Banaue Rice Terraces: What you need to know

The Banaue Rice Terraces is world-renowned and considered one of the most famous landmarks and tourist destinations of the Philippines. Only rightly so since this living cultural landscape of unparalleled beauty truly lives up to expectations. The captivating scenery will leave you breathless and speechless at how despite modernization, these remnants of ancient civilization endure.

Utilizing an elaborate farming system composed of wet-rice agriculture and religious rituals, this legacy is handed down, generation to generation without written records. No modern tools were also used in building these mud and stone-walled terraces.

One can only be amazed at how the water is harvested from the mountaintops and then passing through a complex system down to the bottom of the valley, thereby distributing water evenly on all of the terraces. This living cultural landscape was also hailed as the 8th Wonder of the World, and featured in the Philippine banknotes, previous and present.

But what many probably don’t know is, that the Banaue Rice Terraces, near Poblacion, are not part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Contrary to popular belief, it didn’t pass the criteria set by the popular organization to be inscribed in the World Heritage Site list. The Ifugao Rice Terraces that can truly claim that title are located in more remote areas of the Philippine Cordillera Mountain Range.


Banaue Rice Terraces: National Cultural Treasure

These acclaimed terraces can be found in Nagacadan (Kiangan), Hungduan, Mayoyao, Bangaan, and Batad. They have distinct and unique designs that distinguish them from each other: Nagacadan’s two distinct terraces are bisected by a river, Hungduan Rice Terraces look like a spider web, traditional houses, and granaries are interspersed in central Mayoyao terraces, Bangaan rice terraces backdrops a typical Ifugao traditional village, and Batad Rice Terraces is famous for its amphitheatre-like semi-circular terraces.

Collectively, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, including the one near Poblacion, are declared National Treasures in Presidential Decrees 270:1963 and 1505:1978. They are also protected by Republic Act No. 10066:210, under the Protection and Conservation of the National Cultural Heritage.

Ranging from 700 – 1,500 meters above sea level, the Ifugao Rice Terraces differ from their Asian counterparts because of their steeper slopes and higher altitudes. Thus, the rice that grows here is also special albeit not high-yielding unlike the foreign varieties adaptable to mountain conditions.


Banaue Rice Terraces: The Four Viewpoints

banaue rice terraces viewpoint
Staring out at the first viewpoint

You see, there is not only one spot to view them but rather four viewpoints separated by a short distance from each other, all accessible via the main road.

When we went, the original plan was to walk from the inn we were staying in, up until the Main viewpoint. But the weather was in a bad mood since the first day, making our trip to Batad even more challenging. Kuya Randy of Randy’s Brookside Inn was gracious enough to arrange two tricycles for the four of us, to take us through each of the viewpoints and snap our cameras to our heart’s content.

The first viewpoint was an unassuming space beside the road, with just a railing separating you from the ground and the cliff below. Lady luck was on our side, and the rain was called away for at least a few hours.

Picture
view from second viewpoint of Banaue Rice Terraces

A few minutes from the first viewpoint, the second stop also didn’t have much signage. But this time, visitors can go down a few flights of steps to a small landing pad closer to the terraces. The view is also free of wires that distract you from the view, like the first stop.

Meanwhile, signage and markers abound in the third viewpoint. There were also a few souvenirs on the other side and there was even an elderly Igorot waiting for tourists. You can make a small donation in exchange for the pictures taken with him. Conveniently, you can sit on the concrete edge and just let the beauty of the scenery sink in.

Our melancholy moment was cut short by the drizzle. It was nature’s way of telling us to get a move on. Upon reaching the main viewpoint, the adage “save the best for last” popped into my mind. It earned its name because it was the grandest among the four.

Grandest in the sense that it was the most modern, with a large balcony set on concrete legs with a few souvenir stalls on it and a stairway leading you down to the foot of the terraces. Other souvenir stalls can also be found on the roadside near the main viewpoint.

Waiting for the tourists were five elderly Ifugao women, who delightedly took us up on the offer to say “wacky wacky” repeatedly while striking a pose in one corner of the viewpoint.

This spot also offers visitors a seemingly endless view of the terraces stretching out until the Poblacion. Our guide even quipped that we could trek along the paddies and come out right near the town.

Harvest season has already come and gone but even devoid of rice stalks, one still can’t help but be awed by these engineering and agricultural marvels made by our ancestors with nary a modern tool.

With the urging of our guide, we descended the carved steps leading below the mountain. Luckily, there was a railing to hold on to, a reprieve in case your legs couldn’t take the burn because of the steep man-made stairs.

The ubiquitous sunflower is ever-present along the way, its bright yellow color serving as a shining beacon towards the so near yet so far rice terraces. Finally, we reached the end of the railing and found that it was beyond our powers to go down the next flight of stairs. Imagine our embarrassment when two local children passed by running up and down the said stairs like it was a piece of cake!


Present situation

The Rice Terraces are presently threatened by climate change, modernization, migration, as well as uncontrolled tourism. Some parts are also undergoing restoration due to the damage brought about by previous typhoons and neglect. They were also once on the list of endangered heritage sites in 2001. Thankfully, the Ifugao Rice Terraces Rehabilitation and Preservation Act was passed a few years back paving the way for restoration efforts and steps to sustainability.

Out of the 5 terraces inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list, I have only been to Batad and I can truly say that even though it is smaller than the more famous Banaue Rice Terraces, I loved how it is nestled deep in the mountains and its more intimate feel. I would come back for the other four, though.

UNESCO or not, these living treasures should be protected as well as the traditions that come with them. Surely we’d want them to last for another 2,000 and more years.

Powered by GetYourGuide

DIY Guide to Banaue Rice Terraces

How to get there: Manila to Banaue Rice Terraces

Powered by 12Go system

You’re probably asking, “How do I get to Banaue Rice Terraces?

Take the Ohayami Bus from Sampaloc, Manila. Travel time is around 9 hours with 2 stopovers. For updated prices and online booking, check out Ohayami’s website.

OHAYAMI TRANS BUS TERMINALS

  • MANILA: Fajardo St. cor. Lacson Ave, Sampaloc, Manila
  • BANAUE: Marker, Town Proper, Banaue, Ifugao
  • LAGAWE: Manghi’s Store, Lagawe, Ifugao
  • BAGUIO: Governor Pack Road near SM Baguio and UC

Travel tips

  • After booking your return trip, be sure to register at the Banaue Tourism Office and pay the environmental fee.
  • Be sure to bring enough cash. Although there are ATMs, it’s better to be prepared.
  • There’s not always a mobile signal.
  • Pack for cold weather as it can get chilly in the evenings and early morning.

Travel date: November 2014

Darlene is currently on the road again and traveling full-time after being an expat/overseas Filipino worker in Qatar. She's rediscovering what it means to travel solo and in her 30s while working on her blogs.