Banaue is located in the Ifugao province, north of Luzon island in the Philippines. It is famous for the 2,000 year old rice terraces carved into its mountains. The terraces are so vast that it extends over mountains, from the foot to several thousand feet upwards; all built by hand by the indigenous Ifugao people all those years ago. The clusters of rice terraces of Batad and Bangaan in Banaue are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
I’ve heard so much about the beauty and magnificence of the rice terraces that I had to make a trip to witness it for myself. So I endured the long journey just to see the rice terraces for one day, and then headed up further north.
Getting to Banaue
This mountain town is so remote that I had to take an 9 hour bus ride from Manila to get there. Due to the nature of the journey, there are only night buses that ply the route directly to Banaue. There is less traffic then, and I suppose the pitch black darkness helped hide the dangers of the ride from the passengers– navigating through narrow, windy, steep mountainous slopes with only the bus headlights to guide the way.
My bus to Banaue left Manila at 10.00pm, and cost me approximately PHP500-600 (US$11-14). I managed to sleep the entire way in the uncomfortable and freezing cold bus, and arrived in town at about 7am in the morning. The weather was lovely and cooling, a welcomed change from the merciless heat in Manila.
I spent one night in Banaue at the Sanafe Lodge and Restaurant, located in the center of town. It is a great base to explore the town and the rice terraces surrounding the area. The wooden lodge offers simple cozy rooms and good food– and I especially loved the patio overlooking the Banaue rice terraces.
After the day’s hike to the rice terraces, I whiled away my late evening on the deck, enjoying the fresh air and admiring more beautiful views. The next day, I woke up early in time for the sunrise, and watched it rise from beyond the mountains.
The Rice Terraces
The best way to see the rice terraces is by hiking. I decided to head out of town to see the rice terraces of Batad, known for its preserved beauty due to it being relatively inaccessible. The amphitheater-like terraces of Batad are made of stone and getting to it involves a 16km jeepney ride followed by a 4km trail through the mountains; as compared to the mud-walled terraces of Banaue that is reachable by road. I wanted the adventure!
Road to Batad
The jeepney ride from Banaue to the Batad Saddle, where the hiking trail into Batad begins, took about half an hour or so. The journey was bumpy and dusty; and treacherous at several points. It was scary watching the jeepney driver navigate the steep cliff roads, but the breathtaking views of the mountains and rice terraces along the way managed to divert my attention for most of the time.
Halfway along the ride, I came across a house on a cliff. I just had to stop and see it because half of the house was hanging over a long drop into the terraces down below.
It turned out to be a souvenir shop. The ladies were busy carving wood to make keepsakes, and the men were calmly sitting on flimsy benches hanging over the cliff’s edge, happily chewing on beetle nuts. They were going about their business oblivious to the fact that their shop could fall at any moment! I was wary when stepping into it to have a look around, reminding myself to tread lightly.
I later found out that its been hanging that way for a very long time.
Hiking to the Rice Terraces
The jeepney driver I hired to get to Batad Saddle also served as a guide to lead me through the trail towards Batad. I wanted company and didn’t want to risk getting lost in the middle of the mountains. However, most of the popular treks can be easily done on your own; paths are marked and there are lodges along the main trail.
Throughout the trail to the Batad rice terraces viewpoint, the scenery was so stunning that I couldn’t resist stopping every few minutes to admire the views and snap pictures. I also met a couple of village kids who were playing with sticks and branches. I tried talking to them, but all they could do was giggle at my efforts. My guide commented that I doubled the time needed for the trek with all my mid-way stops and detours.
It took me an hour to reach the Batad rice terraces viewpoint. It was my final stop for the day– but if you’re up for more hiking, you can head down to the Batad village with the Ifugao huts, or to the Tappiyah Waterfalls.
The view from up high was absolutely stunning. The rice terraces clung to the mountain sides like giant steps, back-dropped by equally high mountains that stretched out into the distance. I could see the village of Batad nestled right in the middle of the rice terrace landscape, a wonderful demonstration of humankind and nature living together in perfect harmony.
I spent more than an hour at the viewpoint; sipping on coffee and singing a song or two, while soaking in the abundance of lush greenery all around me. The fresh mountain air added to the tranquility of my surroundings.
When to Visit
Throughout the year, the rice terraces of Banaue/Batad and surrounding areas display a collage of different hues. A good time to visit the terraces are during the planting season in February; and April, when the terraces turn their brightest green. The grains are usually ready for harvesting in the months of July/August, which is a great time to visit too. This is when the terraces turn a beautiful color of saffron and gold.
I was there during the start of the planting season, and got to witness the farmers at work. Most of the terraces were pretty patches of green from the newly planted stalks. At some places however, terraces were still muddy brown.
At the End of the Day
I only stopped by Banaue for a day because there were so many other places I wanted to go to with the short amount of time I had in the Philippines. Other than the rice terraces, I spent some time exploring the town of Banaue and the local shops for souvenirs and trinkets.
I believe a trip to the Philippines is not complete without a visit to Banaue to see its majestic rice terraces. Being able to see such beauty made that long journey from Manila worth it. I’m glad I made it.