Batanes on a Budget: 5 Tips to Maximize Your Batanes Experience

Whoever told you that Batanes is expensive—he’s lying. Don’t believe him.

OK, so maybe he’s partially correct. Anyone who has heard of how beautiful this place is, and who has attempted to book a flight to the northern islands, knows that the airfare is fucking expensive. A one-way ticket will cost you PhP10,000 and up—even more expensive than visiting our other Asian neighbors. This is primarily why most people would just choose to forget about it—there’s Palawan after all, a more accessible paradise in the Philippines. Or Siquijor. Or Sagada, if it’s the mountain you yearn after. Or Panglao in Bohol. Surely any of these can match Batanes, right?

WRONG.

Batanes is different. I’m in love with Batanes. She made me fall quick and hard, head-over-heels, and she wouldn’t let me go, even if I had already removed my feet from her soil.

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I know I declared the same “I’m in love” thing with Sagada and Hong Kong and Cebu, but Batanes has a different kind of charm. Imagine a lovely, quiet, reserved lady going through her daily chores with all the ferventness only a pure and down-to-earth person could have: not a care in the world, not a single complaint, not a trace of having been forced to do so, or of being on the verge of getting fed up—that lady is Batanes. Batanes is the humblest province I’ve ever been to so far, with a humility as huge as its magnificence.

My very EMOTE and very OPEN letter to Batanes in the Blank Book Archive. More about this place soon.
When I booked my ticket to Batanes, I had an inkling that a 4D/3N stay would be too short, and I was right. I was able to go to every place in my itinerary, but I still felt like I wasn’t done yet. Something else was missing. I still felt incomplete. And now I know, that feeling stems from the thought that one morning, I would have to head back to the airport and leave Batanes. The Poor Traveler was right: “when it’s time to leave Batanes, she will break your heart”.

If you’re like the majority of us who can’t afford to skip a lot of workdays, let me help you maximize your trip to Batanes with a few practical tips. If I only had a choice, I would’ve loved to stay for at least 2 weeks, but then again, the reality is that I have a job to get back to in the filthy city (not to mention that I have a family waiting at home). So here you go, 5 tips to maximize your Batanes experience:


1. Be on the lookout for seat sales and promo fares and/or book your tickets at least 6 months ahead.

I don’t think this is the first time you’ve heard of such a tip, but I felt the need to emphasize this considering Batanes’ regular airfare worth PhP10,000 plus. Skyjet and Philippine Airlines are the only two companies flying to Batanes. Booking at least 6 months (I’d say even 1 year) in advance MIGHT save you a bit money, but for the most economical way to travel, wait for seat sales, promo fares, and travel expos.

PAL does seat sales to Batanes every December and June. Go for the June sale, since the corresponding travel period will span mid-January and February—months in which the weather will be cold and the winds and seas reasonably calm, perfect for sightseeing! The December sale will have June-July travel dates—a bit risky since this is the typhoon season. So unless you want to be stranded there for weeks, complete with brownouts, violent storms and all, aim to go during the first half of the year.

How will you know if there’s a seat sale? As much as I hate to share the “secret”, here it is: there’s no other way but to subscribe to airliners’ mailing lists (or twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and other social media). That way you will get alerted of any promos. But that’s only half of it—the other important thing is to make sure you’re awake and your mobile data is always ON after midnight so you can actually see the e-mails, LOL! Otherwise, you will wake up the next morning to find fully-booked promo seats.

My Batanes ticket? I got it from a seat sale last June—a total of PhP2,597, two-way. Not bad huh?


2. Plan ahead by checking blogs and websites about Batanes.

Normally, I’m the type of traveler who has no itinerary, but for Batanes I forced myself to make one. I didn’t want to cry over a failure to see a must-see spot—and I tell you, in Batanes, every direction you look has something worthy of staring at.

Months before the trip, I checked out blogs like Pinas Muna, Pinoy Adventurista, Ironwulf, and The Poor Traveler to see what they think about the different attractions in Batanes, how much they spent, and what their itineraries were. I tried not to look at the photos too much so that I would still feel that sense of astonishment once I see Batanes with my own eyes for the first time.

an Ivatan glues stones onto a cardboard house (keychain  souvenir assembly)
In simplified form, my itinerary was:

   Day 1 – arrival and North Batan Tour
   Day 2 – Sabtang Island Tour (half-day) and Mahatao Tour (excluding Marlboro country)
   Day 3 – continuation of South Batan Tour
   Day 4 – departure

Mt. Carmel Chapel
Every blog I checked had the whole South Batan tour on a separate day, but since we finished early in Sabtang (we were back at Batan island by 2PM), we didn’t want to go back to the house yet so we explored a bit of the south already. If your time permits, and you have energy like ours, I suggest you do the same thing.

Blending with the blues of Sabtang stone houses
If you plan to go to Itbayat island, you should stay at least 5 days. It takes 3-4 hours to get to Itbayat by boat, depending of the anger level of the waves, but you can choose to go via a 6-seater plane if you want to get there faster. Airfare costs PhP10,800 per trip (divided by number of passengers, maximum of 6).

Happy folks on the boat ride to Sabtang
In addition, take note that flights go only thrice a week—so you might want to consider this when making your itinerary. It’s advisable to bring extra cash as there’s a possibility of being stranded in the island due to weather conditions. Batanes only has one ATM—a PNB machine in Basco.


3. Choose a homestay instead of a hotel.

Marfel's Lodge Annex
I’m not picky with accommodation, but that doesn’t mean I can endure staying in tacky places either. Marfel’s Lodge Annex in Basco wasn’t tacky at all—it was a simple house rented out to tourists, with 5 rooms that can accommodate one, two, or 6 persons in each, a common bathroom, dining area, and kitchen, and a veranda where you can smoke and have coffee or just enjoy the fresh air of Batanes. The Main branch is a few minutes away, with only 2 rooms, but nearer the airport. (Stay tuned for a separate article on Marfel’s Lodge.)

Pros:

a. Homestay rates are definitely cheaper. Marfel’s Annex for instance, is as low as PhP350/person per night (fan room only).

b. You can cook your own meal. Since there is a common kitchen fully equipped with a stove, utensils, groceries, and even basic ingredients (garlic, onion, condiments, etc.), it would be easy for you to prepare your own meals in case you would want to stay in instead of dining out. In addition, this would be a good way to save money on food.

c. You can make friends! You can hang out with your housemates and watch TV or have coffee together, swap stories, tips, and itineraries with each other, or even choose to tour around together. One of my favorite parts of traveling is getting to know new people and making new friends.

One of the new friends I met in Batanes: this cute kid who was our neighbor at Marfel's!

Cons:

a. Common bathroom. If you’re the type of person who takes 1 hour in the shower, then it would be a problem for you. Unless you can adjust and be considerate with your housemates, you might need to inquire from the caretaker if there’s an available room with its own bathroom (Marfel’s has one). Otherwise, just be human, practice common courtesy, and remember the fact that other travelers also woke up brutally early just like you—so finish your scrubbing, 30 minutes max.

b. Water supply. Marfel’s Lodge Annex doesn’t have continuous water supply (none in the evening), so the caretaker makes sure to fill up all water containers before she leaves for the day. The Main branch has 24/7 supply though. I found this to be not a problem at all, but if you’re the type of person who can’t transfer water from a drum to a pail by himself, then … I don’t know what to do with you.

c. No front desk, no room service, no free breakfast. Yeah right, whatever.

You might remember me complaining about awful water supply in Laoag and Pagudpud, but before you judge me, hear this: the hotels in the abovementioned places cost around PhP900 per day, with a shower drip as thin as human urine flow. Batanes homestays average at a PhP350 daily rate, so that’s forgivable.

Why choose a homestay instead of the comforts of a hotel, you say? Well, “roughing it” is the way to go in Batanes. Some would probably argue the merits of convenience, but personally I think being “pampered” in Batanes standards kind of defeats the purpose. Batanes isn’t the place to go “convenient”. Locals around are walking hundreds (even thousands) of meters to get to their schools, to their farms, or to their pastures, and here you are worrying about getting serviced. Or worse … complaining about weak Wifi or lack of room service. How dare you.


4. The best way to see Batanes is via … the tricycle!

Tricycle in Sabtang
Not that I’m antisocial or anything, but I was sooo happy there were only two of us in this Batanes trip (Kat and I). More people means more time wasted arguing where to eat, and where to go first; more stopovers; more time spent waiting for a friend to finish taking a bath. Sorry, but I think the ideal number of travel buddies is at most four. More than that, it’s pandemonium.

Samba rolling at the Vayang Rolling Hills #PUSHMOYAN
Because we were only a duo, we got to travel around via a hired tricycle (just like what we did in Ilocos)—and I tell you, getting on that “backride” beside the driver gives you the most awesome views of the island. Not to mention the thrill of passing through cliff-sides and narrow roads, and being able to see your possible death two thousand meters below. Exciting!

Vayang Rolling Hills
Bikes and motorcycles for rent are available in most hotels, but if you compute the total daily expenses from riding on your own versus hiring a tricycle, the latter still comes out cheaper. However, renting your own bike or motorcycle is perfect if you want to experience driving up and down the hills and slopes by yourself.

I didn’t want to go around via a van because: (1) I would commit murder if I wasn’t seated next to the window; and (2) there’s the risk of having group mates who are so irritating that they could ruin the entire trip for you, and I didn’t want that in Batanes.

Church of Ivana, infront of the port going to Sabtang Island
I highly recommend contacting Kuya Dale, Kuya Homer, and Kuya Orlan if you happen to visit Batanes and need someone to tour you around. The first two guys are brothers who are based in Basco, while Kuya Orlan works in Sabtang. They’re all very friendly and nice—but Kuya Dale was the most “popular” and “in-demand” because he tells a lot of interesting stories along with your sightseeing. I was so at ease with them I even got to drink beer with them on two occasions.

With Kuya Dale.
Here are their numbers—book them IN ADVANCE:

   Kuya Dale – 0929 341 0941
   Kuya Homer – 0910 459 8572
   Kuya Orlan – 0919 832 2171

PS: If you happen to meet them, mention us – just say, “the ballroom dancers recommended you.”

After taking hundreds of dancesport photos of us, Kuya Orlan  learned how to pose as well!

5. Do it yourself.

In wandering around, I mean. Yes, you can join a group tour—ugh, blasted van, eww—but the tricycle driver will take you to the EXACT SAME PLACES, sometimes even to some spots not in the packaged tour itinerary. In addition, the tricycle driver doubles as the tour guide, so the conversations become more meaningful, and not like something from a field trip.

If you go via trike, you can dictate which spots to skip and which spots to see—and most importantly, which spots TO LINGER IN. You can ask the driver to let you stay longer in some areas—like we did in Valugang Boulder Beach, Marlboro Country, and Tinyan Viewpoint—and you can just sit down and enjoy the chilly fresh air and the astounding view all around you. You will not be rushed! You can’t do that if you join a group tour.

I asked Kuya Homer if I could emote for an hour in Valugang Boulder Beach.

There you have it! I hope you will keep these things in mind while planning your Batanes trip. It’s important to note that people have different priorities—some travel for the luxury of it, some for taking selfies, some for serious photography, some to get immersed in a culture—and whatever your reason is, this guide is written with the aim to help first-timers in Batanes to maximize their trip. Let me know if there’s anything I can add to this list, and if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

wearing the traditional vakul in Tinyan Viewpoint, Sabtang
In closing, here’s the breakdown of my Batanes expenses just to give you an idea on how much to budget:

Day 1

View from the top of Basco Lighthouse in Naidi Hills
Brunch – PhP70 at SDC canteen
North Batan Tour – PhP500 (PhP1,000 – tricycle rate for 2, total of 5 hours)
Dinner with drinks – PhP550 at Octagon Bed and Dine
Subtotal: PhP1,120

Day 2

Chased a taho vendor in Sabtang.
Sabtang Visitor’s Fee – PhP200
Sabtang Tour – PhP400 (PhP800 – tricycle rate for 2, total of 4 hours)
Set Lunch at Morong Beach (seaside restaurant) – PhP300
Boat transfers (two-way) – PhP150
Tricycle transfers (two-way) to and from the port going to Sabtang – PhP220 (PhP440 for 2)
Dinner – PhP300
Subtotal: PhP1,570

Day 3

Fundacion Pacita
Brunch – PhP610 (at Fundacion Pacita–the most expensive hotel in Batanes; full meal + dessert and coffee)
Tricycle ride to Fundacion – PhP50
South Batan Tour – PhP750 (PhP1500 for 2, total of 8 hours)
Dinner – PhP250
Subtotal: PhP1,660

Accommodation: PhP350/night for 3 nights = PhP1,050
Airfare: PhP2,597
Terminal fee: PhP75
Airport transfers: FREE

GRAND TOTAL: PhP8,072

This was surprisingly, my cheapest travel so far (I spent PhP12,200 in Ilocos for 3D4N and fucking PhP20,000 in Cebu 3 years ago for 5D4N). I saw everything I wanted to see, and didn’t scrimp on food. Congratulate me!

Oh, and BONUS TIP #6: Mingle with locals. You will learn a lot. :)

Enjoy Batanes!


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11 comments :

  1. Culture , people and place yan ang gusto ko sa Batanes . Na meet ko pa yung bata sa pic mu sir sa marfels lodge . nag solo travel lng ako and babalik pko doon . na miss ko na nga mag biking dun every morning pampapawis sa malamig na umaga.

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  2. Wow nameet mo pa si Clark! Cool, did you stay at Marfel's? Ako din, love na love ko yung lugar. Definitely coming back as well. Thanks for leaving a comment, Brian. Happy reading!

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  3. yes marfels annex from feb 9 - feb 13 . sna may seat sale na ASAP. hehe

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  4. Did your tour guide mention the hidden spring in Batanes? It's a bit unfortunate that not all people know about this place. Just got back from my second trip to Batanes this Feb rin. And it's true, I left my heart there for the second time around <3

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  5. salamat sa iyong blog at na-contact ko si kuyaDale! :) Excited to meet him and d tours!

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  6. You're welcome! Excited for you too! :)

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  7. Thank you very much! Hulog ka ng langit! Hehe.. :D
    \m/

    https://www.facebook.com/makeHELENAproud

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  8. Happy and flattered to hear that Hazel. enjoy Batanes! Feel free to share this post as well. 😊

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  9. Thanks for this info it will helps me a lot..I just ask if klngan bang mgpareserve ng room sa marfels lodge or pweding walk in lng? Thanks ☺

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  10. I would highly recommend making a reservation/booking in advance. :) Thanks for dropping by Dhenice! :)

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  11. Thanks for the great info! Just wondering, would it be possible to cover North and South Batan by tricycle in one day?

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Let me know what you think!