Ifugao and its Stairways to Heaven

A few minutes after breakfast, I found myself standing in awe, in front of the rice terraces, those fields carved from the mountain sides, perhaps made by bare hands of the Ifugao tribe. A massive work that covers the slopes of some of the mountains in Banaue and the nearby towns. They seem like stairways to heaven, revealing their beauty as the rising sun began to cast its morning light on the ancient rice terraces.

Ifugao, my 55th province.

A landlocked province, Ifugao belongs to the Cordillera Administrative Region, sharing its borders with Mountain Province, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya and Benguet. Ifugao means ‘people from the hill’. It is located high in the mountains of the Cordillera with river valleys and forest cover.

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What is unique to this province is its rice terraces. In 1995, five rice terraces were inscibed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site under a collective name: Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. These are the following: 1) Batad 2) Bangaan 3) Mayoyao 4) Hungduan and 5) Nagacadan Rice Terraces. Aside from the terraces, UNESCO also inscribed the Hudhud Chants of the Ifugao as an Intagible Cultural Heritage (2008).

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The Banaue Rice Terraces is what was featured in the 1,000 peso bill (1985 series) and the 20 peso bill (2010 series). Au contraire, the rice terraces in Banaue is not included in the UNESCO inscribed rice terraces, but it is the most photographed and visited spot in the province. The Philippine Government has placed it as a National Cultural Treasure under Ifugao Rice Terraces (PD 260 in 1973).

How to go to Banaue, Ifugao? Access is only by land. There are bus lines that ply the route from Manila to Banaue (Ohayami Bus, 10-12hrs) or from Sagada (Coda Bus Line, 3.5hrs). Jeepneys from Bontoc in Mountain Province and Ifugao’s capital Lagawe are also available.

For my visit to Banaue, my friend and I took a bus ride from Sagada (Coda Bus Line) after lunch via Bontoc and reached Banaue before sunset. For room accommodation, we stayed at Querencia Hotel (Php 200 pax) which was just a few steps down from where the bus stop was. If you come from Sagada, you get a glimpse of the rice terraces several hundred meters before the bus enters the town proper.

Deciding to visit the terraces the very next day, We had dinner at the hotel. To save ourselves from the challenge of looking for a nearby eatery (most of the stores in Banaue close early in the night), we settled for the hotel menu which I was quite happy to know that were served in copious amount. November nights in Banaue was relatively cold.

The morning after, we went to the Banaue Tourist Information Centre. We got ourselves a whole day packaged tour for Php 1,500 (2pax) in a tricycle consisting of visits to all viewpoints to the Banaue Rice Terraces, Saddle Point for Batad Rice Terraces and viewpoint to the rice terraces of Bangaan. Payment must have to be settled at the Tourist Center where a staff would assign you a tricycle driver who would also act as a tour guide.

It is advisable to start the tour early and to begin with the visit to the Banaue Rice Terraces. Try as much not to go to the viewpoint later in the day because it often fogs. At times it drizzles and you wont be able to get a good picture of the hand-made wonder.

Some of the pictures from Banaue Rice Terraces

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One should not miss to visit Batad Rice Terraces. This by far is the most beautiful and the grandest. Batad’s Rice Terraces are stone-walled, built about 2,000 years ago by hand. It looks like an amphitheater carved from a side of the mountain and spread out at the base and rose again a distance further. The tricycle driver brought us to Saddle Point. From there, it’s a downward hike to the jump-off point for the Batad Rice Terraces. A tour guide is optional.

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A foot path would lead you to the Batad Tourism Center where you register and pay a heritage fee of Php 50 pax. The rice terraces is already visible from there.

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The best time to visit Batad is in the months of April and May. The terraces would be at its greenest. Our visit was in November and when we arrived, the terraces were barren and cleared. We came just a few days after harvest. Nevertheless, the view was still breath-taking. We were overwhelmed by the thought that we finally get to tick off from our bucketlist, this UNESCO World Heritage Site (at least one of the five Ifugao Rice Terraces).

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Tappiya Falls

One should not also miss to visit the nearby falls. Tappiya Falls is just behind Batad Rice Terraces. A foot path leads you to the other side of the mountain and to the mighty sound of Tappiya. You can get there relatively with ease. But going back up to the kick-off point of the path is the most physically challenging. All the same, you would still be rewarded by the wonderful view of the terraces.

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Taking a few more photos of the world wonder before we took an easier path out of Batad. We were too tired to walk our way towards Saddle Point so we took a jeepney ride (I forgot how much we paid for the quick trip) and transferred to our tricycle.

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Viewpoint: Bangaan Rice Terraces

We head off to the viewpoint for Bangaan Rice Terraces. As part of UNESCO listed heritage, Bangaan Rice Terraces unique feature is the cluster of houses in the middle of the rice field. These are Ifugao houses that seem to rise above their domain, only without high walls or rural gates. A lovely village at the center of the terraces surrounded by hills.

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A lesser known rice terraces en route to Banaue

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Ohayami Bus

The visit to Bangaan concluded our tour. We head back to Banaue and dropped off at Querencia Hotel just before sundown. A few hours after, we were in an Ohayami Bus for the 8-hour journey to Manila.

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