318th … itbayat! in my past …

Our motorcycle just had to trip over a huge rock while we were on a rough road. It fell on its side, which broke the clutch. The rational thing to do would have been to go back to the guesthouse and get some rest but of course we didn’t do that right away.

At eight in the evening without having dinner yet, we drove around with a broken clutch looking for palek, a local sugarcane wine. After going to the wrong house twice, we finally found the old man who makes it. He was selling it at P50 per gallon. There was no way we could finish all that alcohol in one night unless we put it on an IV drip straight through our veins. Nonetheless, we still happily lugged around four liters of palek back home. Come on, where else could you buy this much booze for P50?

This paradise is so far up north that reaching it is only for the brave/

If you really want to get away, head to the province of Batanes and visit Itbayat, the northernmost point in the Philippines that still has people living there.

Many people visit Batanes for many reasons: to see the old stone houses in Sabtang and the picturesque lighthouses amid the rugged coastline of Batan, to get a taste of coconut crabs or simply to observe cattle grazing on the undulating hills.

But less than 10% of the people who visit Batanes dare to venture way up north to the town of Itbayat.

Why? because ..

The waves getting there are gigantic.  Sandwiched between Balintang and Bashi Channels, two of the most treacherous bodies of water in the country, a smooth boat ride to Itbayat is probably the last thing you’ll experience. For the easily seasick traveler, this is a pretty solid reason not to soldier on.

You may get stranded on the island for days. If ginormous waves, which jolt the sea, aren’t fun enough, typhoons are known to frequent Batanes. Expect cold stormy winds if you go between November and February and be prepared to be stranded on the island as part of your travel itinerary.

It’s expensive getting in, out and around the island.  Imagine how far a can of sardines from General Santos has to travel to reach Itbayat. Think of the risk a cargo ship takes just to deliver supplies to Basco and for smaller boats to bring these goods from Basco to Itbayat.

This means things in Itbayat are expensive.

To give you an idea, a day tour around Itbayat Island will cost a person ₱2,000 per day – this includes the guide and the motorcycle rental. Make that ₱3,000 if you are a group renting a tricycle. Homestays charge ₱200 per meal which translates to ₱600 for 3 meals not including snacks.

This might be affordable for some travelers, but for others, it might not be. Especially since you’re also shelling out money to tour around Batan and Sabtang.

If the above reasons made you yawn, then  you’re one hardcore traveler which makes Itbayat a must-visit for you.

If you’re now having second thoughts though, definitely still read on and learn why it still might be worth the trip.

The entire island of Itbayat is believed to be an uplifted coral reef, and one would easily notice this onboard a plane or a boat. The whole island is surrounded by sharp limestone cliffs, and not a single beach can be found along its coast!

A tour of the island normally begins with a visit to Torongan Cave — a wide chamber that opens to the sea. Archaeologists believe that it served as the primary gateway for our Austronesian ancestors in going in and out Batanes. An uphill trail beside the cave will lead you to a spot where 90′s kids will be reminded of Westlife’s “My Love” music video.

Stone houses surround the Itbayat town proper where the simple yet attractive Sta. Maria Imaculada Church can be found.

Did you know that the very first houses in Itbayat were purely made of cogon grass? A short motorcycle ride to Barangay Raele, Yawran and Varayvayan will let you see these cogon houses, the “older” old houses of Batanes. To help defend against typhoons, locals decided to strengthen their homes by using corals and boulders adhered by lime.

A 5-hour boat ride from Pagganaman Port transports a brave soul to Mavulis, the northernmost and most picturesque island of Itbayat. A volcanic island dominated by basaltic peaks, dressed in pistachio-colored grasses and shrubs, Mavulis is host to a good stretch of white pebbly beach where basking under the sun will give a sense of triumph; it’s the Philippines’ northernmost beach!

Pretend you’re a character from the Lord of the Rings by spending a night in another volcanic island called Siayan Island. Here, a prominent volcanic plug dominates the landscape, with cows freely grazing on the hill slopes. Expect these bovines to be your only company throughout the night.

In order to get to Itbayat, you have to fly to Basco first. Basco is located on Batan Island, the second largest island among the Batanes Islands. Basco has a domestic airport, Basco Airport, one of two airports in Batanes.

Travel time by air from Basco to Itbayat is 10 minutes  By boat: passenger boats leave Basco for Itbayat between 3:00 AM to 6:00 AM Monday to Saturday. Travel time is between 3 to 5 hours. Fare is ₱450 one-way.

What To Eat: Lobster!   You can stay at Nanay Cano Homestay located in Itbayat town proper.  Motorcycle, tricycle and truck rentals can be arranged. You can also go farther north to Mavulis and Siayan islands if you have enough courage to brave the big waves!

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