Sagada & Around
Imagine: mists shredding through dark jungle valleys, lizards carved into coffins stacked like soda cans, bodies hanging from boulders and hot rice wine washing down sweet oatmeal cookies. Got that image in your head? Cool. Very cool, actually – you’re imagining Sagada, and in terms of vibe and temperature, this is as cool as the Cordillera gets.
Bustling Bontoc is one of the most important market towns in the Cordillera, but it doesn’t hold much appeal to travellers except as a transportation hub. There is an excellent museum on-site, but if it’s hiking, rice paddies and mountain vistas you crave, best head on to Sagada or Banaue.
Five Ifugao rice terraces are included on the Unesco Word Heritage list: Batad, Bangaan, Mayoyao, Hungduan and the Nagacadan terraces near Kiangan. Of those, Batad’s are the most famous, but Mayoyao gives Batad a run for its money. Mayoyao’s not covered here but is accessible from Banaue (three hours) or Santiago (five hours) in Isabela Province.
Nestled amid dramatic, rice-terraced slabs of mountain terrain and watched over by its world-famous mummies, Kabayan remains a virtually untouched jewel. If mummies aren’t your thing, Kabayan is a nice place to hike, stargaze, breathe in exhaust-free air and marvel at the voluntary 7pm curfew.
Batad & Around
OK. You’ve been through Baguio. Wandered past the hanging coffins of Sagada. Hiked to Banaue viewpoint and even peeped at a few mummies in Kabayan. You’ve done the Cordillera. Well, think again, because there’s rice terraces and then there’s Batad and its amphitheatre of rice terraces.
The capital of Kalinga Province is a flat, dusty, sweltering university town on the banks of the Chico River. There’s not much happening here, but Chico River Quest runs rafting trips on the Chico River from June to December. The more thrilling up-river run includes a night at the Sleeping Beauty Resthouse in Tinglayen, where the rafting trip starts.
The best starting point for treks in Kalinga is Tinglayen, 2½ hours north of Bontoc on the Chico River. Victor Baculi, the barangay captain of Luplupa (just across the hanging bridge from Tinglayen), can set you up with guides; look for him at the Luplupa Riverside Inn, which he owns.
Mt Pulag National Park
Mt Pulag (2922m), considered sacred ground to the Ibaloi and Kalanguya, is the third-highest peak in the Philippines and anchors the Cordillera’s largest national park. The Protected Areas Office in Ambangeg, 1½ hours south of Kabayan, doubles as the park’s visitor centre.
In barangay Pula in the town of Asipulo, a 48-hectare organic coffee forest has been turned into the Julia Campbell Agroforest Memorial Park (http://juliacampbellpark.wordpress.com). Julia Campbell was a US Peace Corps volunteer whose murder at the hands of a local man on the main trail to Batad in April 2007 shocked the country.
Hapao & Hungduan
Spread out over the valley floor, the rice terraces in Hapao and Hungduan are dazzling. To walk to a small pool beside a river in Hapao (population 2200), a barangay of Hungduan 17km northwest of Banaue, take the concrete steps behind the viewpoint and turn left at the bottom. Follow the paved irrigation canal for about 10 minutes until you reach a small group of houses.