Guest post by Noam Toister.
Note from Katie and Ben: We so badly wanted to visit the Banaue rice terraces during our trip to the Philippines. But with with only 17 days in this large island nation, we had to pick and choose our destinations, and we decided to save Banaue for next time. Noam, a fellow traveler who loves the Philippines as much as we do, made it up to the stunning villages and rice terraces of Banaue, and he's here to tell his story.
Noam has some valuable information and inside tips in this guest post that will make it easy for anyone venturing to this magical place. We’re certainly convinced to make it up to Banaue next time we’re in the Philippines!
Banaue Rice Terraces: How to Get There and What to Do
When thinking of traveling the Philippines, the first things you’ll find while researching are amazing beaches, blue lagoons and wide eyed miniature monkeys, called tarsiers. When my wife and I were looking for a place to chill out on our honeymoon, that’s exactly what we found. However, being a backpacker by nature, I also looked for something off the beaten path. That’s how I found a place that locals refer to as “The 8th World Wonder” – the Banaue rice terraces.
Banaue is in Luzon Island in the north of the Philippines, in an area called Ifugao. It has one of the most amazing mountain views you’ll ever see. These mountains are the home of 2,000-year-old rice terraces, and is, in my opinion, a place you shouldn’t miss if you visit the Philippines.
The area has several villages that have become tourist attractions. Banaue is the region's biggest town and the gateway to all other places, while Batad, Sagada, Hapao and Cambulo are a few of the villages in the area. If you enjoy trekking, it's possible to walk for a few days between these villages. (Ask locals for recommended routes.)
In this post I’ll share experiences from the places I’ve visited: Banaue, Hapao rice terraces and Batad.
Before your trip:
Prior to you packing your bags and booking your flights, don't forget to do this... you'll thank us later.
We arrived to Banaue and stayed there one night, before continuing to Batad village.
What to do around Banaue: Hapao rice terraces
Hapao is a village about an hour’s hike from Banaue. While most of the guides mention Batad as the rice terraces, I think Hapao’s terraces are actually the most beautiful. The hike starts a short car ride from Banaue and goes through the flooded terraces, leading to a hot water spring in which you can bathe. The view of the water in the rice fields reflecting the sky is spectacular, and the spring is a great resting point after the walk.
Caution about organized tours: From Banaue, you can get a guide and organize a customized tour to the surrounding area. The tours can basically take you wherever you'd like to go and for as long as you want. It’s very easy to organize, as there are lots of tour guides everywhere – from certified guides to a random person with a van. One thing to know is that for most hikes in the area you don’t really need a guide. In most cases you can get along perfectly fine by just asking the locals where to walk. If you feel confident enough, I’d recommend getting a map and trekking independently.
Where to stay in Banaue
We stayed at the Uyami Green View Lodge, which was good, with basic facilities and friendly service. There are a few other hostels on the same main street that offer more or less the same experience – basic rooms with or without A/C. I’d recommend taking a look at the specific room they offer you, since a private bathroom or 5 extra square meters can be the difference between a cozy room and a cramped room.
When you arrive at the station in Banaue, there will most likely be representatives of different hotels, attempting to lure you to their place. Most of the hotels are pretty close to each other, and it may be a better idea to go on your own and compare the places for yourself.
Top-Rated Places to Stay in Banaue
Reserve your room in one of the town's top-rated guesthouses below, or see a list of all Banaue hotels.
Eating in Banaue
Most, if not all, of the restaurants in Banaue are inside the hostels. They have pretty much the same menu, the difference being how well they make it. The restaurant at Uyami Green View was pretty good. Although we didn’t have a chance to try it out, we heard from other travelers that the 7th Heaven Cafe has some great food.
How to get to Banaue
Getting to Banaue and Ifugao is difficult and long, but well worth the journey north. The journey from Manila to Banaue takes about 9 hours by bus (traffic can add about 2 hours). The other option is to fly to Baguio and then take a bus from there, but it doesn’t save much time. The buses are operated by a few companies and the most well know is called Ohayami Transit. They operate night buses, which leave their station (located in the Sampaloc area) every evening between 9 and 10 p.m. (During high season there is often more than one bus leaving each night.)
Book Your Ticket
The easiest way to buy tickets is to purchase them online from Banaue Bus. You'll pay online and the ticket is sent by email. Making the purchase on this site saves you from making the ride back and forth to the station, which is pretty far away from the city center.
What to Expect on the Bus to Banaue
While the outside temperature may be boiling, the buses have air-conditioning. It's usually turned up to the level of needing a blanket, so it's a good idea to wear layers. Any pleads to the driver to turn down the A/C are hopeless. They like it cold. The bus will make three stops along the way for food and bathroom breaks.
Scam Warning: When arriving, someone might tell you that you have to go with them for some reason (getting the return ticket, or they are the “official” hotel ride). Don't listen to them! They will most likely take you to their hotel and sell you lunch while you wait.
Batad has the biggest rice terraces around, and most people make this village their main attraction in the area.
What to do in Batad
The most common hiking trail in Batad is to the Tappiyah falls. The trip takes a couple of hours, with great views of the terraces on the way. The falls themselves are nice, but there is a pretty steep climb on the way back. In general, the inclines in Batad are cruel – walking from one guesthouse to another involves steep stairs that might leave you breathless.
Where to stay in Batad
Most guesthouses in Batad are similar, and because it’s a distant village, they’re not well-equipped. Rooms can be dirty and typically don’t have private bathrooms. If you prefer a nicer place to sleep, you might want to return to Banaue on the same day (which is possible). However, there's nothing like sitting on the porch of your guesthouse, drinking a beer and taking in the amazing views. That’s exactly what we did at our guesthouse: the Hillside Inn.
Top-Rated Guesthouse in Batad:
How to get to Batad
To get to Batad you’ll need to catch a van or a tricycle from Banaue that takes about 1 hour. The road goes almost all the way to the village (a 15-minute walk from where it drops you off). Beware that some drivers will tell you they can’t go all the way down – either because their bike is not strong enough, or because they want you to schedule a return pickup with them. And they won’t want you to see that there are lots of other vehicles down the road. A jeepney also goes to Batad from Banaue every morning – ask your hotel for specific times.
All together, plan 2-3 days for Banaue and Batad (depending if you want to sleep in Batad). It is possible to see the terraces in one day. In order to do this, you'd need to go straight to Batad, then back to Banaue in time to catch the night bus back to Manila on the same evening. Although it's possible, it would be exhausting and I think you'd miss out on much of the beauty the area has to offer.
Note from Katie and Ben: Thank you to Noam for all the helpful information! We will certainly be sure to use his tips and advice when booking our trip to the Banaue Rice Terraces.