As much as the Philippines is mostly known for its beautiful beaches and coral reefs, one must not forget about the rice terraces located in the Cordillera Administrative Region, in Luzon. We rode to Batad, Banaue, Buscalan Village and Sagada to get a glimpse of some of the most beautiful landscapes this mountainous region has to offer.
Located in the Ifugao province, Batad has probably one of the most remote and inaccessible rice terraces of them all, but at the same time the most spectacular. It is roughly a 10-12 hour ride from Manila or a 40-60 minute ride from Banaue Town Proper, but one must park 1km away and hike to get to the village.
As a day trip, getting there relatively early will allow you to enjoy breakfast, overlooking the terraces before heading down to Tappiya Falls. Many ask if it is a must to get a guide to do so, and as much as one could find the way fairly easily, it is not so much a question of whether one needs a guide but a question of whether the guide needs the traveller. A guided tour of the terraces and a visit to the falls will set you back Php1200, which goes a long way for most locals. Not to mention that the local guides will take you to the best places from which you can snap your Instagram worthy moments.
The hike to the Tappiya Falls and back, takes approximately 5 hours and it is relatively physically demanding, but definitely possible for anyone to do, and absolutely worth the effort. Remember to bring river shoes to make getting in the water for a swim a much easier task.
If you do have time, 2 or more nights in Batad (we had an amazing experience at Rita’s Mount View Inn and Restaurant), are ideal to spend more time exploring the surrounding villages and sights.
This larger and more easily accessible town, is our jump off point of choice, especially if time is of the essence. From Banaue, one can reach a number of “must see” places with relative ease. The UNESCO World Heritage List included The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras in 1995 and includes the Batad Rice Terraces, Bangaan Rice Terraces (both within the Municipality of Banaue), Mayoyao Rice Terraces (in Mayoyao), Hungduan Rice Terraces (in Hungduan) and Nagacadan Rice Terraces (in Kiangan), all in the Ifugao Province and most, at a reasonable distance.
Similar to Batad, Buscalan requires visitors to leave their form of transportation (it takes 1.5 to 2 hours to ride from Sagada or 2.5 to 3 hours from Banaue) and hike for about 45 minutes to an hour and a half to get to the village. A guide is required and you will have no problem finding one at the make shift car park area where the hike starts.
While you will be able to see some rice terraces (much smaller than the others mentioned in this article, the main attraction in Buscalan is the famous Whang-od and her students. At 100 years old, Whang-od is the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines (at the time of writing) and is the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist). Traditionally, these tattoos were done on Kalinga warriors, and to become a warrior, one should have killed another person and bring the head as proof. Nowadays, many local and foreign tourists head up to Buscalan to get a tattoo from Whang-od and it may require an overnight stay (sometimes more) at the village. There are plenty home-stay options in the village, but we were with Charlie Knows and highly recommend it.
A great alternative, considering Whang-od’s age is to get inked by one of her 2 students Grace Palicas, and Ilyang Wigan. For some it may not be an option, but if you want something special, getting a tattoo from the next generation is as special, if you ask us. Both Grace and Ilyang, will be in this year’s Singapore Ink Show. You can also find more info on Tattooed by Apo Whang-Od Facebook Group.
Another “must” while up in the mountains lies a 3 hour ride from Banaue. In Sagada, one can visit it’s famous caves and hanging coffins, drink their coffee or go white water rafting. We had our best food at Coffee Heritage House and the Yoghurt House. The first one is a little more remote, but if you want a great meal in a very peaceful environment with a staff that has a good eye for details, this is definitely something you should keep in your list.
When visiting any of the sights in Sagada, one must first register at a tourist infformation office and hire a guide.