Before I came to Sabtang Island, Batanes, I could picture its rows of stone houses which were built to withstand the harsh weather. The kind of stone houses you’ll see in Batanes are not found elsewhere in the Philippines. This not only shows Ivatan’s ingenious adaptation to their environment but also represent the rich culture that the Ivatans have preserved through the years.
Another thing about Sabtang Island is that you cannot escape the bumpy boat ride from Batan Island as it’s the only way to reach the island. The route requires you to cross the rough ocean where the West Philippine Sea strikes with the Pacific Ocean. The 30-45 minutes trip is exciting for some, frightening for many and hellish for those who are prone to sea sickness. For the locals…it’s something as ordinary as a jeepney ride. Ivatans use the faluwa, a boat without outrigger, so designed to “glide” with the waves.
Want to know 15 interesting things that are uniquely Batanes? Read here.
Picturesque view along Sabtang Island’s coast side road
Getting to Sabtang Island
Boats from Batan leave for Sabtang Island at the Ivana Port at 6:30 AM. I was half-awaken a few hours even before my alarm clock rang because of the sound of heavy rain outside. I began to doubt whether our planned Sabtang Island tour on our second day in Batanes will push through or not. Too sleepy to think about it, I dozed off to sleep again.
It was still raining at 5:30 AM, our arranged pick-up time from the homestay. We were picked-up by our guide, as planned and drove to Ivana Port. The rain subsided into a drizzle as we reached the port. I placed my trust on our guide when he said that the scale of the waves is normal at this time. And that’s even if the wind we experienced so far on our first day going around North Batan of Batanes is nothing close to normal by the standards of the rest of the areas in the Philippines.
So how’s the faluwa ride? I have crossed a lot of islands before in small bancas (pump boats) but I would say the waves of Batanes are something different. On the way, the waves were actually like rocking me to sleep. The return trip was a different story.
Arriving in Sabtang Island
It was drizzling when we arrived at the San Vicente Port in Sabtang. We were surprised to see our transportation for the day – an open vehicle that looks like a cross between a jeep and a minibus.
Our transportation that took us around the island (photo from Moyeh’s cam, taken by Arbin, our guide)
You can also try these cogon-roofed tricycles. Rides three, only in Sabtang Island, Batanes
First, we need to register at the Tourism Office just near the port and pay Environmental Fee of Php 200. This fee was already covered in our arranged tour so all we had to do was register. Now, we’re ready to take in what Sabtang Island has to offer.
Places to see in Sabtang Island
1. San Vicente Ferrer Church
Also called Sabtang Church, San Vicente Ferrer Church is just beside the Tourism Office. At more than 200 years old, the church, the convent and the site of the beaterio was declared as National Historic Landmark by the National Historical Institute. The Spanish colonial church, the convent and the remnants of the beaterio signify the artistry, craftsmanship and ingenuity of its builders.
2. Savidug Ijang
On our way to Savidug village, our guide pointed out an Ijang, pictured below. Ijangs are ancient Ivatan settlements that served as fortresses against invaders.
Do you see the man-made structure at the right of a thirds of the photo? That is an ijang
3. Chavayan Village
Chavayan Village is best known for its narrow streets lined with old stone houses. Chavayan brought to life the iconic stone houses of Batanes I had in mind.
Chavayan Village marker
A few steps away from the marker is a small hut that serves as a “showroom” for the products of Sabtang Weavers Association. They weave fiber from an endemic palm tree in Batanes and make it into vakul. It’s their signature headdress, used for protection against the weather. Another product sold here is the Ivatan native slippers made from abaca, wittingly dubbed as “Chavayanas”.
Native slippers made of cogon, the "Chavayanas" haha!
Sabtang Island’s innocence
I realized I did not even take a good picture of the rows of the vintage stone houses as I was too immersed taking photos of interesting doors as we walked our way through its narrow streets.
We walked until we reached the Sta. Rosa de Lima Chapel, beside it is a small school. The chapel is said to be the only remaining church in Batanes that is roofed with cogon grass.
Sta. Rosa de Lima Chapel
The mountain seems to guard the village’s school
We were at the end of the road and approaching the village’s gorgeous coast when it began to rain again. My camera is at risk of getting wet, but with the coast’s enticing view, I simply had to take the shot.
No rain can take away the beauty of Sabtang Island
A fisherman returns to shore
4. Chamantad – Tinyan Viewpoint
This is probably my favorite place in Sabtang Island. After passing through a cluster of shops selling souvenirs, snacks and meals, a trail through green slopes will lead you the Tinyan viewpoint and the Chamantad Cove. I have one word for both – enthralling. I would have wanted to linger at that spot where I can see the pointed hill bordering the cove but our time was limited.
5. Savidug Village
Savidug is another village in Sabtang Island teeming with traditional stone houses that are distinctly Batanes. Ivatans built their traditional houses out of stone, corals, lime and cogon. Built to withstand strong winds and rain, the walls are about a meter thick and the cogon roof about 15 inches thick. The steep thatched roof is designed to deflect strong winds.
The coastal side of Savidug Village. Need I say why Batanes is called Home of the Winds?
Sabtang is a small island but as with any other places in the Philippines, every barangay almost always have a small chapel. Savidug village has the St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, and beside it The Old Beaterio or house of priests. The beaterio is now abandoned but you can go inside, walk through its creeky floor, peek through the window and ask a volunteer who can take your Batanes profile picture from outside.
That tree trunk bench at the beaterio was meant for photos like these (photo from Moyeh’s cam, taken by Arbin, our guide)
Lolo was gracious enough to stop for a while as we asked if we can have him photographed
6. Morong Beach or Nakabuang Beach
We had our lunch at the eatery near Morong Beach or locally known as Nakabuang Beach. After lunch, we had the time to walk along the coast. The naturally formed Ahaw or Nakabuang Arch is an iconic spot of the beach. Visitors can swim and snorkel in the beach but not while we were there as the weather was not on our side.
Who would dare swim against these fierce waves?
I managed to take a few shots before the drizzle turned into rain
Sheltering under the Nakabuang arch (photo from Moyeh’s cam, taken by Arbin, our guide)
7. Sabtang Lighthouse
You cannot miss this lighthouse because it will be the structure to welcome and bid you goodbye as you arrive and leave Sabtang Island. It’s at the edge of a cliff at the side of the port. Unfortunately, I did not have a photo of the lighthouse as it was raining that time and I only had my non-water proof jacket to protect myself and my camera.
Leaving Sabtang Island
I had an amazing time despite our short trip around the island and the moody weather. I really loved the rawness of Sabtang Island and the traditional character it exudes. The island should probably thank its remoteness that the people had preserved their culture and lifestyle of centuries back. Besides the richness in culture, the fantastic vistas are hard to run away from.
I wanted more but we had to go with the last trip leaving between 1:30 to 2:00 PM. No other boat trips will be available after this time because by late afternoon, the faluwa will be going against the waves.
Watching the powerful waves from the port while waiting for our cue to board the faluwa, I knew we’re in for a rough ride. Remember I told you, the trip back was a different story? We were just a few seconds away since we left the port but the waves did not even give us time to warm up just a bit. It’s as if the boat was shifting from first gear to fourth gear in terms of “rocking wave” level.
I already hear a few of the passengers vomiting. I could not imagine how the more treacherous 3 hour trip to Itbayat Island, another island of Batanes, would be like. The ride was a combination of an adventure stimulation while being in a prayerful mode…if these two could even combine. Despite this, I would not let pass another chance of going back to Sabtang Island.
Where to book for tours
You’ve seen a glimpse of Sabtang Island in black and white…go see it live in colors! Pin this post if you love this article.