A trip to Batanes, the breathtakingly beautiful island chain in the northern tip of the Philippines, can easily break the bank — but it doesn’t have to. Here’s a quick guide to budgeting for your Batanes trip.
Look out for seat sales.
A regular topic of conversation among tourists in Batanes is “How much was your ticket?”
Regular Manila-Basco round-trip tickets cost anywhere from PHP 7,000 to PHP 16,000, which might be okay if you have more cash than you know what to do with, but is otherwise heavy on the pocket. If your travel dates are flexible, you might as well wait for a seat sale from Philippine Airlines, which flies daily from Manila to Basco. SkyJet also flies thrice weekly to Basco.
Follow PAL on Facebook and check “Get Notifications” to get the latest word on PAL promos. Lean season tickets tend to be cheaper; the ticket for my July trip, which I booked in March, only cost PHP 1,533 (return, all-in, with travel insurance).
Go for cheap homestays that let you cook your own food.
First of all, at the high end of the accommodations spectrum is Fundacion Pacita, where a single night can cost over PHP 6,000 net. It’s a gorgeous place, with to-die-for views, and for some is probably worth the splurge. That said, Batanes itself is gorgeous, with to-die-for views, and if you have money to burn, I would recommend burning it to the benefit of the non-1% locals.
Nearly everyone I met on tour stayed at Marfel’s Lodge, and they had nothing but praise for the place. Rooms were cheap — a single fan room cost only PHP 400, a room good for 3 persons went for only PHP 350/person, and even airconditioned rooms were reasonably priced. Moreover, there were cooking facilities, a well-stocked pantry, and reliable WiFi.
Book all-in tours with a reputable, freelance tour guide.
I am a DIY tourist at heart, but Batanes doesn’t really have regular public transportation, just tricycles that you can call if needed. For this reason, I chose to book a tour package with Ryan Cardona, a popular Batanes tour guide, for PHP 5,200. Although Ryan mostly coordinates and supervises tours nowadays, I got to meet him personally during my first attempt at a Sabtang Island tour — “attempt” because the waves were huge that day and the Coast Guard flatly refused to let us sail as scheduled — and he was really friendly, helpful and informative. My tour package covered North Batan, South Batan, and Sabtang Island and included transportation, fees, and midday meals.
Kuya Romy Daroca was the tour guide with whom I spent the most time, and he really added cultural depth and dimension to my Batanes experience. A municipally licensed guide trained by the Department of Tourism, Kuya Romy was knowledgeable, funny, kind and obliging. (And he volunteered to take a lot of photos, which is, like, The Most Important Thing if you’re a solo traveler. Hehe.) In addition to being the tour guide during my visit to Sabtang Island, I also asked him to take me around some of my favorite places in Batan Island on my extra day. Kuya Romy also farms during the day and hunts for coconut crabs, lobsters, and fish at night — an industriousness and resourcefulness that is typical of many Batanes locals — and knows a lot about the local way of life. (You can get in touch with him at +63 908 927 2358. Standard tours cost PHP 5,200. You can also work with him — like I did — to create a customized guided tour.)
If you really want to tour Batanes independently, you can engage a tricycle driver to take you around the islands. Although they have not been trained as tour guides, they are used to driving tourists and can competently answer questions about local culture. My go-to tricycle driver in Batanes was Kuya Toto (+639198933146). You can also ask your hotel/lodge/inn to call a tricycle for you.
Consider take-out bags and cooking your own meals.
Food in Batanes tends to be expensive, with meals at PHP 200 to PHP 400 per person in restaurants such as the Vatang Grill in Ivana (try their salt and pepper pork or the Ivatan dish lenes) and the Octagon Bed and Dine in Basco.
A few cost-cutting tips:
- The SDC canteen near the municipal hall serves [relatively] inexpensive food at PHP 70 per meat dish and PHP 20 for a cup of rice.
- Restaurant servings tend to be large, so if you have food left over after a meal, ask the server to wrap it up for you to eat on your next meal. (I did this a lot!)
- If you’re staying at a place with cooking facilities, try preparing your own meals! And if you really want to save, you can go an extreme step further: pay for additional baggage allowance and bring your own rice and canned goods.
- Lugaw! A generous bowl of porridge only costs PHP 15 at Kusina ni Loring (ask the locals for directions) and PHP 25 at the small eatery across the airport.
For a 4D/3N trip to Batanes, prepare around
The estimates above — while frugal — are by no means rock-bottom figures. You can bring down the cost of the trip even further by waiting for a cheaper flight, booking cheaper accommodations, eating lugaw for breakfast, preparing your own lunch and dinner, and doing a DIY tour.
And, yes, Batanes is absolutely worth it.
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