I'm long overdue in writing this review, but I'm about to go back and revisit this place, so I want to get this done in advance of that visit.
The Banaue rice terraces are really much more one might think. Indeed, there are rice terraces in the town of Banaue, but there are literally countless numbers of terrace constructs flung throughout the Ifugao province, all worthy of the trek to get to them, many more spectacular than those found in Banaue town.
The rice terraces found in Banaue proper are the most widely represented in photographs, illustrations, banknotes, and many other things that call attention to the area. And while truly stunning in themselves, if you have a chance to stay in Banaue for any number of days, take some of the hikes available through the Tourism Center.
You will encounter sites of such epic proportion that you will be overtaken with the same mystical/spiritual/awe-inspiring feelings akin to visiting places like Machu Picchu, the Great Pyramids, or the ancient Cambodian temples; prepare thyself for a metaphysical smack-down.
A number of the rice terraces throughout the region are designated as UNESCO world heritage sites, dating back to more than 2000 years. Hence, it goes without saying that these magnificent stair-stepped rice paddies are truly one of the most important historical and cultural treasures of the Philippines.
To put it short, a trip to the Banaue area for at least 3 to 5 days should be on everyone's bucket list, whether you are Filipino or not.
Visitors can experience these breathtaking terraces by visiting various viewpoints in Banaue itself, as there is a cluster of them that traverses the very heart of town.
The nearby villages of Bangaan and Hapao are accessible by motor transport and offer stunning views.
Those seeking a more challenging excursion can choose from a number of day and multi-day hikes to the surrounding villages of Batad, Cambulo, and Pula.
The Ifugao Province is a world-class destination for avid trekkers from around the globe and Banaue is their "home base."
If you are one of these trekkers, or are just looking for a more rewarding and challenging experience, opt in for the three day Pula-Cambulo-Batad-Bangaan tour.
If you want to "go all out," talk to one of the Tourism Center guides about hikes to more far-flung villages or climbing Mt. Amuyao.
In my visit this past January, 2012, I was dismayed to find that in some areas the rice terraces had fallen into disrepair, having been abandoned.
There were a number of reasons for this.
In some cases it was due to the fact that the irrigation system in that area was damaged and the farmers simply did not have the resources to make repairs. Water is supplied to the terraces via springs higher up in the mountain, which are channeled through the terraces in a complex series of irrigation canals.
In other cases, there wasn't enough income through harvesting rice alone and the farmers took up carving or other crafts.
To add a final nail in the coffin, younger generations simply have/had no interest in carrying on the legacy, or they simply needed to move on to better opportunities.
I came to the saddening conclusion that these magnificent structures had entered into a serious state of decline, with perhaps 10 to 15 years left before they would be completely abandoned and quickly overgrown, becoming ambiguous and undetectable amidst the sprawling rainforest.
Thankfully, there is and has been very concerted efforts, from numerous fronts, to come up with ways to make sure that the rice terraces are preserved for the posterity of the nation.
As-a-matter-of-fact, the Ifugao Rice Terraces were on the UNESCO endangered list until June 2012, when they were removed with high marks given to the government and people for their restoration/preservation efforts.
The government has finally begun making significant investments in the region for repairs restoration.
The locals from surrounding villages have taken part in joining together in rebuilding.
There are also efforts to institute training for the villagers to offer homestays as a means of added income.
Another way is through the efforts of voluntourism, whereby tourists actually give of their time while visiting to help in the preservation effort. If you are of such a persuasion, please PM me and I will give more information on this.
During my two-week stay in the Ifugao province I took a number of excursions (I am a rather short, portly chap and I lost more than 20 pounds in that time.) They were:
Batad-Bangaan Hike (Full Day - Guided)
Banaue (Pfanawor) Terrace Hike (1/2 Day - Solo)
Cambulo Trek (Full Day - Guided)
Hapao (hot springs) Excursion (Half Day - Guided)
Banaue Ethnic Village Experience (2 Hours - Solo)
Pula-Cambulo-Batad-Bangaan Outing (Three Days - Guided)
Poblacion-Kinakin/Poblacion Rd. Walk (2 Hours - Solo)
Poblacion-Viewpoint-Poblacion Walk (2 Hours - Solo)
In addition to the longer treks, there are terrace clusters literally all around Banaue Town itself. You can take any number of 2-4 hour walking hikes that will take you by many stunning vistas.
Tips and suggestions:
I highly recommend staying at the Banaue Halfway Lodge. It is run by good, honest folk and is conveniently and centrally located. (www.banauehalfwaylodge.com)
If you are going to utilize a guide, please avail the services of certified guides who operate out of the Tourism Center. These guides have undergone extensive training in areas of trail navigation, CPR, emergency rescue, and many other topics pertinent to your safety and enjoyment whilst on your excursion.. If someone approaches you on the street offering guide services, please be cautious. This is not to say that they are of bad character. They are not, however, certified and trained. I hired one Mariano Pagada out of the Tourism Center for all of my treks and I could not have been more satisfied. He proved himself over our many hikes and provided a level of professionalism that I am CERTAIN I would not have found in a street-hired guide.
In addition to seeing the rice terraces, Banaue is home to many fine craftsmen. The town is literally brimming with artisans producing woodcarvings, native textiles, metal art, knives, and woven straw items.
For a rewarding and well-implemented culural experience, be sure not to miss the Banaue Ethnic Village. This is a very interesting attraction that features a painstakingly recreated Ifugao village, with structures that offer a "living history" of Ifugao architecture. Inquire at the Banaue Halfway Lodge about optional group lectures and ritual reenactments.
Walking poles or sticks are highly recommended for your hikes.
Make sure that you have good hiking boots/shoes, as you will be literally hiking in the rain forest.
With the exception of the Banaue Hotel, all other lodging options do not have in-room electrical outlets. If you need to charge your electronics, most places will accommodate you for a small fee. Before you get your feathers in an uproar over this, a night in the Banaue Hotel starts at 3000+ pesos, whilst a stay in any of the other lodging choices begins around 400 pesos.
Saturday is market day in Banaue, and vendors come from neighboring villages and sitios, selling everything from fruits and vegetables to DVDs and flashlights. It takes up a large portion of Barangay Poblacion, which is the center of Banaue. Shop early to find uncommon items.
As the saying goes: "buyer beware." If someone is trying to sell you an item they swear is "antique", such as a carved statue or old wooden ritual box, or anything else for that matter, do not fall for their very convincing pitch or authentic appearance of the items...THEY ARE MOST SURELY FAKE. There simply are no more old antique items left to be sold. If you want to know more details just message me here on tripadvisor.
If visiting during the rainy season be sure that you take a raincoat and be prepared to get soaked during your hikes. To me it wasn't that big of a deal and I'm doing it again, but there may be those who are unable to tolerate the wetness.
Make sure that you are stocked up on trail food and water for your hike.
Inevitably, in the remote villages to which you will be trekking, children will approach you asking for money. It's better if you take along some snacks or treats to give them.
Have fun!Edited: 28 November 2012, 06:38