ATV adventures: A new way to see Batanes

Romantic lighthouses, stone house villages, rolling meadows and dramatic cliffs paint the signature landscape of the Batanes islands, one of the best places in the Philippines to ogle, particularly for desktop wallpaper-worthy landscapes and authentic local culture.

First-time visitors usually tour these northernmost islands on a sightseeing tour package by rental van. But there’s a new and exciting way to explore this incredible province at your own pace — by ATV or all-terrain vehicle.

Launched only last June on Batanes Day, Batanes ATV Adventure, a tour operation based in the provincial capital of Basco, introduced guided ATV excursions.

“Our tours offer the best way to experience outdoor adventure while enjoying at hand the breathtaking scenery of the island,” says 33-year-old business owner, Jover Basco Vargas, who decided to provide a different tourist activity on the main island of Batan after meeting travelers at his mini-grocery who were looking for more exciting things to do after their van trips. 

Accompanied by my Ivatan friend and his teenage niece, I asked Jover to take us on an afternoon tour of the island to revisit some of the sights on Batan.

I tried driving an ATV for the first time last year in Camarines Sur, but since then I felt my skills turned rusty. I was definitely in need of refresher lessons, before I could drive one safely on the main road.

The units were first brought to the town plaza, where Jover gladly taught us the basics: how to turn on and off the unit, how to shift gears, and how to park them safely, among other things. In our safety helmets, we maneuvered our ATVs around the large grassy field. 

After we got the hang of it, we rumbled onto Basco Airport to give our ATVs a test drive on the long and wide tarmac. The runway is open to the public in the late afternoon, offering an ideal place for residents to jog and exercise. But since it was drizzling during most of the day, we had the entire strip to ourselves.

After a few test runs, speeding up and down the entire stretch of the runway, we were confident enough to take on the highway, and drive all the way to the southern town of Ivana, 10 km away from the capital.

While ATV tours have become a popular tourist activity elsewhere in the Philippines, especially in Boracay Island and Mayon Volcano, I couldn’t think of a better place to experience this outdoor activity than in Batanes.

It was exhilarating, having unobstructed views of the endless pastures and rugged coastline. The cool sea breeze blew on our faces, as we snaked along the zigzagged cliffside highway to the next town of Mahatao.

We amused passersby and motorists who would smile and wave at us, as we drove by quaint villages. And because I visited Batanes during the habagat (southwest monsoon), the weather was overcast, providing comfortable conditions to enjoy the long afternoon drive. Moreover, it was the low season for tourists, so there were only a few tour vans to watch out for while we drove down the narrow highway.

An ATV combines the freedom and excitement of a bicycle or motorbike with the safety and stability of a four-wheeled vehicle. Batanes ATV Adventure currently rents out 110 cc and 125 cc single-seater models, which are not designed for very rough off-road handling, but were robust enough to negotiate hilly terrain and the steep inclines and sharp turns of Batan’s coastal roads.

We were able to quickly pull over to take photographs of the scenic tourist attractions along the way, like the Basco Lighthouse, Chawa Viewpoint, Mahatao Boat Shelter and House of Dakay, before reaching the Honesty Coffee Shop to finally enjoy a cup of joe as the orange sun sank behind Radiwan Port. 

While only ATV tours of Batan are available for now, Batanes ATV Adventure will soon be introducing trips around neighboring Sabtang and eventually to far-flung Itbayat as well, says Jover. His tour operation currently offers only nine ATV units, but they will be bringing in more if the business picks up. With his fun and flexible excursions slowly gaining interest among locals and visitors alike, it looks like Batanes ATV Adventure is on the road to success, especially when the peak tourist season starts again later this year. Rappler.com

Visitors may book guided ATV tours through Batanes ATV Adventure, located at Amboy corner Abad Sts, Basco, Batanes, Tel. +63 9985519656 or +63 9085012288. Rates are P1,800 per day, or PHP 300 per hour, excluding fuel cost. For all-in ATV tour packages, contact Batanes Travel & Tours, Tel. +63 2 4000992 or +63 9989844359, www.batanestravelandtours.com.