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Explore the Northern provinces of the Philippines. Which destinations should be in your Philippines travel bucket list? What are the must-see tourist spots and top activities that you shouldn't miss? Read on for an introduction to the wonders that await you at Northern Philippines. 

The Northern Philippines offers some of the country’s most spectacular mountainous areas. Just a few hours away from the busy urban streets of capital Manila lie destinations where visitors can be one with nature, trek to world-famous rice terraces and experience the rich tribal customs and culture of the Cordillera people.

Postcard-perfect images of lush terraced rice paddies come to mind whenever anyone mentions the Northern Philipines. Ancestors of the Ifugao tribe carved thousands of step-like terraces in the mountains by hand, creating a picturesque sight that people often refer to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Birds eye drone view of Batad's towering rice terracesBirds eye drone view of Batad's towering rice terraces.

Blessed with a cooler climate and natural attractions, there is much to discover and appreciate in the mountainous provinces of the North.

Highlights here for first-time visitors include the mountain village of Sagada with its caves and hanging coffins, the stunning rice terraces of Banaue and Batad, and Mount Pulag, the highest mountain in Luzon, which offers a challenging but scenic hiking trail above a sea of clouds.

Farmers harvest carrots during a foggy sunrise in Benguet.Farmers harvest carrots during a foggy sunrise in Benguet, Ifugao.

For travelers who want to experience a different side of the Philippines in the highlands after exploring the islands, these destinations in the North should definitely be at the top of your list. 

Table of Contents

1. Baguio
2. Banaue
3. Batad
4. Sagada

Baguio              

Baguio is a landlocked city in the heart of the province of Benguet. Popularly known as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines,” Baguio City serves as the gateway to the Cordillera region.

This top tourist destination in the country is accessible from the lowlands via three national roads: Quirino Highway, better known as the Naguilian Road (north), Kennon Road (south), and Marcos Highway (west). It is also accessible through the Halsema Highway for those coming from Benguet and Mt. Province. 

Because of its elevation 1,500 meters above mean sea level and its pine-clad topography, Baguio City enjoys relatively cooler temperates compared the metro and nearby provinces. Baguio is a very popular destination for local tourists who want to escape the city heat during long weekends and holidays.

Sunset over Mines View Park in BaguioSunset over Mines View Park in Baguio.

The average temperature dips to as low as 10 degrees in the cold months of December, January and February. The dry season lasts from November to April while it’s the wet season is for the rest of the months of the year.

Baguio has many hotel and accommodation options to choose from, tourist-friendly facilities and notable tourist attractions including Burnham Park, Camp John Hay, Mines View Park, Session Road / Night Market and Botanical Park. You can’t go wrong with a visit to Baguio.

Burnham Lake at night in Baguio City.Burnham Lake at night in Baguio City.

How to go to Baguio: Baguio is easily accessible from Manila by public transportation. Buses are the most common and economical way to get to Baguio City from Metro Manila with several bus lines plying the Metro Manila to Baguio route with terminals scattered across the metro. It generally takes about 4-6 hrs to get to Baguio by bus, longer than it would by car due to stops along the way.

Victory Liner has hourly bus service to Baguio from its Monumento Main terminal in Caloocan City, Cubao and Pasay terminals.



Banaue              

Banaue (also spelled as Banawe), is a 4th class municipality in the province of Ifugao, Philippines. This town on the Cordillera mountain range is mainly visited by tourists for its stunning rice terraces.

The 2000-year old Banaue rice terraces were created by the Ifugao people in a massive engineering project to cover the sides of the valleys. The rice terraces are irrigated by mountain streams and springs that have been channeled into canals which run downhill through the terraces.

The Banaue Rice Terraces from an eagle's eye view with the mountain serving as background.The Banaue Rice Terraces from an eagle's eye view with the mountain serving as background.

The Banaue Rice Terraces are one of the most famous tourist spots in the Philippines, featured on the reverse side of the 2010 series of the Philippine twenty peso notes. 

This amazing landscape designated as a National Cultural Treasure has also made its mark in popular culture. In the ending scene of the 2018 blockbuster film Avengers: Infinity War, the film’s main villain Thanos is seen walking out of a small hut to watch the sunset on a vista of mountains and rice paddies, which the film production confirms shows the Banaue Rice Terraces.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the Banaue Rice Terraces which are inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the presence of numerous modern structures, but rather the Batad Rice Terraces and Bangaan Rice Terraces which can also be found in the province of Ifugao.

north-luzon-rice-terraces

How to go to Banaue: Visiting Banaue can be tied in with a tour of North Luzon as it can be reached easily from Bontoc, which is close to Sagada and easily reachable from Baguio, the capital of the region. But for those heading there directly, you can also get to Banaue and Ifugao from Manila.

The travel time from Manila to Banaue takes roughly 9 hours by bus (traffic can add about 2 hours). Buses are operated by a few companies, the most well known of which is 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.) 



Batad              

Batad is a village in the Cordillera Administrative Region of the island of Luzon in the Philippines. This quaint village of fewer than 1500 people is situated among the Ifugao rice terraces. It is perhaps the best place to view this UNESCO World Heritage site. The landscape is truly stunning and the nearby waterfall offers a lush swimming point. 

There are no roads leading to Batad and no motorized vehicles in the village. Get ready for a lot of trekking and hiking, because all visitors must get around on foot to visit this remote mountain village. Walking is mostly possible only on the walls of the rice terraces which are wide enough for one person to pass at a time.

While the rice terraces of Banaue are mud-walled, those found in Batad are stone-walled. The terraces form an amphitheater and are an impressive sight to behold. 

Nowadays, visitors can find a number of hostels and guest houses in the small village catering to tourists most of which overlook the scenic rice terraces. For adventurous travelers, if weather and time permits, Batad offers a much more rewarding and authentic place to spend the night compared to Banaue. 

But for those who have limited time, it’s possible to visit Batad as a day trip from Banaue. Bangaan provides an alternative and easier access than Batad, as it’s only a 20-minute walk from the main road towards Mayoyao.

How to go to Batad: Trips to Batad can be combined with Banaue as this mountain village is about 18 kilometers from the Banaue town proper. Jeepneys are stationed in the terminal in front of the public market. The jeepney will take you to the end of the road past the saddle, approximately 500 meters or 15 minutes trek to Batad village.

Sagada              

Sagada is a 5th class municipality in the Mountain Province. Nestled in a valley at the upper end of the Malitep tributary of the Chico River some one and a half kilometers above sea level in the Central Cordillera Mountains, Sagada can be found in between the main Cordillera Ranges and the Ilocos Range. This quaint mountain town is adjacent to Bontoc, the provincial capital. 

Sagada has long been popular with international backpackers seeking a remote destination off-the-beaten-path because of the variety of outdoor adventures it has to offer. Adventure activities include trekking, exploring both caves and waterfalls, spelunking, bonfires, picnics, rappelling, visiting historical sites, nature hikes, and participating in tribal celebrations. 



Sagada is also very well known for its hanging coffins. This is a traditional way of burying people that is still utilized today. Not everyone is qualified to be buried this way; among other things, one had to have been married and had grandchildren.

Hanging Coffins of SagadaHanging Coffins of Sagada.

In recent years, the town of Sagada has shot to fame among local weekend warriors because of a popular local romantic comedy filmed there. Sagada has beautiful natural wonders which are now frequented by tourists including Sumaguing and Lumiang Caves, Bomod-ok and Bokong Falls, Echo Valley, Kiltepan Tower, Underground River, Lake Danum, the Hanging Coffins, Pongas Falls, Mount Ampacao and Marlboro Mountain.

How to go to Sagada: Getting to Sagada traditionally entailed long bus rides on twisty and rough mountain roads. Most trips to Sagada passed through either Banaue or Baguio, making it a good destination for longer multi-destination trips taking 12-13 hours. 

These days, going to Sagada is now much easier and more convenient with CODA Lines which provides direct trips to from Manila to Sagada and back. 

Kalinga              

Kalinga is a landlocked province in the Philippines situated within the Cordillera Administrative Region in Luzon. Kalinga borders Mountain Province to the south, Abra to the west, Isabela to the east, Cagayan to the northeast, and Apayao to the north.

Once part of a larger province called Kalinga-Apayao, the two split in 1995 for local government to better service respective needs of the various indigenous peoples in the area.

A wooden sculpture depicting the old tradition of headhunting from the Igorot region of the Philippines. Motifs like these were religious in nature and tied to the perceived success of any village.A wooden sculpture depicting the old tradition of headhunting from the Igorot region of the Philippines. Motifs like these were religious in nature and tied to the perceived success of any village.

The province is a land of natural charm and beauty with a variety of natural attractions from mountains, caves, rustic villages, and rice terraces. A land of living waters, Kalinga is rich in waterfalls and rivers which snake around villages. 
 
Some of the more well-known places in Kalinga include Sleeping Beauty in Tinglayan,  Kabunyan Natural Dam and Pasil River, the Preserved Tributary Falls and Forest, and Saltan River in Balbalan, the Capitol Provincial Park and Chico River in Tabuk. The Pasil, Saltan and Chico Rivers are the premier whitewater rafting places in the region.

Detail of a rice field terrace in Tinglayan, Kalinga.Detail of a rice field terrace in Tinglayan, Kalinga.

For whitewater rafting trips, these rivers not only offers rapid-fire excitement but also a glimpse of the cultural history of the Kalinga people.

Another top draw in Kalinga for modern tourists is the remote village of Buscalan, where adventurous travelers trek to get traditional tribal tattoos by Apo Whang-od, known as the  "last" and oldest mambabatok. She is part of the Butbut people of the larger Kalinga ethnic group.

apo whang-od of kalingaApo Whang-od, known as the "last" and oldest traditional tattoo artist or mambabatok of the Butbut tribe in the mountains of Kalinga

How to go to Kalinga: Coming from Manila, the easiest way to get to Kalinga from Manila is via Bontoc in the Mountain Province via CODA Bus lines. Travel time is roughly 8-10 hrs to Bontoc depending on traffic conditions with 2-3 stopovers for the toilet and meal breaks.

From Bontoc, take a jeepney bound for Tinglayan or Tabuk and alight in Bugnay, from where you can start hiking or take a habal-habal motorcycle to the jump off going to Buscalan village. 

A trip to North Luzon is one of the best adventures you'll ever do in the Philippines. Hop on that bus and travel to the mountains of this region to discover the unique culture of Filipinos in this part of the Philippines. If you're coming from Baguio City, research Baguio tours and activities that you can add to your itinerary.