In the Central Cordillera of northern Luzon, heaven and earth converge: the majestic mountains, covered with lush pine and foggy forests, here seem to rest against a blue dome. Exotic rice terraces stretch to the sky with no less enthusiasm. Aptly dubbed “the stairway to heaven”, they were created by the valiant Ifugao, a mountain people rich in tradition. These buildings of incredible beauty and grace are considered the eighth wonder of the world and in 1995 were included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The rice terraces at Banaue are the pinnacle of man’s creation of cultural landscapes, they stagger and leave anyone who sees them for the first time speechless: their scope is so impressive and the very fact of their existence is so incomprehensible that they seem to be a landscape from a land of dreams. In addition to breathtaking mountainous and terraced landscapes, northern Luzon boasts many other attractions. Intriguing settlements such as Sagada or the World Heritage-listed western coastal town of Vigan are cultural gems to behold when traveling the Cordillera Central. In addition, the local natural attractions, such as the mighty Pinatubo volcano, make this region a must-have on any tour of the Philippines.
History of rice terraces
The Banaue Rice Terraces are located about 300 kilometers north of Manila. They are part of the mountainous province of Ifugao and are part of the Central Cordillera, covering an area of at least 250 square kilometers. If these terraces were arranged horizontally in a row, they would take more than 20 thousand kilometers and would go around half the globe! It is believed that the oldest of them appeared here 3 thousand years ago. It was then that the mountain farmers from the Ifugao tribe, “people of the sky”, with the help simple tools began to transform the partly very steep slopes of the local mountains into terraces and strengthen them with retaining walls and embankments. In the following centuries, entire mountain ranges were transformed into rice terraces, which the brave Ifugao proudly dubbed “stairway to heaven.” When the Spaniards first saw this unprecedented landscape in the 16th century, they could not believe that the skillful agricultural culture was the creation of the hands of simple local peasants. They believed that the people who had disappeared from the face of the earth were skilled farmers, whose culture had reached unprecedented heights.
heights – conquered and transformed this earthly surface. And only much later, scientists managed to prove that it was the simple-looking people of the skies who had been living near these slopes for thousands of years and that created the eighth wonder of the world, a monument to the courage of human designs in conquering nature.
Fish with rice
But why, in fact, was such a large-scale transformation of the local landscape necessary? The reason lies in the conditions of rice cultivation, which here can only be born on flat fields flooded with water. At the same time, the irrigation system of the fields today works the same as 3 thousand years ago: through an intricate system of bamboo pipes, canals and small pits, spring water flows from the upper tiers to the terraces below. And since the climate for growing rice in the north of Luzon is ideal, it was decided, instead of, as is customary, to choose a plant according to the locality, to fit the locality to the plant. As a reward for this truly courageous decision, the peasants received another source of food: in the flooded fields, it was easy to breed fish! The perfect combination – the main dish floats next to the side dish.
The Ifugao people, as well as the Bontoc, Kalinga and Apayo peoples, belong to the Igorot tribe, who came to the Philippines more than 3 thousand years ago. Their humble lifestyle is still a striking contrast to the majestic rice terraces they cultivate. They mostly live in simple, grass-roofed huts on wooden stilts and wear traditional clothing, brightly colored and adorned with signs indicating their owner’s tribal status during festivals. Ifugao succeeded
retain many of the old customs and rituals, their ceremonies are rooted in prehistoric times. The villages of the terraced landscape have about 170 thousand inhabitants.
Five Terrace Wonders
Banaue is surrounded by five of the most famous rice terraces in the Philippines. The way they fit into the surrounding landscape gives each of them its own special character. All five are worth seeing and can be explored on foot, preferably with a local guide.
The bustling town of Banaue is located at an altitude of about 1200 meters above sea level. In addition to residential buildings, several hospitable
hotels and restaurants, there is an interesting museum and numerous souvenir shops on the central square. Here you can buy traditional fabrics, jewelry and other creations by local artisans. The rice terraces around this place are considered among the most impressive on the planet. An unforgettable panorama is best enjoyed at the viewing platform of the same name located four kilometers from Banaue.
Like an amphitheater, the rice terraces of Batada stretch hundreds of meters into the mountains. The very same village of the same name, one of the most beautiful and original in the region, is located in the heart of the Central Cordillera. Batad can be reached by a 12 km journey by bus or jeepney. The turn towards Batada is followed by a two-hour hike along the trails and over the mountain pass. Colorful birds, heliconias, and other tropical plants such as coffee and cocoa line the road until the pretty huts of Batada appear in the distance. It’s also worth considering traveling from here to the nearby 30m Tappia Falls. You can swim in a small turquoise lake at its foot – a well-deserved reward for an hour-long hike to the waterfall.
If you drive another two kilometers, bypassing the turn to Batad, then the village of Bangaan will appear before the traveler. This picturesque place, where time seems to have stopped its course, is also surrounded by countless rice terraces.
Mayoyao is located about 30 kilometers east of Bangaan. The local rice terraces are separated from each other by stone ramparts. If you try to imagine how the peasants who cultivated these fields dragged heavy river boulders to high mountain slopes, it becomes clear what efforts and labor were invested in the creation of these terraces.
On the way from Banaue to the observation deck of the same name, there is a turn to Hapao. The romantic wilderness of this valley is perfect for multi-day hikes. The grandiose rice terraces around it create an unforgettable panorama. Here, too, they are separated from each other by prehistoric stone ramparts.