Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras

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 rice terraces at Banaue’s poblacion, Ifugao

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.”

close-up of the Batad Rice Terraces

Rice terraces in Batad village, Banaue

(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.)

rice terraces seen from the Viewpoint at Banaue, Ifugao

Similar photos of this view of the Banaue rice terraces have graced travel guides, school textbooks and local currency notes

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.)

the Batad Rice Terraces viewed from the village

Batad Rice 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.

Tappiya Falls in Batad

Tappiya Falls. Photo by Jophel Botero Ybiosa via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Bangaan Rice Terraces, Banaue

Bangaan rice terraces. Photo by Jsinglador via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

rice terraces in Hungduan town, Ifugao

Rice terraces at Hungduan. Photo by Bernard Guerrero via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

the Nagacadan Rice Terraces in Kiangan, Ifugao

Nagacadan rice terraces, Kiangan. Photo by Shubert Lazaro Ciencia via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

the Bay-yo Terraces from a viewpoint along the Banaue-Bontoc road

View of the Bay-yo Terraces from the road to Bontoc, Mountain Province

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.

rice terraces in Sagada, Mountain Province

Rice terraces in Sagada

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.

9 thoughts on “Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras

    1. Thanks ‘igan. Was also thinking about coming back to visit other terraces we didn’t get to see in 2 past visits. There’s actually a lot more in Bontoc and Kalinga worth visiting. It looks like Covid-19 will change the nature of travel, though. Hope we can adjust well and still see places like these.

    1. Thanks for visiting! We’re hoping the younger generations will continue the work of their ancestors. Many of them would rather go to college in the cities and from the economic state of the people tending these terraces we understand that tendency. However we think there are viable options to enable these terraces to continue being planted.

    1. Thanks Len! I’ve been to Ubud before (Leo). The rice terraces there are beautiful although they aren’t on the scale of the rice terraces in northern Luzon, Philippines which were carved out of the mountains and valleys floors.

      1. Agree. It reminds me of bookshelves in the library 🙂 But how do people get to the upper fields. I don’t see any road. Honestly, the fields look like they are built upon each other.

      2. Some of the terraces have paved paths going up for visitors. One town even has metal railings installed. For the rest there are rough pathways going up each terrace that the farmers follow. We actually traversed those terraces laterally by walking on top of a narrow wall of stones at the end of each terrace. One mistake and you’ll drop down anywhere from 5 to 10 feet into the paddy below.

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