. In fact, about 8,000 of the island’s total 18,000 residents live in Basco!
That stands true for restaurants, too. There are plenty of little local Filipino-style indoor-outdoor kitchens and simple eateries with a few tables lined up, but when it comes to actual restaurants, you can count them on one hand.
But Harbour Café is one of the fun and funkiest, and definitely worth checking out. Located right off the National Highway that mirrors the coastline as it gently enters into Basco proper, the Harbour Café sits on the corner of a smaller road that drops down to the rocky industrialized shore.
The Café itself is a simple building, with most of the seating in long picnic-like tables located on their back deck, open to the elements except for a covered roof. I don’t even remember a single fan!
But the view is killer – of the bay in Batanes and just enough of a peak across to the rolling green hills and the iconic lighthouse that sits atop them.
The Harbour Café also has a tiny closed-in room, where you can order baked goods to go and where they make their coffee from one of Batanes’ only real espresso machines. (The cappuccinos were great but damn expensive – like $4 USD! – probably because everything needs to be imported to the island).
But the artwork and local feel is the highlight of the Harbour Café, as they have colorful and dynamic murals wrapping their building, as well as paintings, jewelry, and other exhibits by local artists. It’s a fantastic way to expose tourists (both foreigner and Filipino) to the indigenous culture of Batanes that is still very much living and vibrant today.
I was also ecstatic to get a few ice cold beers at the Harbour Café, and tried several items off of their limited but hearty menu (again, hard to get a huge variety there on the island). I tried the pasta, lobster (good but not worth it for the price and portion size, although I’m a Maine lobster snob), and a fried pork dish that Filipinos love but is way too rich for me.
In all, Harbour Café should be a vital part of any traveler’s experience when visiting Breathtaking Batanes!