After a 9-hour bus ride from Metro Manila, a one-hour bumpy ride by jeepney and nearly an hour of trekking up and down a pathway among the hills we found ourselves standing at the rim of amphitheater-like terraced rice fields carved from the mountainside. These terraces in the upland village of Batad, now almost golden yellow in color from ripening rice stalks, are just one of the innumerable rice terraces of the Cordillera Central mountain range in Northern Luzon, Philippines.
The most well-known of these terraces are located in Ifugao province. 5 clusters of these have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. All of them have been constructed by hand, using primitive tools. What makes these terraces unique and interesting is their continued use for 2,000 years which UNESCO says is an “enduring illustration of an ancient civilization that surpassed various challenges and setbacks posed by modernization.”
(Anthropologist Otley Beyer has estimated that the terraces are over 2000 years old and this has been generally accepted for a hundred years or so. Recently, however, some researches have suggested that they were built less than 1,000 years ago. Either way it doesn’t diminish our admiration for the rice terraces.)
The most famous of all these terraces are those near the poblacion or town center of Banaue in Ifugao. It’s also among the easiest to reach as its viewpoints lie along the main road going to Bontoc town and Kalinga province. These terraces have been pictured all over tourist guides, travel books, school textbooks and local currency notes but is not on UNESCO’s list of 5 terrace clusters (probably because of the many modern structures situated along several points of these terraces.)
These 5 clusters are as follows:
1. The Batad rice terraces. Located at the village of the same name but still within Banaue town, these terraces, as earlier noted, form an amphitheater-like cluster at the bottom of which lies a traditional Ifugao village. At the time we visited Batad we needed almost a 1-hour hike to get there. There are accommodations in the village affording us grand views of the terraces from our room and the restaurant. (In recent years the road has been extended from the saddle where our jeepney parked, shortening the trek.) Also included in the tour of the terraces are the Tappiya Falls.
2. The Bangaan terrace cluster also in the town of Banaue. This terrace cluster may be viewed from the side of the road from Banaue town proper on the way to Mayoyao and Alfonso Lista. It’s also possible to trek down to the terraces and a preserved traditional Ifugao village in less time than it takes to trek to Batad.
3. The Hungduan terrace cluster. This is an extensive, spider-web like pattern of terraces that includes the rice terraces in the villages of Hapao, Nungulunan, Dakkitan and Bacung. Other attractions at Hungduan town are the Balentimol Falls and the Heritage Village. If too tired from trekking here one may visit the Bogyah Hotspring in Hapao Village.
4. The Nagacadan terraces in the town of Kiangan. Two sets of ascending rice terraces bisected by a river make up this terrace cluster. Visitors may be able to trek down the terraces via concrete steps provided with metal hand rails at several points. However, hiking here takes considerable effort.
5. The Mayoyao terrace cluster where pyramid-shaped native houses are scattered at various points along the terraces. Mayoyao competes with Hungduan for the largest collection of rice terraces among the 5 clusters, with terraces spread out over several mountains and valleys but is probably the least visited because of its distance from Banaue town. Of special interest here are the Abfo’or – domed-shaped burial tombs, found only in Mayoyao.
Overshadowed by these terraces are those in Maligcong, a village in Bontoc, a town just north of Banaue and in the Mountain Province. Increasingly becoming popular nowadays, the Maligcong rice terraces are 30 minutes away from Bontoc town. On the road to Bontoc from Banaue and just past the boundary between Ifugao and the Mountain Province are the Bay-yo Terraces. This terrace cluster isn’t as extensive as the ones in Ifugao but is gorgeous due to very few houses interspersed among the terraces and is well-maintained giving it a “clean” look.
Also in Mountain Province is the charming town of Sagada with its own clusters of rice terraces. Again these are not as extensive and as grand as the ones in Ifugao but have a beauty all their own.
There are a lot more rice terraces in the provinces of Benguet, Kalinga, Apayao, Abra and Nueva Vizcaya. Some of them are in the more remote parts of these provinces and have remained outside the tourist radar mainly due to the lack of good roads in those parts. However, due to some adventurous souls who have been blogging about them and because of gradually improving road conditions, more and more of these attractions are opening up.
Travel to the Cordillera’s rice terraces might be a challenge but the destinations are well worth the trouble. Here’s looking forward to more travel to these parts.