The Rice Terraces of Banaue and Batad
Just when we thought that the Philippines couldn’t get any prettier after having spent two weeks exploring deserted beaches and waterfalls, we made our way to the north, heading towards the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad. Actually, it didn’t start off that well; we arrived by overnight bus from Baguio on a dull rainy morning and it was anything but pretty. Luckily our guesthouse was not far from where the bus stopped (and a free transfer service to the guesthouse is offered by the tourist office) so we just crashed onto our bed and slept all morning.
Our sleep was cut short after only a few hours, when the sound of horns and festivities woke us up and we rushed out to see what was happening. We were told that it was the third day of an important festival taking place in Ifugao and that we were very lucky to witness it.
The Rice Terraces of Banaue and Batad
The festival however was not the highlight of our trip to Banaue… we were there for the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad, 2,000-year-old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by the ancestors of the indigenous people.
The rice terraces of Banaue are pretty but those in Batad are spectacular. Banaue and Batad are located in the province of Ifugao, one of the provinces in Cordillera Central, a large mountain range on the island of Luzon. The Cordillera mountain range is home to several ancestral tribes of indigenous mountain people each with its own particular tribal culture.
Getting to Banaue
The easiest way to get to Banaue from Manila is by overnight bus – there are 1-2 trips per day which are often fully booked, so booking early is highly recommended. There are also lots of private charters and tours running from Manila to Banaue but we found these to be overpriced and not worth considering.
Our experience in getting to the Rice Terraces of Banaue
All buses were full booked the week we wanted to go (so were those to Sagada which is further up north from Banaue), but the overnight bus from Baguio to Banaue a couple of days later was not, and our best option was to go Baguio, spend a couple of nights there and catch a bus to Banaue.
When making travel plans, it is very important to consider that there is a lot of internal Filipino tourism during weekends, this particular weekend happened to be a long weekend too, so most buses were booked out weeks before, making it very difficult for us to move from Manila.
All buses from Manila to Baguio with Victory Liner were also fully booked for the next few days so we made our way to the Genesis Terminal. We took this decision as buses from Manila to Baguio with Genesis cannot be booked in advance, so we joined the 300 people in the queue for a place on the bus. Luckily the buses were running frequently even that time of night (1 am) and we managed to get on one after staying in the queue for approximately 2.5 hours. Once we were in Baguio, we immediately made our way to the Ohayami office to pre-book our bus to Banaue. We arrived in Banaue at approximately 5am, two days later.
The Imbayah Festival
If you’re in Banaue during the Imbayah festival, you’re in for quite a show! The three-day festival is based on the old ritual depicting the ascendancy of a commoner and his family to the ranks of the elite. It also celebrates rice planting and the harvest and rice wine.
We were in Banaue on the last day of the festival just in time to witness the street parade where villagers from neighbouring barangays (districts) walked by showcasing their traditional clothes. Later, we joined the people on the streets waiting for the colourful floats to pass by before they “parked” in the public market square which had been cleared out for this purpose.
The festival is one of the most important in the region and typically showcases different tribal dances and games from the Ifugao region. We would have loved to have been able to watch the festival from the start!
The Rice Terraces of Banaue and Batad
The Cordillera mountain range is dotted with rice terraces; you can see them from the buses, jeepneys and vans as you travel between one region and the other. Those in Batad are particularly stunning and are the reason for most people’s trips to Banaue. Banaue is a little village (2 roads) lined with some guesthouses, restaurants and bakeries catering to those travellers coming to visit the rice fields.
The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These include the Batad Rice Terraces, Bangaan Rice Terraces (both in Banaue), Mayoyao Rice Terraces (in Mayoyao), Hungduan Rice Terraces (in Hungduan) and Nagacadan Rice Terraces but not the rice terraces of Banaue proper (seen from the viewpoint in Banaue).
It is common practice to hire a guide from Banaue to be taken on a day trip to Batad, but this is not at all necessary and we managed a day trip on our own very easily. This was partly thanks to the directions posted by our fellow blogger Kathy in her blog post about a self-guided tour of Batad.
We found a trike driver who would drive us to Batad and back the following day (waiting for us the whole time as we trekked about the terraces) for 1000 PHP which seems to be a standard price for this route. When we asked him (on the previous day) what time we should set off, he suggested 8am and although we woke up a little grumpy thinking that it was too early to start our trek, we later thanked him for his advice since we had the terraces pretty much to ourselves for the first few hours we were there.
It was raining as we set off from Banaue but it started clearing up as we approached Batad. There are three rice terraces viewpoints en route to Batad, which your trike driver should stop you at (make sure that you specify this as you negotiate the price). We had packed our rain jackets that morning, pretty sure that we would be getting soaked, but soon realised that what we really needed was sunblock and sunglasses – it was sunny and scorching hot in Batad!
Our intention was to hike along the terrace of Batad until we reached the best viewpoint and carry on hiking to the Tappiya Waterfalls. Unfortunately, when we got there we came across a sign which said that the waterfalls were closed due to upgrading works of the pathway leading to them, so we never got to do that part (Nikki breathed a sigh of relief here since the trek to the waterfalls is pretty arduous we had been told).
The first part of the hike is downhill across a muddy track, leading on to a shack selling some snacks. Further downwards, there are some signposts indicating the route, but they are not easy to follow. You will never get lost though, since the rice terraces are right in front of you and it is not difficult to find a path across them. Keep in mind that the higher up you stay, the less arduous will the climb to the viewpoint be!
It is pretty normal that you actually walk in and out of people’s houses and shops as you make your way to the terraces. These shops are strategically placed at the highest points of the hike so that you get to them just after you have sweated your guts out. You then get to walk right into and across the actual terraces to arrive to the best viewpoint where you can take in the beauty of the terraces just below you as you stand at one of the highest points.
The most convenient place to stay in is in Banaue. Due to the festival, most places were full but we managed to secure a room at Koreen Guesthouse right in the heart of the village. Our room had a large balcony from where we could watch the festival and definitely scores 10/10 for location, although it did get noisy at times. Other amenities are good and the place is pleasant enough.
There are some ‘homestay’ type guesthouses in Batad among the terraces, but only consider staying there if you’re carrying very little luggage, you will need to carry them for a few km up and down the hills to get to your residence.
We were not impressed by the restaurants in Banaue. The popular People’s Lodge and Restaurant commands a spectacular view over the valley below (on the back part) but although the food was ok, the service was very poor. We had breakfast at the Las Vegas restaurant opposite; they had decent oatmeal, eggs and coffee at a very affordable prices and were open early in the morning (many other restaurants were not).
The bakeries of Banaue on the other hand, serve delicious fresh cakes and pastries for 5-20 PHP/piece!
- Carry water around with you if you’re trekking through the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad. There are shops serving cold drinks too but you will need constant hydration!
- Carry sunglasses and sunblock – we got pretty sunburnt during our hike!
- It is easy to hike in Batad without a guide, follow the directions in this link.
- You can get an early morning bus or a van (departing later in the morning) to Bontoc or Sagada from Banaue if you plan on exploring more of the Cordillera. Alternatively, you can go back to Baguio or Manila.
- Unless you plan and book ahead, you need to be as flexible as possible, it is very common to find that transportation to the region is booked or scarce and you need to be ready to change your plans if necessary.