The Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras – a true gem and one of the Philippines’ most distinct natural wonders. While this tropical country is known for white sand beaches and golden sunsets, its mountain regions are a sight to behold. Known as “Hagdang-Hagdang Palayan” in local language, the Rice Terraces in Banaue of the Ifugao Province is unofficially dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Whether it ever gets that official honor or not is irrelevant – a trip to this UNESCO World Heritage Site in Batad and Bangaan in Banaue is a must for adventure seekers looking for respite in nature.
Banaue is a 4th class municipality in the province of Ifugao with a population of approximately 20,000 people. This means that, while the municipality spans several “barangays” or towns, life here is pretty simple. You will not find much in the way of modern comfort.
It sits in the Cordillera region, a massive mountain range situated in the northern central part of the island of Luzon.
It is relatively easy to go to Banaue, but the 10-hour bus travel puts some people off. As a result, not a lot of Filipinos have seen the famous rice terraces themselves. If you’re willing to go the distance, then you will be rewarded for sure.
The most convenient way to reach Banaue is through the Ohayami Bus ($10 one way), with its Manila terminal located in Sampaloc. It usually leaves Manila at 10PM, and arrives in Banaue at 7AM the following day.So, it’s an overnight ride. It is also advisable to book a ticket online. While there may be a $2 surcharge, it is much more convenient. There are many local and foreign travelers that book at the terminal on a daily basis, but just remember that you won’t have any guaranteed seating, which for such a long journey is crucial.
If you happen to miss Ohayami, Florida Line also travels to Banaue. However, this company has had safety issues before, so try to get on Ohayami.
Since the trips are limited and more and more travelers are going to Banaue, it’s a good idea to buy a return ticket when you arrive in Banaue.
The best place to spend your days at Banaue is at the main town, also known as Poblacion. This is where the bus terminal and the main municipal hall are located. It is possible to stay in neighboring villages, but the farther you travel from Poblacion, the less creature comforts you will find. It depends on your preference and your main purpose for traveling to Banaue. If you wish to do more than trek the terraces, it is advisable to stay at Poblacion so you’ll have more options.
The food in Banaue is nothing exceptional or different from what you will find in Manila. The most distinct food item is their rice since it is the main crop planted at the terraces. You will also find a lot of fresh vegetable dishes. The rice in Banaue is exceptionally fragrant and soft, but all other food items are pretty common. Restaurants serve a mix of Filipino, Asian, and Israeli cuisine.
Banaue is extremely safe, but it’s a very simple town. There is electricity, but they do occasionally experience power outages, though it’s not long. There are tricycles everywhere, but the people are very laid back and drivers tend to choose whether or not they’re willing to bring you to where you want. English is widely spoken in the region, so communication is not a problem.
Perhaps the most inconvenient part about traveling to Banaue is the lack of western toilets. Toilets in Banaue are simply the toilet bowl without the water tank. This means that doing number 1 or 2 means flushing your business by pouring water into the bowl. There are very, very few establishments with a proper western toilet, and one is in Sanafe Lodge. If this is something that bothers you, just make sure to stay there or have your meals there.
The popularly know Banaue Rice Terraces, visible form Poblacion, are not what you think they are. These weren’t included in UNESCO’s classification mainly because of the presence of modern structures. It is still, however, declared by the Philippine government as a National Cultural Treasure under Ifugao Rice Terraces.
The Banaue Rice Terraces are no less beautiful, and still attract a significant crowd. You can charter a tricycle from Poblacion to bring you to the four viewpoints that show different angles of the terraces. There are small shops at the viewpoints where you can buy souvenirs.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites are the terraces located in Batad and Bangaan, two of the small villages in Banaue. Batad and Bangaan are situated at the side of mountains and right at the terraces, which means you wake up to to the view of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From Poblacion, the easier one to get to is the rice terraces at Batad. Charter a tricycle ($10) or a jeep ($60) to Batad Saddle Point. At the saddle point, you can hire a guide to take you to the village and through the terraces. Hiring a guide is advisable since going through the many paths of the terraces can be a little tricky. If you don’t wish to hire a guide, ask the tricycle or the jeep to take you past the saddle point and straight to the village.
The road will end at one point, and you will need to go through a 15-minute hike to get to the village. Once there, you can either drop your stuff at one of the nearby accommodations if you’re spending the night, or head straight to the terraces.
If you wish to spend the night at Batad, there are several lodges you can stay in. The most popular and convenient lodge is Hillside Inn. They also have the luxury of a hot shower, which you will be thankful for after a long hike in cool weather.
The following morning, catch a jeep back to Poblacion, which usually leaves at 9AM. This will be the easiest way to make it back to Poblacion since not a lot of other public transport heads to Batad.
From the village, it’s a straightforward hike to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the views are as breathtaking and as awe-inspiring as views can get. You can simply stay at the village and take photos, or go right through the rice fields and head to the viewing deck at the opposite side of the terraces.
Once you reach the viewing deck, there is a pathway that leads down to the foot of the mountains for another hidden destination – Tappia Falls.
The path is currently closed as the Peace Corps is currently installing handrails. The path is steep, slippery, and dangerous, and the much-needed handrails are a must for a safe hike down. The trail will be once again opened in June 2017.
For advanced hikers, the hike can take around one hour down, and a little over an hour back up. It’s a continuous descent with virtually no flat part.
Undeniably, the hike to the falls is treacherous, but the reward at the end is an 80 foot waterfall that flows into a small pool and into the river. Some areas of the pool are safe to swim, but don’t get too close to the falls. The surge of the water is extremely strong and potentially deadly. The area around the falls also create a lot of undercurrent by the sheer force of the water.
For most people, the trek through the Batad Rice terraces is enough to get a much needed dose of nature and outdoor adventure. However, if you want to see more of Banaue, there are a few more things you might want to check out.
Wood carving is one of the most popular skills of the people of Banaue. All carvings are handmade by the indigenous Ifugao tribe. You will find shops filled with wooden sculptures and furniture. Taking one home is like bringing a piece of national treasure with you.
A product of their famous carving skills but an attraction on its own, the wooden scooters will be found at the Banaue Viewpoint. These are hand-carved scooters with only a brake to help you control your motion. These scooters can be rented out for a quarter for some photo-taking, or a bit more to try it out yourself. You will be situated at a downhill part of the road, and you’ll have to let gravity take its course. It can be quite dangerous, so think twice before trying this out.
If you look at the tour map, you will find every village and every terrace you can make as your destination. Everything is accessible from Poblacion as you get off the bus. All you have to do is look for a tricycle driver who will be willing to bring you to your desired destination. The tourism office of Banaue is also situated near the bus station. A visit to their office will give you an idea on how to map out your trekking adventure.
When you think about the wonders of the world, it’s likely to be a very difficult journey to get there. The Ifugao Terraces, on the other hand, are a bus ride away from Manila. For most travelers, a trip to the Philippines means peace and serenity, and there are few places more peaceful and serene than Banaue.
So if you’re headed towards the Philippines, why not take a little detour from island-hopping and sunbathing? A full day’s trek through the lush terraces of Banaue is as fulfilling and as enriching as it can get when it comes to travel.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!