Through the eyes of a first-timer: Batanes, the evergreen

"3 days on the island and a thousand pictures later," says a first-time visitor, "I was fascinated."

BATANES, Philippines – I’d always thought Batanes to be a typhoon-prone province with medieval stone houses, lots of rolling hills, expansive coastlines and grazing goats. Would it pale in comparison to the other picturesque and fascinating places I’ve visited outside the Philippines? 

With my camera, tripod, and my spirit of adventure, my wife and I joined friends in a trip to the Philippines’ last frontiers. 3 days on the island and a thousand pictures later, I was fascinated.

(READ: Batanes: 10 things to do)

The quaint Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge, where we stayed, was charming, with its little nooks and crannies, peppered with artwork. 

DISCOVER. Accomodations matter, especially in a verdant setting like Batanes. Photo by Ed Santos

Staying in a nice place has its rewards especially when returning from a grueling day trip trekking the terrain of the magnificent landscape of Batanes.  

Still in the Philippines

Our local tour guide, Jhun Gasilao, suggested we start with the Northern part of the Island.

Along the way we saw the Idiang (stone fortress), and the iconic Basco lighthouse sitting atop the Naidi Hills from a distance. We could have been somewhere in the Irish countryside, but I was in Batanes. I was in the Philippines.

STANDING TALL. The beautiful lighthouse is often on the checklist of must-sees when it comes to visiting Batanes. Photo by Ed Santos 

Rows of Palo Maria trees jotted the roadway.  The sap is said to relieve sore eyes, while the wood from the trees is used to build fishing boats.

We visited Tukon Chapel, a commonly photographed walled chapel, before heading to the Valugan Boulder Beach. The name is quite appropriate, as the beach seems to be laden with more boulders than sand. Valugan means “Eastern side” in the local dialect. 

STANDING STILL. A sense of quiet, a feel for reflection in Batanes. Photo by Ed Santos

WATCH YOUR STEP. Though lovely to look at, tread carefully. Photo by Ed Santos

The oldest church in Batanes was next on our itinerary.  With its renovated façade, the Sto. Domingo Cathedral does not look old at all. The church was severely damaged by a quake, not by typhoons, which often plague the area during the rainy season. 

Our last stop for the day was a sunset viewing atop the magnificent Vayang Rolling Hills.  The narrow pathway going up to the top can be a bit treacherous, so be careful. 

On our way to see the sights, we passed through Mahatao, one of the 6 municipalities, and caught glimpses of the Basco Marine Sanctuary and an old Spanish bridge that still remains standing. 

We got to see the Blue lagoon and Ivana, the center of pottery work in Batanes.

The famous Honesty Coffee Shop, a self-service, honor system type of convenience store was our next stop.  No one tends to the store except perhaps when replenishing the stocks. Customers pay and leave money for the goods they get. What a quaint concept, I thought, being used to having my guard up when dealing with strangers.

One can rent vakul, protective head gear, and kanayi, a vest worn to protect from the elements.  These are made from dried and shredded palms. I tried on both the kanayi and vakul and had a photo taken by my tour guide for posterity.

LOCAL COLOR. Protective gear is often worn by those who live in the area to guard against the elements. Photo by Ed Santos

Sound of Music, rolling hills

Mochong, where we did some jump shots, offers another magnificent view of the rolling hills and coastline.  We passed by the Alapad rock formation and the fantastic view at Imnajbu View Point.

A gate had to be opened before we could enter what is popularly known as “Marlboro Country,” and it was closed again to prevent cattle from straying out of the compound. This is government owned, we were told.

VIEW FROM THE TOP. The view, the wind, the mood, the life. Photo by Ed Santos

We started the trek up the hill not knowing what lies behind the well manicured, rolling greens. It was like a scene from The Sound of Music, where Maria trudges up to reveal the vast mountain expanse, minus the song. 

A boat ride to Sabtang Island was on the next day’s itinerary. Although we left early morning, the ride was already a little choppy, and the boat ride back to Batan Island in the afternoon was infinitely worse.  Luckily, our boatmen were skillful and the driver knew these waters very well.

CHOPPY WATERS. Skilled watermen navigate the rough waters of the surrounding seas. Photo by Ed Santos

Barangay Savidug offers a look at the type of medieval concrete houses the inhabitants of the island lived in during the Spanish era.  The sides of the houses facing North have no windows, as typhoons typically come from the North.

BUILT TO LAST. These houses are built to weather the unique conditions in Batanes. Photo by Ed Santos

Tinyen, the place they call a photographer’s spot, is a must go to place for shutterbugs. Bring all the bells and whistles in your photographer’s kit and get the most of this view. 

Lunch was at Nakabuang Beach, our last stop for the day at Sabtang Island, where one can see the much-photographed Mayahaw Arch. 


When traveling to Batanes, bring cash as credit cards are not accepted at all.

There are about 30 tricycles on Batan Island but these are not allowed to ply the streets unless called upon.  One may call the tricycle terminal for such a service. 

Pension Ivatan is a restaurant where you can feast on local sea food and other indigenous foods like lobster and coconut crabs.  These coconut crabs have been declared endangered species and may not be available for public consumption pretty soon.

HUGE TREAT. These crabs are distinguishable by their unique colors and texture. Photo by Ed Santos

Airlines offer regular flights, so going there won’t be as challenging as it used to be.

Pack your bags, and most definitely, bring your sense of adventure. –

Ed Santos has had a long-time love affair with beautiful photos. He’s traveled to many of the world’s most enchanting cities, capturing beauty through his lenses. His favorite subjects, though, remain to be the many moods of Issa and Mika, his lovely grandchildren.


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