Travel Guide to Buscalan Tattoo Village in Kalinga: Home to Apo Whang-Od

Travel Guide to Buscalan Tattoo Village in Kalinga: Home to Apo Whang-Od

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Apo Whang-Od in Buscalan, KalingaPhoto from 2-day Buscalan Kalinga Apo Whang-Od Tour Package from Manila

Home to over 7,640 islands, the Philippines is popular for its beautiful white sand beaches. But beyond popular destinations like Boracay and Palawan, you can find scenic mountain destinations and a rich and diverse cultural heritage scattered across the archipelago. 

In recent years, a remote destination in the Philippines has gained worldwide popularity: Buscalan in the Province of Kalinga, located in North Luzon. Buscalan is a small mountain village that is home to Apo Whang-Od, the oldest traditional tattoo artist in the Philippines, having been born in 1917. 

Apo Whang-OdWhile her reputation had long been known all across the Philippines, it is only in the last few years that she has become famous globally, especially after gracing the cover of Vogue Philippines in 2023, becoming the fashion and lifestyle magazine’s oldest-ever cover star at 106 years old.

If you are going on a trip to the village of Buscalan, this travel guide can help you with planning your vacation to the tattoo village of Apo Whang-Od. 

Where is Buscalan Village? How to get there? 

Road going to BuscalanBuscalan is located in the Province of Kalinga. There are two ways you can get to Buscalan. One is via public transportation, and the other is by booking a guided Buscalan tour package.

Public transportation from Manila

Public buses in ManilaShould you opt for public transportation, you have several options. The two most popular routes are via Tabuk and via Bontoc from Manila

The Tabuk route requires you to get a bus to Tabuk from Manila. As of this writing, Victory Liner has daily Royal Class Sleeper Bus trips from their Kamias station in Quezon City to Tabuk. The trip can take around 12 hours and leaves the station at night, so make sure to wear comfortable clothing for the trip. After reaching Tabuk in the morning, take a jeepney to Bugnay, and then from there, head to the jump-off point of Buscalan village via a habal-habal or motorcycle.

If you choose to go the Bontoc route, you need to go to the Coda Lines Bus terminal in Cubao, Quezon City. They have daily trips to Bontoc, all leaving at night. Similar to the Tabuk route, you will sleep on the bus, so make sure you wear clothing you can easily snooze in. After arriving in Bontoc, you can take a jeep that will bring you to the jump-off point of Buscalan, from where you’d need to walk to reach the village.

Guided tour package from Manila

Buscalan from afarIf you prefer a private and more comfortable experience, you can book North Luzon tour packages that usually include private transportation from and to Manila, homestay accommodations, and a tour coordinator. You can book a Buscalan tour package for a quick overnight getaway, or, if you have more time, check out the Sagada & Buscalan tour package, which also includes a visit to the famous Hanging Coffins in Sagada.

Flight to Baguio from Cebu

Photo by Mactan-Cebu International AirportPhoto by Mactan-Cebu International Airport

If you are coming from Cebu in the Visayas, it might be better to book a flight to Baguio Airport versus the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, as this will already bring you closer to Buscalan, meaning the land travel is shorter.

After you arrive in Baguio, you can take a bus to Bontoc. D’ Rising Sun Transport System Inc. has several trips from Baguio to Bontoc daily, which all leave from the Slaughter Bus Terminal in Magsaysay Avenue. The trip will take around 6 hours. When you arrive in Bontoc, you need to get on a jeep en route the jump-off point of Buscalan. You’ll need to walk the rest of the way from here to get to Buscalan. 

Where to Stay in Buscalan Village? 

Buscalan villageDon’t expect 5-star luxury when visiting Buscalan, as there are no hotels here, and your only option is a homestay, which means you will be staying in the home of a local family. For around PhP350 to PhP500 a night, you will get a place to sleep in. Most homestays also provide free rice and coffee. 

As for food, you can bring your own food and cook it in the kitchen of your homestay. Since the journey to get to Buscalan is long, if you want to cook your own meals, it is recommended that you bring canned goods. There are also eateries in the village where you can buy home-cooked meals from.

Note that there is no WiFi in the village, and mobile signal reception, if there is any, is very weak. Instead of trying to go online, take this opportunity to interact with the friendly and hospitable locals.

Why is Apo Whang-Od famous? How Old is Apo Whang-Od? 

Apo Whang-Od in BuscalanPhoto from 3-day Buscalan Kalinga Apo Whang-Od Tour Package from Manila

Apo Whang-Od, who is also known as Maria Oggay, is the 106-year-old mambabatok (traditional tattooist) of Buscalan Village. On February 17, 2024, she will turn 107 years old. Not only is Apo Whang-Od the oldest living mambabatok, but she is also the only female one of her generation, learning how to hand tap traditional tattoos onto skin as a 16-year-old under the mentoring of her father. She has since tattooed countless men and women from her own community, including warriors. Nowadays, she also tattoos visitors from outside the community, including foreigners.

Getting a tattoo from Apo Whang-OdPhoto from 2-day Buscalan Kalinga Apo Whang-Od Tour Package from Manila

Unlike the tattoos you can get in tattoo parlors in the city, the traditional Kalinga tattoo uses a mixture of coal and water for the ink. This is then hand-tapped onto the skin using a pambatok, which is made out of a bamboo stick and a thorn from a pomelo tree. And yes, if you’re wondering, getting a tattoo from a pomelo thorn is more painful than one from a needle.

Apo Whang-Od tattoo ink and materialsPhoto from 2-day Buscalan Kalinga Apo Whang-Od Tour Package from Manila

Traditionally, Kalinga tattoos were given to the members of the community to mark a milestone in their lives. Men got tattoos to signify that they were warriors and served as a badge of honor after a successful headhunt, while women got them as a mark of beauty. 

Buscalan Kalinga traditional tattoo processPhoto from 3-day Buscalan Kalinga Apo Whang-Od Tour Package from Manila

The art of Batok can only be passed down the mambabatok’s bloodline, and while Apo Whang-Od does not have children, she has taught her grandnieces Grace Palicas and Elyang Wigan how to hand tap the traditional tattoos. This means that she is no longer the “last mambabatok,” as others have claimed. 

Apo Whang-Od’s grandniece, GraceIn fact, if you want to get a traditional Kalinga tattoo, it is more likely that you will get the main tattoo from either Grace, Elyang, or another younger mambabatok in Buscalan. You can still get the chance to get Apo Whang-Od’s signature three-dot tattoo, but with the high volume of people who want the same thing, this is not guaranteed.

How Much is Apo Whang-Od Tattoo?

Getting a tattoo from Apo Whang-OdPhoto from 3-day Buscalan Kalinga Apo Whang-Od Tour Package from Manila

The price of the batok tattoo depends on the intricacy and the size of the design you want. If you just want to get Apo Whang-Od’s signature three-dot tattoo, this will only cost you PhP300. Small designs can cost as little as PhP300, while full sleeves can go up to PhP50,000. Also note that you would need to buy a pambatok, which costs PhP200.

Before you decide on a design, you will be taken to the tattoo area and will be shown the different options you have. Each design has its own meaning, and it’s important that you take these into consideration before you finalize your decision. 

Buscalan tattoo designsAs with any kind of tattoo, the duration of your tattoo session depends on the design you have chosen. Apo Whang-Od’s signature three-dot tattoo can take as fast as 5 minutes, a small, simple tattoo can take up to 15 minutes, while a full sleeve will require you to stay in Buscalan for a week. 

Apo Whang-Od tattoo souvenirsThe tattoos are also given on a first-come, first-served basis, so be prepared for a long wait, especially if you want to get a tattoo from Whang-Od herself. Also, bear in mind that taking photos with her comes with a minimum PhP100 fee. 

Rules and regulations when getting a tattoo from Apo Whang-OdApart from all these expenses, be prepared to shell out money for the guide fee (PhP1,000 for a day trip, Php1,500 for an overnight trip, good for 5 people), the environmental fee (PhP75), and the eco-cultural tourism fee (PhP75). Note that these prices are valid at the time of writing and may change during your visit, so bring extra cash just in case.

What to do in Buscalan Village? 

Buscalan village If you are not planning to get a traditional tattoo or if you just want to visit Buscalan, there are other activities you can do during your visit. After all, it will take you a long time to reach the village, so you might as well make the most of it!

Visit the rice terraces and small waterfalls

Rice terraces in BuscalanThere are several rice terraces in the area, including the Buscalan - Loccong Rice Terraces. Wake up early in the morning and catch the sunrise, the perfect time to view these majestic terraces. In the afternoon, you can cool off at the nearby waterfalls. While not as majestic as other waterfalls in the Philippines, the small cascade and its natural pool are the perfect spot for a quick dip.

Try the Buscalan coffee

Most homestays offer Buscalan Coffee for free, but if yours doesn’t, it’s definitely worth it to try a cup at any of the eateries in the village. Compared to most other Philippine coffee, the taste of the coffee is quite strong, but this is tempered by the brown sugar that it is usually brewed with. Instead of being brewed the usual way, Buscalan Coffee is usually boiled in a cooking pan. You may also purchase coffee to take home with you.

Check out the murals

Mural in Buscalan villageIn 2019, 11 street artists collaborated with the locals in Buscalan to create murals in the village. The murals themselves were inspired by the stories of the locals that they shared with the artists. During your visit, make sure to snap some photos of and with these murals, which are scattered around the village. You can see some in the outside walls of homestays, the office of the barangay council, and even the backboard of a local basketball court.

Eat the local food “etag”

When sampling local food in Buscalan, you can’t miss etag. Etag is a general term for the Cordilleran way of preserving pork. In Buscalan, they cure a slab of pork before smoking or air-drying it. Because of this, etag usually has a smoky and salty taste.

Buy souvenirs

Souvenir shop in Buscalan villageLike most tourist destinations in the Philippines, buying souvenirs contributes to the livelihood of the locals. You can buy the usual refrigerator magnets and keychains, as well as other handmade items like shawls and necklaces.

Nearby Destinations to Visit from Buscalan Village

North Luzon is home to many tourist destinations. If you are planning a longer stay in this region of the Philippines, you may want to consider booking Baguio-Sagada-Banaue tour packages so you can make the most of your vacation by exploring these other places. Here’s what you can expect from a North Luzon itinerary:


Road going to Baguio CityNicknamed the Summer Capital of the Philippines, the highlands of Baguio City is known for its year-round cooler weather and outdoor attractions. During your stay, you can visit Burham Park, Camp John Hay, and Mines View Park, as well as several other Baguio tourist spots. Baguio also has a thriving food scene that you wouldn’t want to miss out on when planning which Baguio restaurants to visit. 


Sagada villageThe laid-back town of Sagada is located in the Mountain Province of North Luzon and is known for its lush outdoors. One of the most popular Sagada tourist spots is the Hanging Coffins, an ancient burial site some locals still use today. Other attractions you can check out in Sagada are Sumaguing Cave, Echo Valley, and Mount Kiltepan, which in recent years have seen a rise in popularity thanks to its sea of clouds that have been featured in local films.


Banaue Rice TerracesHome of the world-famous Banaue Rice Terraces, this municipality is rich in culture and relatively untouched natural surroundings. After seeing the famed rice terraces, you can explore other Banaue tourist spots, including the Tam-An Village, and immerse yourself in Ifugao culture, including native no-nail houses and authentic wood carvings.

Sample Itinerary for Buscalan Tattoo Village

Buscalan village mural of Apo Whang-OdHow long you want to stay in Buscalan is up to you, but you can enjoy a quick overnight stay in the village. To help you plan your stay, you can use this sample itinerary based on our Buscalan tour package from Manila:

Day 0: Travel from Manila

  • 07:00 PM - Departure from Manila

Day 1: Stopover for Breakfast + Arrival in Buscalan

  • 4:00 AM - Stopover for breakfast

  • 9:30 AM - Trek to Buscalan Village

  • 10:30 AM - Check-in at homestay

  • 12:00 PM - Lunch at homestay or eatery

  • 01:00 PM - Tattoo session at Buscalan / Explore the village

  • 06:00 PM - Dinner at homestay or eatery

Day 2: Buscalan Exploration + Departure

  • 06:00 AM - Breakfast at homestay or eatery

  • 08:00 AM - Tattoo session at Buscalan / Explore the village

  • 10:30 AM - Departure from Buscalan

  • 02:00 PM - Optional stop at Banaue Rice Terraces Viewdeck

  • 10:00 PM - Estimated arrival time in Manila

Travel Tips for Apo Whang-Od Buscalan Tattoo Village

View of Buscalan from afar with traditional tattoo toolBuscalan is one of the most famous tourist destinations in North Luzon, but it is also one of the most remote. To make sure you have a hassle-free experience, check out these travel tips:

  • The best time to go to Buscalan is during the dry season, which usually lasts from December to May. This ensures not only your comfort but also your safety. The route to Buscalan includes winding roads that may be difficult to navigate when it is muddy or raining. The attractions of the village, including the rice terraces, the falls, and the murals, are mostly outdoors and are best explored when the weather is clear.

  • Plan the duration of your trip depending on your tattoo design. This is especially important because visitors are tattooed on a first-come, first-served basis, and because of Whang-Od’s recent rise in popularity, it’s hard to estimate when there will be a lot of people in a day’s queue. If you have decided to get a bigger tattoo, make sure you consider the time it will take to complete it. Some tattoos can take several days to a week to finish. Weekends are usually when most tourists hike up to the village, so travel during weekdays to avoid the big crowd. 

Portrait of tattooed old woman in Buscalan village

  • Pack light. To reach Buscalan village, you will have to hike for a while, so it’s best to bring only the essentials in a comfortable backpack. While there will be guides to assist you, they are not porters, so expect to bring your own bags to and from the village.

  • Bring enough cash. There are no ATMs in the area, and the locals only accept cash for their goods and services. Make sure you withdraw enough money in the city before heading to Buscalan. When in doubt, withdraw more than what you need, but make sure you secure your money along with the rest of your belongings.

  • Remember, there is no mobile signal in Buscalan. Make sure you let your friends and family know that you are going to the village and that they won’t be able to contact you while you are there. Ensure that you also download or have a printed copy of your tour vouchers or other important documents to avoid any hassle.

Plan your trip to Buscalan village for a stress-free time

Buscalan village in KalingaThere are many cultural activities in the Philippines, but nothing beats immersing yourself with the locals and experiencing how they actually live. In Buscalan, you can live like a local even for just a few days when you stay in their homes, eat their traditional food, and even get tattooed by their esteemed mambabatok. 

Even if you’re not looking to get inked yourself, Buscalan is one of the most beautiful small towns in the Philippines, and there are plenty of things to see and experience beyond Apo Whang-Od and getting a tattoo. Reaching it might not be a walk in the park like some other tourist destinations, but Buscalan is definitely worth the trip.

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