We tell you: You can go overseas without having to leave the country. Read how.
The Philippines may be a tiny archipelago but it’s so beautiful and blessed—thanks to its 7,000++ islands making it almost have a bit of or something similar to what another country has to offer.
Here are five places in the Philippines that transport you to places outside the Philippines.
The rolling hills of “New Zealand” (Batanes)
This one’s no secret. Every time we see someone post about one of the ultimate #travelgoals, it almost always involves a sense of awe.
The northernmost province of the country, Batanes, is home to rolling green hills dotted with livestock that resembles the home of the Kiwis. You may not see fluffy flocks of sheep, but you will see herds of cattle and/or cows grazing among all that beauty, a rare combination in the country. There’s also the clear skies that add to the whole “this shouldn’t be in the Philippines” vibe.
There’s a particularly good spot that will make you say “Am I REALLY in the Philippines?”: Rakuh-a-Payaman in Mahatao.
“African safari” (Calauit Safari Park in Palawan)
It’s safe to say you’re not really going to find wild zebras and giraffes running around in open fields ANYWHERE in the country; they’re usually seen in enclosures inside zoos. Not that we’re complaining, but we’d like to see them in their element, similar to their brothers and sisters in Africa.
Luckily, there is a place just like the African safari that’s within 35 minutes of Metro Manila: the Calauit Safari Park. It’s home to reticulated giraffes and Grévy’s zebra that get to run around and play alongside local species, some of which are endemic to the Calamianes Islands where the park resides.
Experience the rolling hills of Batanes by booking #DashHolidays! Tel: +63917 840 6853, +639917 627 6179 Solar Century Tower, 100 Tordesillas cor. HV Dela Costa Streets, Salcedo Village, Makati City
Time travel to “old Spain” (Vigan, Ilocos Sur)
UNESCO calls it the “best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia,” and it’s not hard to see why.
Vigan, Ilocos Sur is a remarkably well-preserved Spanish colonial town thanks in large part to the people taking pride in their heritage. One street, in particular, gives this city that true “old Spanish town” feel: Calle Crisologo. This cobblestone street is at the heart of Vigan’s very best when it comes to preserving old Spanish architecture. That, coupled with local laws that prevent extensive modifications to heritage houses, make this sight unique to Vigan.
“Japanese Bamboo” Forest (Man-made forest in Bilar, Bohol)
This is not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, but the way the Bilar Man-Made Forest looks really gives you that feeling of being inside the Sagano Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, Japan.
You won’t see a single bamboo tree standing here (nor will mahogany make the same soothing sound when they get hit by a breeze), but you have to admit that the tree tunnel it creates is eerily similar. It’s like going through a wormhole that will transport you to somewhere completely different.
Going “Dutch” with flowers (Sirao Flower Farm, Cebu)
You can’t grow tulips in the Philippines without a truckload of struggle. Does this mean Amsterdam’s flower gardens are a far-fetched dream reserved for those lucky enough to get a Schengen visa? No.
A trip to Cebu is all you need to see sights similar to those in Amsterdam. The Sirao Flower Farm started making rounds in social media before the 10,000 Roses Cafe was even a thing. It looks spectacularly like the flower gardens in Amsterdam even without the tulips thanks to a more Philippine-friendly flower that’s just as colorful: the celiosa flower or cock’s comb.
Do you know of other destinations that you feel are similar to those overseas? Let us know and we’ll do a second set!
Batanes is an island of superlatives but its natural wonders are only a portion of what it has to offer for its people called the Ivatans are what make it even more beautiful, and the chance to immerse with them the one to give meaning to your Batanes holiday.
Our featured Ivatans with model Jayanne Aldanese in Uyugan, a village in Batanes that looks like it’s from a fairytale book.
We draw attention to three Ivatans who show us their way of life, their quirks, and why to them Batanes will always be their home. More so, they give us a glimpse of the Ivatan character—respectful and kindhearted, family-drawn, God-loving, holistic, creative. The list goes on. We follow each of them for a day.
Here’s our tale.
The faithful laborer
Tess Vargas Castillejos is a retiree who is now living the life that she’s always dreamed of
When Tess Vargas Castillejos retired from her post as Department of Trade and Industry Batanes provincial caretaker in 2012, she made the big leap, switching into a full organic lifestyle. She’s turned to organic farming and gardening, which makes her feel connected and happy.
Tess has been famous for cultivating clitoria ternatea—a perennial evergreen climber that produces blue flower—and being the first in Batanes to turn this blue flower into tea. She’s also making waves as a farm-to-table entrepreneur, cooking and serving meals right at her centuries-old home. Her ingredients for cooking are straight from her farm.
Up at the crack of dawn
Tess looks exceptionally energetic for someone who only had 30 minutes of sleep—visiting friends came over for dinner and stayed until past midnight. She wakes up at 3am to prepare for her lector duties at the Sto. Domingo Parish of the Immaculate Conception Church, where daily masses start at 5am.
She gets up pretty early to start her day.
Like many Ivatans, Tess is a devout Catholic and one can tell by the religious items in her home. After the dawn mass, she heads back home for breakfast. Today, it’s chayi (local lychee) salad, lunyis (pork slowly cooked in salt and garlic and fried in its own fat), mashed
sweet potato and a mug of coffee.
Tess’s lack of sleep barely registers as she happily chats about her plants. It brings her joy knowing that whatever she cultivates will benefit the environment and her neighbors for she likes sharing her harvest.
Gather them blue flowers
Every day, Tess walks to her 897sqm farm, which she and her two staff tend. It’s where you’ll see rows and rows of bushes peppered with blue flowers. She’d pick the mature ones.
Tess and her flower pickers are able to collect seven to eight kilos of flowers a day, and such amount can be attributed to the growing demand for her tea.
Tess’s love affair with blue flowers started when her late husband, who used to gift her with blue orchids, passed away. In his passing, she found a way to cope with her loss through gardening, and found the blue flowers most fascinating.
In no time, her organic blue tea became an instant hit especially for tourists, fetching at Php3,000 (USD60) per kilo of the tea-ready dried version.
Hearty noontime meal
Harvesting eight kilos of flowers is tedious so Tess usually finishes at noontime. There are days when she eats packed lunch at her farm when her early morning check requires more farm work like clearing pathways, pruning the shrubs or spreading organic fertilizer.
Today, the task is only to pick blue flowers and produce to cook for lunch.
Back at home, Tess whips up a healthy homemade meal—beef broth with blue flowers, green rice, cucumber sesame salad and the leftover from breakfast. Dessert is boiled cardava topped with mango cream made from scratch. All these are served in beautiful plates—part of her chinaware collection. After the hearty meal, she serves us palek (Ivatan wine), which she concocts too.
Afternoon siesta, and more labor of love
Tess tends to her freshly-picked blue flowers
After lunch, Tess takes out her babies—the newly harvested blue flowers—and spreads them out on an improvised bed. This is her version of curing so that the flowers do not entirely lose their color once she places them under the sun. The process of drying blue flowers includes overnight curing, sun drying until the petals are crisp, and winnowing to remove small dirt and small particles.
In between, customers stop by to pick up their orders. A couple swings by to discuss with her their wedding’s catering arrangement as Tess also caters for intimate events. She opens her home to host private dinners but with three days’ notice.
Finally, Tess gets some shuteye.
At 4pm, she gets up, takes the sundried blue flowers back into the house, and spends the rest of the afternoon packing the winnowed flowers.
Capping the day’s work
She spends most of her afternoons picking flowers
At night, Tess’s routine includes saying a short novena prayer, preparing dinner, and watching TV or meditating in her garden. At dinner, she gives us a taste of her magic by serving us slow-cooked beef, blue rice, green rice, crispy adobong pata (pork thigh cooked adobo-style then crisp-fried) and squash soup. Dessert is millet pudding topped with cream and orange slices and it’s the yummiest that you’d have.
The well-rooted adventurer
Carlotta Borromeo-Charbonney is a well-traveled Ivatan who now lives in Switzerland with her family. She never forgets home
When she was young, Carlotta Borromeo-Charbonney, Bing to family and friends, had learned to live independently especially when she went to college in Manila—hundreds of miles away from home. But when she got married, even her adventure-loving self still had to adjust to six years of traveling to different parts of the world due to her husband’s line of work. She met all kinds of people, experienced different cultures, and had a fair share of rough times that came with living from country to country. When they settled down in Switzerland was when she decided it’s time to come home to Batanes every year no matter what. Batanes is home and there’s not a single place quite as special as it.
No two days are alike
Bing loves spontaneity and does not want to confine herself to plans. Whenever she’s home in Batanes, there’s never a routine that she sticks to. There are days she wakes up late because of a previous night out or she’s up really early excited to explore the island.
Close to the summit of Mt. Matarem
Today, she’s off to an early start, waking up at 6am to prepare to hike Mt. Matarem. She boils saba banana, buys hot pandesal (local bun) and brews her coffee. On ordinary days, a steaming mug of coffee is enough for her morning fill but today is an exception for she’s set to climb the second highest peak in the island albeit not her first time to do so. She’s already summited Mt. Matarem thrice in the past years but the promise of great views from the summit always calls for one more.
Quiet island life
Bing with the love of her life—her mom
On the road, Bing talks about why she would always come back home to Batanes every year. She says it’s the warmth of her fellow Ivatans, the joy of being able to decompress and relax, and the much, much simpler way of life—a stark contrast to her life in Switzerland.
She likes to refer to herself as an island girl who will always be captivated by beautiful sunrises and sunsets, rolling green hills, the crisp mountain air. As a child, she would spend her weekends on the beach with her friends or have picnics in their farm. They would cook
root crops, climb mabolo trees to eat fruits or pick alunot (local plum).
Growing up on an island, which was once isolated with no electric supply, means they rarely got to taste ice cream. She recalls how, as a student, she would travel by foot from one town to another because transportation was almost nonexistent.
Going off grid
When she finally reaches the jump-off point, Bing gleefully walks along the first part of the trail that opens into a pastureland that leads to a section where you’ll think fairies may magically appear. She pauses to take in the view of wild trees. This part is dense with greenery, and flora and fauna. Aside from the surreal views, Mt. Matarem also gives her a chance to switch off from the world and immerse herself in the beauty of nature. As soon as she summits, she marvels at the island’s fragile beauty, making her fall in love with Batanes even more.
Ancient settlement, revisited
Sun’s up at Idjang
After a fulfilling hike, Bing grabs a quick lunch in preparation for her next activity: hiking up her favorite spot in idjang this afternoon. Bing’s grandparents own an idjang—her aunt inherited it later on— in the southeastern side of Basco, an ancient hilltop fortress once used by her ancestors to protect themselves from tribal wars and Japanese invaders. It’s one of the places where she has fond memories of growing up.
From up until where the van can manage, she takes a 10-minute hike on a trail leading to the mountain fortress. She reaches the base of the idjang—the spot they were allowed to go play and have a picnic as kids for the top of it were deemed sacred grounds.
Dinner for keeps
Bing caps her day with a nice dinner with her mother and sisters. Her mother, who is already in her nineties, regales with stories about their life during the Japanese occupation era.
One of Bing’s goals is to write her mother’s memoir thinking that it would be her way of paying tribute to how her mother gave so much to secure her future.
After dinner, Bing gets a text invite for a get-together As expected, she’s not one to pass.
Young at Art
John Lorenz ‘Vorz’ Portez is a quiet presence and one of the youngest in Batanes’ thriving art scene
John Lorenz “Vorz” Portez is a soft-spoken 20-year-old acrylic painter who dreams of following the footsteps of Austrian artist Voka and Ivatan artist Randalf Dilla. He likes exploring colors thoroughly, oftentimes resulting in dynamic, spontaneous and bold strokes reflecting in his works. He calls his art spontaneous realism and is fond of showing the depth of human emotions through portraits of Ivatan elders.
A young artist’s mornings
Vorz in his element at his home studio
Vorz wakes up towards noon and he has his reasons. After having his morning cup and the light is better is when he picks up his brush and canvas.
The Portez’s family room is Vorz’s makeshift studio. Noontime is quietest so it’s when Vorz starts painting. But his creative energy peaks at night when everything comes to a standstill. Solitude, to Vorz, is integral in his creative journey.
As a full-time painter, Vorz enjoys doing his artwork at a leisurely pace—one thing that he’s unable to do when he was in school. He went to college for two years and stopped given that the course he took—drafting—lured him away from painting.
His project for today is Mahatao lighthouse. The lighthouses in Batan Island are also among his favorite subjects because he sees them as a metaphor of hope, light and home. In his current collection are 15 paintings of lighthouses in different interpretations.
Pride and little big dreams
The work Vorz is most proud of is his winning piece entitled Abus Pandan A Saray (Walang Katumbas na Tiwala) that shows a young Ivatan taking off the blindfold of his elder in the hope of guiding the latter through the changes that are taking place in the island. This artwork is put on display at Galerie Du Tulaan at Fundacion Pacita.
Drawing inspiration from an old Uyugan house
Vorz dreams of opening his own exhibit one day at the Ayala Museum in Makati, like the other members of Yaru nu Artes Ivatan (Bayanihan of Ivatan Artists), a collective of local artists which he’s a part of.
Although a great part of his day is spent painting at their new home in Basco, Vorz still goes out in some afternoons for a breath of fresh air.
The Tayid Lighthouse—the subject of the day’s painting lessons
Back in the days when they were still renting a house in Mahatao, his break from painting would be to hang out with friends. And when he wanted a moment of solitude, he would go to the Mahatao lighthouse, White Beach, or trek Mahuruhon to gather his thoughts and conceptualize for his next piece.
His constant companions were a sketchbook and a pen. He would sketch movements, landscapes, life, ideas, and things that catch his attention in one of his many strolls.
One of his favorite stops for inspiration today is White Beach. His attempt is to capture the tumbling of the waves in his sketchbook.
With his Yaru nu Artes co-artists
His next stop will be the old Ivatan house in Uyugan, which has always fascinated him. He revels in the traditional pattern of the house but points out that the now cemented facade was once made of stone. The house has always been his inspiration whenever he wants to artistically render Batanes’ old stone houses.
When the weather is good, he would go to the Basco lighthouse after feeding their pigs. From the lighthouse’s view deck, he’d watch the interplay of sunset colors, which he would later on translate into acrylic on canvas.
Life outside art
Vorz with his dogs in their Mahatao home
Life outside art means taking care of his eight dogs and tending the backyard pigs his family raises in Chanarian. He would go to their old house in Mahatao daily to feed and play with his dogs because he couldn’t bring them to their new home in Basco. At home, he helps out in chores as any son would. After dinner, as soon as everybody retires to bed, he’d go back to the company of his brush and canvas and paint the night away.
This is a place very far away from Manila that can make you blurt the perfect awww: Bernie’s Bed and Breakfast in Ivana, a sleepy town in Batanes some 15km from Basco Airport.
Bernie’s is a two-storey seven-bedroom hotel inspired by the traditional Ivatan architecture with touches of modern. Its “quaintly” features? The stone-dotted façade with trellis and vertical windows; the stone path leading to the entrance; the homey but bright and airy interiors, and the careful mix of wooden furnishings, kerosene lamp-inspired fixtures, ornamental plants and art pieces. One nice touch at Bernie’s are its books, shelves of them, that are the first to greet guests.
The B&B is logically designed—the social spaces are on the ground floor while the rooms on are on the second floor.
Slip at the small garden at the back for a quiet moment by yourself and take in the sun and Ivana’s peaceful surroundings.
Author Jonalyn Fortuno enjoying some peace and quiet at the Queen Room
There are queen bedrooms and double bedrooms, all spacious. I stayed in a queen room with whitewashed walls and stone tiles, well-furnished along with mod cons. It has a spacious bathroom with fine toiletries. At full house, Bernie’s can be filled with up to 21 people.
Bernie’s only serves breakfast and it’s typically what’s available like fried flying fish, rice and coffee. The innkeeper may cook a meal for guests.
See Batanes’ famous landmarks close by: the House of Dakay, the oldest stone house in Batanes; Honesty Coffee Shop, an unmanned store that operates solely on trust; the Old Spanish Bridge.
The basics Starts at Php3,500 (USD67) per night Facebook.com/Bernies-Bed-And-Breakfast
Get there SkyJet flies daily from Manila to Batanes Book a SkyJet flight now.
Get to know Ivatan rockstar tour guide Ed Delfin, his aspirations for his hometown, and his favorite restaurants list
Ed enjoying scenic Fundacion Pacita. By Opal Bala
I started tour guiding visitors in Batanes in 1999. I was working on a World Bank-funded project on environmental protection and conservation at that time.
I’m more of a cultural worker than a tour guide. I’ve always been an advocate of heritage conservation. My goal is to convert as many locals into becoming heritage champions and instill in them that tour guiding is about showing the dynamics of natural environment and cultural heritage that shaped our province into what it is now today.