Customize & Detail trip to the North

One of my favorite vacation destinations in the Philippines is the North. Especially the area between Vigan and Tuguegarao. Places from East to West especially worth a visit are Vigan, Sagada, Banaue and Kalinga. The scenic route is via Cervantes and Tabuk/Kalinga road passing numerous mountains, sloping man-made rice terraces and local villages. We are the biggest, most knowledgeable and professional tour operator in this area. We offer the widest variety through our customized tours using the newest cars/vans.

famous Banaue rice terraces

Most of our bestselling, including customized, tours to the North visit Banaue first. Banaue is 8 to 9 hours drive from Manila and remains the center of the rich Ifugao culture.It is the gateway for visiting the world-renowned rice terraces of the North Philippines. Optional, if time allows and leaving Manila very early, we can stop at the Dalton Pass which features monuments commemorating World War II on the way to Banaue. Alternatively, we can visit Bacolor’s sunken church which is still covered by the lava sand from Mount Pinatubo’s devastating eruption in 1991, the second biggest of the 20th century.

Majestic Banaue and its surrounding rice terraces are more than 2000  years old and dubbed ”The Eighth Wonder of the World”. Banaue appears on the latest 20 Philippine Peso currency note. Near Banaue, in Kiangan, is where Ifugao and American troops helped force General Yamashita (captured in mayoyao) to make his informal surrender in World War II and we can stop here too, should you be interested.  This side tour takes 1 extra hour . A ”must see” is the Banaue Museum which gives you a glimpse of  Ifugao’s culture, history and tradition. So is the Banaue Viewpoint.

Banaue Hotel

We usually book the government owned – and highest standard available – “Banaue Hotel” which offers standard as well as deluxe rooms (note that this accommodation is quite old and dark). We, however, also offer pension houses such as ”Sanafe Lodge” (a bit noisy as its located near the market) in Banaue town or the quiet and beautiful ”Native Village Inn” (toilet and shower outside) a 20 mins drive from Banaue. Tourist feedback is that the ”Las Vegas” restaurant is one of the better ones in Banaue.

From Banaue trips can be made to the hot spring and rice terraces of Hapao (oldest rice terraces), Bangaan, Mayoyao (famous also for tombs) and by far the most popular and visited village of Batad. Batad and Mayoyao are both Unesco World Heritage sites. Walking through the rice terraces require some level fitness and good balancing!!! Mayoyao rice terraces, a 2 hours drive from Batad can be visited after the viewpoint of Batad, the overnight will spent in Helen’s guesthouse. However, Batad is included in our standard itinerary as it is the most accessible village offering the best scenery. Both the restaurants ”Simons” and ”Hillside Inn” near the viewpoint of Batad offer tasty food. The so-called  “saddle” near Batad is the drop off point for this trip and can be reached by locally hired jeepney from Banaue (12 km, 45 mins). From there it is a 45 mins walk to the Viewpoint with a stunning panorama of the mountains and rice terraces to be enjoyed over lunch. Batad and its unique amphitheater shaped rice terraces is the starting point of hikes to other places such as Cambulo village,  Batad Village itself, the Tappiya waterfall for a refreshing swim, or Bangaan.  If interested in longer hikes you can do the Awan-igid trail, starting in Banaue, overnight in Cambulo and next day proceed to Batad or even Bangaan (3 hours longer walk). Please be aware that the accommodations in Batad, Cambulo and Bangaan are very basic. In 2018, April 28-30 is their great Festival, only held every 3 years.

Hanging Coffins in Sagada,

Sagada, reachable from Banaue in about 2,5 hours, is blessed with numerous waterfalls. Its inhabitants, originating from Indonesia, are known for their local rituals on death, cave burial grounds with hanging coffins located in the”Echo Valley”. Another exciting highlight of the trip (not suitable for everyone since very slippery and leaving you slightly muddy !) is navigating ”Sumaguing Caves”. The adventurous among you can jump in the cave’s freezing main pool, or even go for the cave connection. If time allows you could also have a look at the “Bomod-Ok big waterfalls” which takes 1 hour hike back and forth and “Kiltepan Peak” to see sunrise. Since this is weather dependent and requires a 04:30 am wake-up time, Kiltepan peak is of interest to few.

Sagada offers some good restaurants and coffee shops especially ”Banas Coffee”, ”Yoghurt House”, ”Masferre log cabin” or, for vegetarians Guiya restaurant. ….. used to be a hippie hangout, still breezing its tranquil atmosphere and ecommended for an overnight stay. A visit to Bontoc Museum, en route to Sagada, cannot be missed. If time permits and you are reasonably fit you could include a visit to Kalinga, proceed to Tuguegarao and then take a flight back to Manila. Or you could travel on to Baguio and/or Vigan .

Bontoc, a 30 mins ride from Sagada, is the regional  center of the Mountain Province.  It is also the best place from which to organize trips to Kalinga, one of the most unexplored areas of the North. If you happen to be in Bontoc on Saturday morning the local market should not be missed, people from the mountains bring their goods to sell. The Bontoc Festival is held in the first week of April. For overnight we recommend ”the Archok Hotel”. Kalinga where traditional tribal lifestyle continue almost unchanged but (thankfully) the practice of headhunting ceased decades ago.

The people in Kalinga are proud of their warrior culture so treat them with respect and let your guide do the talking. Traditional law applies and   the government has little influence in this area. The remote and magnificent countryside is blessed with high peaked mountains, rice terraces, waterfalls and hot springs. Especially in the June to December wet season the area is vulnerable to landslides and therefore planned trips could be cancelled. Highlights are Maligcong rice terraces, which rivals the rice terraces of Batad, and reachable by a rented Jeepney or 4×4. Tinglayan is the best starting point for treks. Along the road to Inglayan we can stop at a local village called Buscalan, 1 hour’s hike, where the traditional art of tattooing may be witnessed.

The journey from Bontoc to Tinglayen takes  2.5 hours along the Chico River, offering amazing scenery.  The river is also used for some challenging rafting. Along the way many small mountain villages the mountains can be seen. The local people especially the elder woman are tattooed live mainly from rice planting. Many challenging hikes,guide required, are possible in this area but expect rudimentary circumstances when it comes to food or overnight home stays.

Baguio winding Cannon road

Baguio can be reached by 5 hours drive from Sagada via one of the most scenic routes in the North, the Frans Halsema highway. Underway we could visit Timbac caves (mummies). Baguio at 1700 m high was established by the Americans in 1900 as a hideaway from the heat and dust of the lowlands during summer time. Baguio’s main source of income is tourism and and is the commercial hub from the nearby provinces. It hosts 250,000.00 students, making it the University town of the North. This influx of people and  urbanization has also a negative effect, howver,  as the traffic rivals the traffic jams of Manila.  Baguio can be viewed as a crossroads between the hill tribe culture and the lowland settlers. Although very crowded during summer months you can retreat to the Baguio Botanic Gardens, Wright and Burnham parks, Camp John Hay a formerly us military recreation facility and Mines View Park offering peace and fresh air. Other places of interest are Baguio Museum, the Presidential summer house “The Mansion”, the butterfly sanctuary , Tamawan Village and the highly ecommended Ben Cap museum.

We have no time to view all these tourist places, most have been of little interest to our foreign guests. If you could plan a date we recommend the end of February to see the famous Flower Festival. We offer accommodation including Camp John Hay Manor (best around) and Le Monet located outside the center of Baguio. For lower budgets we book mostly Microtel or El Cielito Inn. Restaurants in Baguio include: Cafe by the Ruins (a mix of local cuisine with the native way of cooking), Cafe Baterol inside Camp  John Hay and their al-fresco garden restaurant, (recommended dish Baterol Chocolate) and for fine dining Forest House next to Camp John Hay (romantic, good wine and a piano bar).

Mt Pulag clouds

Mt Pulag clouds

For the more physically fit and interested in hiking we could organize a trip to Mt. Pulag, the third highest mountain in the Philippines and First highest in Luzon. We either have to rent a Jeepney, equipment and guide or if you are with our 4×4 on tour we can drive until 4 km from the summit followed by a fairly easy walk.

Vigan can be reached from Sagada in 5 hours by one of the most scenic routes, the remarkably quiet Cervantes road. It’s best to take your lunch from Bontoc or Sagada and enjoy the amazing scenery. On the way you will pass a natural park and the Bessang Pass  where the three long years of resistance by Filipinos and Americans took place against the last stronghold of the Japanese imperial forces under Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita.

Vigan - heritage village - around 6 in the morning

Vigan – heritage village – around 6 in the morning

The town of Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur Vigan with its cobblestone streets, is worth a visit to see the best preserved Spanish colonial town in Asia. It was originally a settlement of Chinese  traders. The town is also on the Unesco World Heritage Site and best enjoyed by walking around. Plaza Burgos is the center of the town.

Most of the sights can be enjoyed by taking a calesa ride and includes Vigan Burgos and Crisologo Museum,  Syquia mansion (the former house of former Philippine President Marcos), Hidden Gardens, Pottery factories, St Paul and Bantay Church. We recommend overnights in newly renovated old Spanish boutique hotels such as Luna (the best around), Ciudad, Gordion, and Vigan Plaza Hotel , also perfect for a romantic dinner. Also good for a romantic dinner, serving mainly local food however, is ”the Hidden Garden”. Each Jan 25 Vigan celebrates their Festival.

Other very interesting monuments in the area include the Santa Maria Church, also a Unesco World Heritage Site. From Vigan we make an afternoon side trip to Laoag, home area of  former President Marcos. Beside Paoay Church and the sand dunes, good for sand boarding, the most interesting places to visit are the Marcos  Museum, Marcos ancestral home and the so called “Malacanang of the North”, the opulent former residence of the Marcos family. Instead of driving back to Vigan for your overnight stay you can also choose to take a one hour flight from Laoag to Manila. If you have more days to spend you can opt to stay at the best beach in  Luzon, Pagudpud (kingfisher resort) or (blue Lagoon, Kapaluan resort) for a well deserved rest.

cape Bojeador Ilocos Light House

Cape Bojeador Old Spanish Light House

On the way to Pagudpud an old Spanish light house and Bangui windmills can be viewed. On  the crossroad going to Blue Lagoon from Pagudpud your lunch can be taken in Bergblick restaurant serving German and local dishes. After your stay at the  Pakuluan Resort in Pagudpud you will be brought to the airport in Laoag for your flight back to Manila.  If you drive back to Manila from Vigan (10-12 hours drive) a one day stop can be made at Hundred Islands (barbecue on the beach plus snorkeling, Baguio, La Union. Closer to Manila we can stop at Angeles, Microtel in Tarlac or Alvin’s Place for your Mount Pinatubo tour, in Subic (Lighthouse Hotel) or Angeles for your Subic Bay or World War 11 tour to complete your excursion in North Luzon.

Use Filipino Travel Center’s unrivalled experience and expertise, including English-speaking guides and a modern transport fleet, to enjoy a culturally and historically rich area in the northern Philippines, accompanied by stunning scenery.