When you think about taking a tour to the Philippines, you might embark on research on Google about the blue lagoons, best beaches, and even those teeny monkeys popularly known as the Tarsiers.
But if you are a true backpacker by nature wishing to explore the road less travelled, Philippines does quench your wanderlust more than its turquoise waters and the pristine white sandy beaches.
For that, you must head straight to Northern Philippines to get some tremendous mountain views of the Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao, situated on Luzon Island.
This is the rice terrace that has stood the test of time for 2000 years and has taken the place of the Eighth Wonder in the World!
In my opinion, you must pin this in your itinerary on your next trip to the Philippines.
You might not believe what I am about to say unless you experience it because little to no machinery was used to carve out the rice terraces. That means the ancestors of the Ifugao tribe carved them on mountains and hills by hand.
And you might be totally flattered to find rice that requires stable water, growing in that sloppy terrain. The impossible was made possible by ancient humans!
Sounds too surreal, right?
Interestingly, these hand-carved steps on the sloped grounds were undoubtedly effective in cultivating rice even in the 21st century!
So, jump in with your mind’s eye as we embark on a journey into this epic landscape full of tranquillity, serenity, grandeur, and beauty.
1. Why Did the Ifugao Build the Rice Terraces?
Seriously, there is no precise reason why the Ifugao tribes built the rice terraces, even from the scholarly realm. However, a general belief is that the construction is purely agriculturally based as people began cultivating Taro crops initially and shifted to planting rice.
Others say that it could have been the availability of water that dictated the Ifugao people to construct the rice terraces, thereby creating this system.
And without any documented knowledge, the rules and guidelines passed from the previous generation orally are still practiced by the following generation for centuries now!
2. Banaue Rice Terraces Description
Classified as a World Heritage Site since 1995, the Banaue rice terraces have been a prime mode of survival for the Ifugao community since the pre-colonial Philippines.
These terraces span over an area of 10,360 sq km and are constructed 1,500 meters above sea level. This living landscape that has survived over decades represents the engineering skills of the Ifugao tribes.
The land consists of intricate irrigation systems that harvest water from the misty rainforests located at the mountaintops, reflecting the tribe’s mastery over hydraulic engineering and structural architecture. And the best part is that these stone and wood structures have remained intact for over two millennia!
Amazing Fact: Did you know? If these terraces were joined end to end, they would cover half the earth’s diameter.
Even today, the locals carry the traditional mode of farming as heavy machinery cannot be carried to the mountaintops. Also, the slopes look like the steps toward the sky, as most terraces reach up to 5000 feet altitude and blanket 4000 sq miles of land.
Being a famous tourist spot now, these terraces don’t just offer space to just sightsee and be awe-struck by the ancient architecture. You can also hike around the terrain and explore the place.
The locals there are extremely friendly and live at the foot of the mountains. You can take a guided tour using the young locals, who are mostly college students, to navigate you to enjoy the uttermost expanse of this awesome terrain.
Ultimately, one must admit that these terraces are a breathtaking place that is worth visiting. And thanks to the Ifugao tribes who have transformed the once barren stones of the Cordillera mountains into a field fit to cultivate rice.
Nevertheless, unfortunately, the environmental conditions, abandonment of the terraces by the younger generation, and lower income have led to the deterioration of these terraces.
3. Banaue Rice Terraces History
Now that you have got a glimpse of the place, it’s time to travel backward to the creation to peer into history and excavate some precious information to stay updated!
Referring to what was stated by UNESCO, the Philippine rice terraces
create a landscape of great beauty that expresses the harmony between humankind and the environment.
The history of these massive terraces is interlinked with the cultural and traditional practices of the people. It is generally believed that a group of migratory tribes carried the technique of terrace cultivation into the parts of Luzon, South China (Indo-China), South Japan, Lesser Sunda Islands, and southward to Java.
It might be intriguing, but these are the only places where terrace cultivations are happening even today. Based on the remains, it is stated that the migration probably began in the second millennium B.C. And the Ifugao people are considered the oldest native people to bring in the terrace culture. Following them are those located in the Kiangan district.
The mysterious fact is that there is no evidence or reason why these terraces were cultivated. Some say that the people of the land wished to change their consumption habits from taro crops to rice, which is in existence to date.
Studies have shown that life started for the Ifugao tribes with the construction of the terraces on the Ifugao Mountains. With primitive tools and human power, the terraces represent the epitome of man and nature in harmony.
It is a complete ecosystem of its own with equitably shared water flow without hindering the terrace below using a complex system of sluices, dams, bamboo pipes, and channels that are maintained by the community. After irrigating the terraces, the excess water drains into a stream at the base of the valley.
Now maintaining the terraces is considered a sacred art to the tribe. Hence, they passed it orally without any written documentation. With that, they also passed the tribal rituals they have to perform to evoke spirits to protect the crops.
Even in the 21st century, they have the bulol rice deities in their fields and granaries and still believe that they protect the fields against catastrophes and malevolent spirits thereby showering them abundant harvests.
In 1995 it became a World Heritage Site because of the changing environmental conditions. There was serious protection provided as the terraces were moving toward an end destroying the watering system and the terraces by erosion, earthquakes, climate change, and frequent typhoons.
Additionally, as a helping hand to conserve this unique landscape, the Philippines Government has invested in many projects.
Interestingly, you can find most of the direct offspring of the forefathers still living in the Cordillera Region and operating as the guardians of this mesmerizing heritage.
4. How to Reach the Ifugao Rice Terraces?
Warning: Do this before packing your travel bag and booking your flight tickets. You are sure to thank me later!
Don’t worry about travelling to Banaue because there are numerous modes of transportation to take you directly there. There are comfortable AC buses from Manila to Banaue from the terminals located by Cubao, Q.C., and Dimasalang St., Sampaloc, Aurora Boulevard, Manila.
Insider Tip: Ensure to blanket yourself as much as possible as your pleads to the driver are not going to turn off the freezing temperatures inside the bus. And make use of the three stops along the way for meals and lavatory breaks.
Overnight bus services from Manila to Banaue that journeys up to 10 hours are also available. These buses start from night 10 pm and drop you around 7 in the morning.
Alternatively, you can also take a 9.5-hour journey taking a bus from Baguio City to Banaue.
Here is a Google Maps pinned location of the place to navigate you in the right track!
5. When to Visit the Banaue Terraces?
April or May and October or November is the best time to feast your eyes to some breathtaking views of the ready-to-harvest green rice fields. This is the best time to see the different hues of green with the manicured stepped terraces encircling you over the horizon.
If you plan to take a trip in June or the first week in July, you can assure yourself to enjoy the best part of having a magical view of the fields ready to be harvested with their warm golden hues of mature rice gazing up at the sky!
And it’s best to avoid July and August as they are the months known for the highest rainfall and they come with their own risks. There are chances of landslides and other consequences and it’s best to strike down these months on your travel calendar.
If you ask me, I bet that the rice terraces are the best places to enjoy some sweeping panoramic views of the harmony between man and nature with lots of other exciting activities to satisfy your adventure appetite. It is indeed a destination you must add to your Philippines itinerary.
6. Entry Fees to the Banaue
After all these terraces belong to UNESCO and you don’t need to worry about the fee as its quite cheap. Once you land at Banaue head straight to the local tourism office to register yourself and pay a 20 Php (0.4 USD) as an environmental fee to tour the rice terrace.
If you wish to take a trip to both the Batad Rice Terraces and the village you need to pay Php 50 (1 USD) as environmental fees.
Subsequently, you must keep in mind that this is a remote gem that is found miles away from the city. So, you cannot expect all the amenities you find in the city to be available here. And that’s why being prepared to visit the place is highly essential.
That’s why keep these tips with you before you put your best foot ahead!
- You can scarcely find an ATM in the village here. If you are lucky to spot one, it may or may not be functional. So, it’s best to carry cash in the local currency used to pay the fees, buy necessary items, and transportation charges.
- Always take a local guide to hike the area as there are NO clearly marked trails to hike. There are chances that you might lose track and won’t find your way back.
Don’t worry about communicating with the locals as the Kiangan, Lagawe, Aguinaldo, Mayoyao, and Banaue residing in Ifugao speak English fluently.
7. What More Can You Do After Watching the Rice Terraces?
Banaue has something more to offer just than viewing its terraces. There is so much to explore here and you will NEVER run out of things to do here. All you need to do is to stay energized as most of the touring requires your legs. Now here we go!
7.1 Reach the Tam-An Village to Enthrall Yourself in the Ifugao Culture
Below the Banaue Hotel just 240 steps below lies the artistic village of Tam-An. You can find an entire community of weavers and carvers with craftsmanship that has been passed on for generations. There are souvenir stalls that display their local products.
Nevertheless, this village is popular for its traditional Ifugao houses also called the “no-nail houses”.
These houses are constructed with the Amugawan trees that hold the house together. Once you step inside the first thing you might come across is the original wooden carvings and creations that depict the owner’s cultural heritage. Then taking a glimpse of the side of town gives you a clear picture of Ifugao’s lifestyle of living for many generations.
7.2 Go on a Hiking to the Tappiyah and Chappah Falls
Check out this breathtaking waterfall that cascades in the heart of the forest while you take an hour’s trek from Poblacion to the Chappa Falls. It really worth a visit as you get stunning panoramic views of the entire town and a close view of the rice terraces.
To top it up take your swimming gear and lunch packed to the Tappiyah Falls, a famous tourist attraction. You can immerse yourself inside this natural swimming pool as well as enjoy the view and roars of the waterfalls nearby.
Ultimately the list becomes endless if you wish to extend your adventure checklist to enjoy at Batad. Check out here for more!
8. Have You Travelled to the Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao?
We wish to hear from you! How was your experience at Banaue? Do post your views in the comment section below for us to read and enjoy!
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