There is no denying that Batanes, the northernmost island in the entire 7,500-island Philippines archipelago, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. As rugged and harsh as it is exotic and breathtaking, Batanes is my new favorite place to experience the wonder of nature, enjoy a rare glimpse at a simpler life from hundreds of years ago, and really have a lasting, meaningful experience in life.
Here are my top tips when traveling to Batanes, one of the more remarkable places I’ve been on earth:
It’s all about timing.
Batanes is hit HARD with rainy and windy weather, storms, and even typhoons more than half of the year, probably about June through January, according to the locals. While you will find cheap airline tickets during those times (because no one else wants to go then!), the weather can put a serious damper on things. I went in September but it was so stormy, a typhoon was coming in, and it rained every day, so I’m going back in April.
Opt for travel insurance when booking your ticket.
It may only cost $3, $7, or $10 at the most, but I usually forgo the option to take out travel insurance when I book a flight. It really just amounts to me being cheap – and never thinking I’ll need it (or the airline will honor it!). But, you definitely want to book travel insurance when you book to Batanes, as severe weather and limited flights mean there are a lot more cancellations, delays, and issues that could disrupt your schedule.
For the Wi-Fi challenged.
Of course, the whole point of getting away to Batanes is to put your laptop and smartphone away (except for picture taking!), but some of us need an internet connection for work or family obligations. While I’d heard that some hotels or cafes had wi-fi, I had yet to find one. I promptly freaked out when I found that out, not wanting to lose all of my clients for lack of internet connection, but I did find a workable solution. I purchased a SMART SIM card and loaded it up (they love the 99 Peso promo for 3-day internet) and just used my phone as a hotspot. It wasn’t the strongest signal in places, and you’ll blow through it all if you’re watching any videos, but by doing that every day, I was able to work and touch base.
Book your accommodation first.
While just getting to and from Batanes may be a challenge, finding a nice place to stay there is even more of an issue since there’s a shortage of hotel rooms. In fact, you’ll find very few big and modern resorts or hotels, and the prices will make your jaw drop. There are, however, a lot of smaller homestay-type lodges. So, get your hotel reservation first (like the same night as your airline booking) and make sure it offers a few days of cancellation while you sort out your airfare. Try the Batanes Seaside Resort for a good place, and contact local travel agencies if you want to arrange a cheaper homestay, which may not show up on the internet.
In Batanes, it can be scorching hot one minute, soaking wet the next, and chilly cold that night. You never know what you’ll get with the weather, so bring practical clothes – plenty of rain gear, shoes that can get wet but also traverse rocks and tough terrain, dry-wick materials so you can hang things out on the line, etc. You don’t need much (since there’s no real nightlife and it’s certainly not a fashion show!) – just good, solid, practical all-weather gear.
Google the history, geography, and culture.
Batanes is a fascinating place and one that I’d even call magical without delving into hyperbole. It’s also best enjoyed if you know a little bit about it beforehand, not just a great backdrop for your Instagram photos. So, do a little Googling and read up on the history, culture, indigenous people, geography, etc. before you visit and you’ll appreciate it that much more.
Make nice with the locals
There’s no denying that Batanes is breathtakingly beautiful and truly spellbinding, but don’t forget to stop and recognize the best part of your trip there: the people. I was only there for four days, but I managed to make some great friends and genuine connections with the locals, just by stopping, smiling, and saying hello whenever I ran into them. You’ll find the people of Batanes accommodating, patient (to our fast-paced city ways!), welcoming, warm, and always willing to chat with you about their life on the island. Take advantage of their gift of hospitality!
Plan your time carefully.
Whether you have two days, three days, or a whole week in Batanes, you can plan to see and experience as much as possible. I recommend the north island tour the day you get there, which can easily be done in one-half day. Then, do the south island tour your last half day, with a full-day tour of Sabtang Island in between. Consult the local tour companies and guides about which tours and locales are best to visit when, because they may have some advice based on crowds, wind and waves, rain, sunlight, and shadows, etc.
Finished with all of your tours and running around? Make sure to give yourself some downtime every day, just to sit at a café and enjoy your meal (turn off your phone!), watch the sunrise or sunset, and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the island.
Prepare for simple.
Don’t expect fancy hotels, extravagant accommodations, or luxury travel when you’re in Batanes. The whole point is that it’s a place still very much connected to the elements, where the only way people there can survive is by working in harmony with the land and the sea – and each other. Embrace that. You’re being offered a very rare glimpse into life 100, 200, or even 1,000 years ago in the world we live in. That’s incredibly rare these days, so from your meals to transportation, shopping to hotel rooms, expect simple but practical, and you’ll actually appreciate and enjoy your trip there even more.