I’m absolutely in love with the island of Batanes, the island that’s furthest north out of all 7,500 islands in the Philippines archipelago. In fact, Batanes is so isolated out there in the middle of the South China Sea where it meets the Pacific Ocean, that it’s closer to Taiwan than it is Manila, the capital of its own country.
To say the island is beautiful would be a vast understatement, as I’ve repeatedly called it a mixture of the Scottish coast, Northern California’s Lake Tahoe, and Maine or even Novia Scotia during the peak summer months.
So, all this month I’m highlighting where to go, what to do, and what there is to see (and, don’t forget, eat!), in Batanes.
Today, let’s jump in a trike (a two-person sidecar attached to a motorcycle that’s the standard method of transportation for taxiing tourists) and embark on the Northern Island tour of Batanes, which is probably the first tour you’ll take since it’s right around Basco, the main town.
I’ll start with the landmark you’ll probably hit last: the Basco Lighthouse. It’s one of three lighthouses on the island but sits on a hill overlooking Basco, so you can take an uphill bicycle ride to get there. You can climb the steps of the 66-foot lighthouse and get some incredible views from the top, but it’s also fully functional, guiding ships through bad weather away from the rocky shores. The lighthouse is a great place to witness the sunset over the distant horizon!
You’ll also find a traditional Ivatan (the longtime indigenous islanders) house right by the lighthouse, made of sturdy stones and mortar to withstand rain, wind, and storms.
In no particular order, we’ll now head out to the Vayang Rolling Hills. Think of the nicest putting green on the nicest golf course you’ve ever seen, and then spread it out over a huge expanse of grassy knolls, all overlooking the navy blue ocean. It’s brilliant for photos – but you don’t want to have your trike run out of gas so you have to walk up the rest of the hilly road. Trust me on that!
The Mt. Carmel Chapel sits on top of a key high point on the Tukon Hills. With its stern cobblestone construction and 360-degree postcard view, the chapel is a popular spot for destination weddings. However, it’s under construction, so the inside is now pretty gutted and unusable until they finish.
The Japanese Tunnels are also a key stop on the Northern Island tour, and definitely worth seeing. When World War II first spread to the Pacific theater, Japanese forces quickly invaded Batanes, occupying the strategically situated island as a point to house troops, fuel, and supplies near Manila, and the U.S. forces there. The Emperor’s troops made the local Ivatan men, women, and children dig a series of tunnels and chambers into this one hill, with five entrances, exists, plenty of room to fit scores of troops, and even a water reservoir. The tunnels served to bunker the troops in case of attack and they needed to hide (which they soon did) and also as a key lookout point for approaching ships and aircraft.
The Café du Tukon offers some incredible farm-to-fork local food, as well as featuring Ivatan art and culture, all in a quaint but upscale dining setting with a view that looks like a Swiss valley.
Your tour will also probably weave through and around Basco, the main town that is home to 8,000 of the island’s 18,000 total population. Basco is a charming and picturesque community where traditional fishermen and modern citizens all com e together to live in a near-idyllic community, where everyone knows each other and there is virtually no crime!
Get some rest because next time, we’ll take you on the South Island tour of Batanes!