Bustling Bontoc is one of the most important market towns and transport hubs in the Cordillera, and you'll find yourself spending a day or two here if you're looking to get out to the rice terraces of Maligcong and Mainit or stay in the former headhunter villages of Kalinga, as it's an excellent place to arrange a guide.
Hemmed in on all sides by dramatic rice terraces, Banaue is directly accessible from Manila and, as such, can sometimes feel a little overwhelmed by visitors. It's hard to blame them: the local mud-walled rice terraces have a pleasing, organic quality that differentiates them from the stone-walled terraces in most of the Cordillera.
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 is run by his son.
Mt Pulag National Park
Mt Pulag (2922m), sacred to the Ibaloi and Kalanguya, is the highest peak in Luzon 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. There’s a hefty P950 entrance fee for nonresidents, payable here or at other points of entry.
Barlig, Kadaclan & Natonin
East of Bontoc, the secluded, rarely visited villages of Barlig, Kadaclan and Natonin have magnificent rice terraces. From Barlig it takes only about four hours to summit this region’s highest peak, Mt Amuyao (2702m).The walk from Barlig to Batad, over Mt Amuyao, is one of the best two-day hikes in the Cordillera. Natonin to Mayoyao is a two- or three-day trek.
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 around 2200), a barangay of Hungduan 17km northwest of Banaue, take the concrete steps behind the viewpoint in Hapao and turn left at the bottom.
Maligcong & Mainit
The towering, sprawling stone-walled rice terraces of Maligcong rival those of Banaue and Batad, but draw only a fraction of the tourists. Mainit has some scalding hot springs that periodically pop up in random places, several interesting ato (dap-ay), and backyard mausoleums adorned with carabao horns – a symbol of the deceased’s wealth.