Right after arriving in Manila, most people jump on a plane to one of the numerous bucket list island locations the Philippines are known for.
Only very few tourists take a trip to the north of Luzon featuring a mountain range with lush woodland, caves and amphitheatre-shaped rice terraces, which are some of the oldest and most stunning in the world. Outdoor lovers can enjoy endless hiking trails and culture enthusiasts can learn about the unique tribes and isolated mountain villages in the north of the Philippines.
In fact, there are many reasons to fall in love with North Luzon and why this region has become one of my overall favorite places in the Philippines.
You could easily spend multiple weeks in North Luzon, though the majority of people traveling the Philippines only has limited time, which is why this post will give you some suggestions as for how you can experience the highlights of North Luzon in 3 days and thereby easily link this leg of your trip to your Philippines itinerary.
How To Get To North Luzon:
From Manila, the easiest way is to hop on an Oyahami night bus to Banaue in North Luzon. After a very bumpy 9 hours of serpentines, you’ll wake up to a completely different world. A world of lush green mountains, deep valleys and beautiful green clusters of rice terraces.
If you take this trip the other way round, you’ll need to go to Sagada instead of Banaue. Codalines offers daily 12-hour overnight bus services between Manila and Bontoc for P 650. From Bontoc, a local bus will get you to Sagada in only 45 minutes.
How To Experience The Highlights Of North Luzon In 3 Days
You’ll probably reach Banaue pretty early in the morning.
Banaue is a town with a population of 20.000 located between two well known UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Batad Rice Terraces and Bangaan Rice Terraces. The rice terraces have been built for over 2000 years and are now part of the entire mountain ecology making it possible to grow rice all year round.
After checking in at your accommodation and a good breakfast, make your way to Batad.
You can go to Batad by jeepney (local bus), which is super cheap. However, the trip is bumpy, takes quite a while, and you cannot stop along the way to take a few shots.
Therefore I recommend renting a tricycle and private driver, who takes you to Batad and shows you the best viewpoints along the bumpy road. Your accommodation may organize a tricycle for you, just be sure to arrange a price beforehand and don’t pay the driver before he got you back to Batad. Hiring a driver and tricycle will cost you around P 1000, but it’s totally worth it!
From the starting point of the trail, the trek into the rice terraces of Batad won’t take too long, though depending on the weather, it might be muddy and a little slippery, so bring suitable footwear.
You can have lunch at a local restaurant in the village of Batad, from where you’ll enjoy a fantastic view of the amphitheater-shaped rice terraces.
If you’re still up for it and the weather is fair, consider trekking a little bit further into the rice terraces. You’ll find Tappiya Waterfalls, which is absolutely beautiful, though hiking there will take around an hour.
When going back to Banaue, ask your driver to take you to one of the main viewpoints of Banaue’s rice terraces, which is about ten minutes out of town. These rice terraces are not as spectacular as the ones in Batad, yet they’re as old and as impressive.
Perhaps he can also give you some insight into the tribes living in the north, especially around Banaue, Batad and Bontoc.
Maintaining the rice terraces is hard work and people in North Luzon have been working on the rice fields for generations.
They have their own culture, customs, and traditions, such as the consumption of Betel-nuts. Apparently, chewing the Betel-nut leaves keeps you warm on chilly days and increases your stamina. However, the effects of the Betel-nuts are disputed.
While the northern tribes are convinced the plant has a positive impact on their health and well-being, studies have shown that one of the most common side effects is mouth cancer. The Philippines government even tried to suppress the habit but didn’t succeed.
On the next day, hop on a van to Sagada, a beautiful town located in the Cordillera mountains, west of Banaue.
On the way, you’ll pass Bontoc, which is also famous for its rice terraces. They’ll probably stop a few times along the scenic route to give you a chance to take some photos.
Again, the whole ride will be mainly serpentines, so be sure to pop an anti-vertigo pill if you’re prone to motion sickness like me.
When you get off the van in Sagada, chances are you’ll feel like entering a mountain village in the Alps.
What you find in Sagada are pleasant temperatures, less humidity, peaceful vibes, silence and picturesque surroundings. Far from big city life, noisy streets, exhaust fumes and industrial sites, this place is perfect for recreation and relaxation.
Spend the rest of the day exploring Sagada and perhaps go on a short hike around the mountain town.
After breakfast, go to the tourist information center and find yourself a local guide.
He will take you to see the famous Hanging Coffins in the Echo Valley, some of which are over 400 years old.
The history and traditions behind them are stunning, so be sure to ask your guide about how people managed to put them up on the mountains.
Echo Valley also features numerous impressive caves with bizarre-looking rock formations and underground rivers. I recommend exploring some of them as well, though be prepared for a muddy, adventurous hike regardless of which tour you book.
You’ll have to climb steep hills, cross rivers and wade through the mud in several caves. In the end, your guide will probably also take you to a waterfall.
You’ll likely be soaked and tired when you get back to Sagada in the late afternoon, but, believe me, it will have been worth it.
TopTip: While staying in the lovely village of Sagada, we found a restaurant/cafe that I would like to recommend to fellow travelers. The place is called Strawberry Cafe, and it’s opposite George’s Guesthouse on the main road. It’s a family-run restaurant with great food and low prices. They’re specialized in breakfast and brunch but also serve lunch and dinner. The most delicious items on the menu are their banana, mango and strawberry milkshakes for Php 80. (They even grow all fruits by themselves, especially strawberries). We actually went there every day for breakfast and tried out a different dish on the menu. Awesome place!
Where To Stay:
In Banaue, I may recommend Randy’s Brookside Inn, which is basically a B&B with an accommodating host called Randy. He knows the area well and has lots of friends, including tricycle drivers and guides. He’ll be able to organize transport to Batad and offers free pick up from the Oyahami bus stop, which is slightly out of town.
Sagada has many decent accommodations, including hostels, guest houses and hotels. Regardless of which place you end up staying at, make sure it has a hot-water shower. Temperatures up in North Luzon can get quite low, especially at night. And it will be nice to have a warm-water shower after returning from your cave and trekking adventures.
I stayed at a place called Lodge Labanet, which belongs to George Guest House. However, Lodge Labanet is even nicer than George Guest House. It has spacious rooms with a balcony and ensuite bathrooms for pretty cheap fares. In fact, this was one of the best accommodations throughout my entire stay in the Philippines!
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