The Cordillera, Northern Luzon – Philippines

The Cordillera is an expansive mountain range located in the north central part of Luzon (the same island which Manila is located on). Containing some of the highest peaks in the country and some beautifully tucked away valleys, the deep colored greens and slightly cooler climate provide a welcome reprieve from the usual tropical sun that bakes the rest of the country. But, more than the cooler climate, the draw to this area stems from the achievements of the Ifugao and other tribes native to this region. This particular tribe is best known for two things: their resistance to all colonial rule and their magnificent feat of creating endless towering rice terraces covering the mountain sides outside of their villages. The most widely accepted claims are that the Ifugao Rice Terraces  date back some 2,000 years, far before the inputs of outside technologies. Though, there are parallel claims that they are not nearly as old and that the terracing was not widely spread throughout the region until after the Spanish colonial arrival. Irrespective of their historical dating, the fact that these were created in such a remote, mountainous part of the world is what is most incredible. These terraces provide breathtaking backdrops that could easily be compared to those of the Incas spread throughout the Andes.

Over our last week in the Philippines over May, we traveled through 3 of these hill stations in the region – Banaue, Batad & Sagada. The following is to give you a better sense of the beauty of this region…

 

Our next stop was Batad. A perfect place to go on a day hike to it's waterfall.
By far, our favorite place in the region was Batad. This small town, located relatively close to Banaue (an hour to reach the main junction by jeepney or motorized tricycle and another two hours to walk downhill from there), is a great place to go on a day hike or even stay over to take in some of the best views in the region! Home to a refreshing waterfall and some of the most impressive rice terraces we have seen in our travels, it is well worth a visit.
Vista of the town of Batad
Welcome to Batad 🙂 The main vista of the town of Batad and its impressive wall of rice terraces.
From the main vista, it is a one to two hour descent through the rice terraced trails…
Which provided some great views of this tucked away village.
All to be rewarded by an extremely refreshing swim at the bottom of this waterfall.
One of the few similarities with the mainland - boys using the same ingenious method we saw in Laos of discarded plastic bottles for 'floaties'
Accompanied by a few of the local kids and a handful of other tourists. The discarded plastic bottles are used for ‘floaties’ – making for a pretty remarkable place to learn how to swim!
Our view from our guesthouse in Banaue, which provided a nice break from the commotion of the downtown.
The next location is Banaue, an area that used to be the main attraction in the region, but has been overly developed in a very haphazard way. It is worth staying outside of the center of the city in order to find some of that same charm that once existed. Even taking a 10 minute walk up the side trails, can make all the difference. This was our view from our guesthouse. Quite different from the commotion downtown.
The Banaue Rice Terraces located along the main road headed towards Bontoc, just outside of Banaue
The Banaue Rice Terraces located along the main road headed towards Bontoc, just outside of Banaue – accessible by walking or a short tricycle ride.
The main viewpoint of the Banaue Rice Terraces
The main viewpoint of the Banaue Rice Terraces – from here it is possible to walk back along the side trails cutting through the rice terraces, though it is not entirely straight forward.

 

 

The final stop for us was in Sagada. With less rice terraces in its close vicinity, but plenty en route, this town is better known  known for its burial caves and hanging coffins. Above is a view of many of the guesthouses and homes that splatter the hillside (the main road is much more developed).
The hanging coffins located in Sagada
For the Igorot tribe, which resided in the Sagada area, hanging their dead in coffins was common practice. There are many different explanations as to why they performed this custom from the more spiritual to the more practical. One of the explanations was that if they kept the bodies raised on the cliff faces, it brought them closer to their ancestral spirits. While yet another explanation was that the coffins were hung in order to make it harder for headhunters to take home trophies.  Whichever the case, they still provide for a surreal backdrop.
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