Philippines / Central North Luzon



Philippines / Central North Luzon / The Region

Central North Luzon practically consists of the mountain range of the Philippine Cordillera. The region is mostly inhabited by minority tribes which until some decades ago used to conduct a fearfully savage lifestyle including the practice of head hunting (for details on the tribes, see chapter People).

In general, for the Spanish as well as for the US colonizers, central north Luzon was not a very interesting area for conquest. Not much economic benefit could have been expected as the terrain always was considered to have too many mountains.

However, US missionaries were not afraid of the terrain. Anyway, they found in the Cordillera an abundance of the raw material every missionary needs to practice his profession: pagans. Most of the mountain tribes in the Cordillera have meanwhile been christianized by US missionaries, to the contrary of the many minority tribes on Mindanao and Palawan which still have their animist religions.

Christianization by the US missionaries made the minority tribes of the Cordillera safe for visits by foreign tourists. The tribes primarily visited by tourists are the Ifugaos and the Bontocs, for rice terraces as well as to see the native or at least halfnative lifestyle still conducted in the tribes' villages.

However, even as religious practices are no longer a threat to outsiders traveling the Cordillera, political turmoil has created new hazards. Whereas before, economic exploitation was unimportant as a lowlander's motif for coming to the Cordillera, new technologies after WWII changed this situation. International mining companies as well as logging firms discovered in the last few decades the fortunes which could be made in the Cordillera. Often with unsound methods, the companies planning to exploit the Cordillera's natural resources got possession of wide ancestral areas of the mountain tribes who where all of a sudden deprived of the opportunity to conduct their lives in traditional ways. As one example may be cited the case of the Celophil company of Marcos crony Herminio Desini which held logging concessions for some 200,000 hectares (772sqmi) of forests and ancestral lands in the Cordillera. The concession was issued in 1972 for a supposed period of 25 years. Because of this government grant, the natives were declared illegal occupants of their ancestral lands and were prohibited free access to their communal forests. Celophil stopped operations in 1984.

Another project which was planned to be carried out with disregard to the interests of the mountain tribes was the construction of a dam on the Chico river for a hydroelectric power plant.

The sudden economic interventions in the Cordillera stirred dissatisfaction among the tribal people who therefore were very willing to join the NPA to fight for their interests. To stop the construction of the Chico dam, tribesmen in 17 affected communities took up arms. 8 dam workers and 9 military personnel were killed. After these events, the World bank withdrew support and the dam construction did not extend beyond some preliminary works.

The forces of the rebellious movement were split after Cory Aquino came to power. The most charismatic among the rebel leaders, the priest Conrado Balweg opted for a negotiated solution to the problems of the Cordillera people, and left the NPA together with many of his followers. Balweg thereafter created his own organization, the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army in April, 1986. Some two month later, on June 21, 1986, Balweg and his group were ambushed by the NPA near Licauan, Abra province but he was not killed. Balweg thereafter participated in several negotiations with the Aquino administration for the creation of an autonomous Cordillera region within the Philippine state.

Whereas the Balweg group has not undertaken armed action against the government anymore since Cory Aquino came to power, the still much larger NPA in the Cordillera does continue ambushes and raids.

The US Peace Corps in the early part of 1988 withdrew four workers from Sagada, Mountain province, for their safety from the NPA. Also in Sagada, 9 government troopers were killed in an NPA ambush June 13, 1988.

Manila Bulletin, Thur.June 20, 1991 (Banaue, Ifugao Article by Juan B. Dait Jr.)

"The chief executive of this resort town has appealed to the national government for immediate financial assistance in the rehabilitation of many damaged irrigation systems which sustain the Ifugao rice terraces.

At the same time, Mayor Abriol Chulipa said tourism will be greatly affected if one of The Country 's major tourist attraction is neglected.

Chulipa said that a number of rice terraces farmers have abandoned the cultivation of the rice terraces due to lack of water. The irrigation canals were heavily damaged during the July 16 killer earthquake.

One of these, he said is the ancient irrigation system in Barangay Bangaan. It has remained unrepaired resulting in the drying up of several hectares of mountain ricelands.

The mayor said many rice terraces farmers have turned to other pursuits for their livelihood. Several farmers have gone to the goldmines in Benguet and others have found work in infrastructure projects. Oscar Fuentes, manager of the Banaue Hotel, said that if the rice terraces are abandoned by the farmers, tourism in this area would decline and adversely affect the economy of the people. Those who are not farmers rely mainly on tourismrelated industries such as woodcarving, weaving and basketry.

The Banaue rice terraces, one of The Country 's major tourist attractions, were declared as national treasures by then President Marcos.

Chulipa lamented that the national government has not done anything to help the local farmers here nor in maintaining the terraces."


Philippines / Central North Luzon / Geography

Land Area: 18,222sqkm (7,036sqmi)

Topography: mountainous, with elevations reaching almost 3,000m (9,843ft) above sea level

Mountains: Mt Bangbang near Buluan, KalingaApayao 1,533m (5030ft); Mt Amuyao on the boundary of Mountain Province and Ifugao 2,702m (8,869ft); Mt Pulog near Barogbog, Nueva Viscaya 2,953m (9,685ft); Mt Talbayoc near Kabayan, Benguet/Ifugao boundary 2,843m (9,328ft)

Rivers: Cagayan river in Nueva Viscaya; Chico river in KalingaApayao and Mountain Province; Ibulao river in Ifugao.


Philippines / Central North Luzon / Population

Majority Group: Ilocanos; Language: Ilocano

Minorities: Ibaloi, Kankanays, Isinai, Bontocs, Ifugaos, Itnegs, Isnegs, Ilongots

Region Population: 641,000

Cities, Towns: (Census of 1980, x1000)

Province Ifugao: Mayaoyao 24, Banaue 23, Kiangan 17, Lagawe 15, Lamut 11, Potia 11.

Province KalingaApayao: Tabuk 43, Pinukpuk 17, Conner 14, Luna 14, Flora 12, Tinglayan 12.

Province Mountain Province: Bontoc 17, Bauko 17, Tadian 14, Paracelis 10, Sagada 9, Besao 9.

Province Nueva Viscaya: Solana 37, Bayombong 32, Bambang 26, Aritao 22, Bagabag 21, Kayapa 20.

Political Structure: Province (Population x1000, area, capital)Ifugao (111, 2518 sqkm, Lagawe), Apayao (185, 7048 sqkm, Tabuk), Mountain Province (103, 2097 sqkm, Bontoc), Nueva Viscaya (242, 3904 sqkm, Bayombong).


Philippines / Central North Luzon / Kayapa

Tidang Village, Kayapa, Nueva Viscaya, southwest of Bayombong, has an interest for many Japanese as it was here that General Tomoyuki Yamashita set up his camp at Camp Sadell during WWII. The shrine was severly damaged by the earthquake of July 16, 1990


Philippines / Central North Luzon / Banaue And The Vicinity

Banaue, 350km (217mi) from Manila, is a popular tourist spot, mainly because of the nearby rice terraces. The place is very popular among young foreign backpackers who often follow the ManilaBanaueSagadaBoracay well beaten travelers' track. Banaue and its environments are good places to shop around for native handicrafts and tribal artifacts. Although accommodation is reasonable by travelers' standards, food in lodges and restaurants is comparatively expensive.


Banaue Rice Terraces The rice terraces are a leading tourist destination of The Country , considered the 'Eighth Wonder of the World'. 2000 years ago, the Ifugaos, {the word Ifugao means people of the hills,} started building the terraces, using only primitive tools. The terraces run like stepping stones, 500m (1,640ft) high. If the walls were laid end to end, they would extend more than 20,000km (12,400mi).

Streams and springs found in the mountains were tapped and channeled into irrigation canals that ran downhill through the terraces.

On July 16, 1990 the earthquake caused considerable damage to the terraces. Some terraces were destroyed as well as irrigation systems. Huge boulders cover some fields and canals.

The best panoramic view of the rice terraces is at a vintage point called the 'viewpoint' (1), located on a promontory along the BontocBanaue road. It's a 11.5 hr hike from the Banaue Hotel on the BanaueBontoc road.

Bocos Village (2) 150 steps uphill from the Conception School of Banaue, about 20 min hike; one can see the most sacred rice gods of the Ifugaos, called 'Bulul', kept in their rice granaries. Pictures may be taken with the consent of the owners of the statues.

Matanglag Bronzesmith (3) beyond Bocos Village, about 30 min from the Banaue market; made to order silver and bronze items

Banaue Trade Center (16) 20 min hike from the Banaue Hotel; souvenir items are sold, Saturdays is big market

TamAn Village (12) 250 steps from the Banaue Hotel's swimming pool, about 15 min hike; a typical Ifugao Village where woodcarvings and hand woven products are produced and sold.

A few kilometers along the road down from Banaue Hotel and through the village into the rural area is a shallow stream which is a nice place for a swim.

Guihob Waterfall (4) about 1 hr hike from the market towards Batad; waterfall with natural pool for swimming

Batad Rice Terraces (25) amphitheatershaped rice terraces; about 12km (7mi) east of Banaue; it is a 23 hrs hike uphill through mountain trails from the junction at kilometer 12 which can be reached by jeepney going to Mayaoyao; the whole distance on foot takes 45 hrs. 20 min on the way from Batad village is a cascading waterfall with a big pool for swimming. There are three lodges in Batad which have rooms at P 25 per person.

Post Offices
(9) in front of Banaue Youth Hostel
(14) in the municipal hall bldg
Tourist Information Center (16) at the market


To Bontoc (2 hrs) jeepneys from the market early in the morning; Dangwa buses from Adespa Lodge at about 11:00. There is no direct link BanaueSagada.
To Manila (89 hrs) Dangwa buses from the market at about 7:00 direct to Manila; Sarkies minibuses from Sanafe Lodge at about 10:00; or jeepneys from the market to Solano and from there frequent buses to Manila.


Philippines / Central North Luzon / Bontoc And The Vicinity

Bontoc is the capital of the Mountain Province and has no major tourist attractions. Several years ago, almost the entire town was hit by several big fires which destroyed the native Igorot houses. They were replaced by ugly concrete and wooden buildings with uniform corrugated iron roofs.


Bontoc Museum near plaza and basketball court; founded by the Belgian nun Sister Basil; it provides an overview on the different tribes, cultures and houses of Mountain Province.

Mainit Hot Spring 8km (5mi) from Bontoc; jeepneys, bound for Guinaang on the main street in front of Mountain Hotel; from Guinaang a 45 min hike to Mainit; a mineral spring with hot sulfurous water which allegedly possesses curative values


Practically all buses and jeepneys pass and stop at the Mountain Hotel on the main street.

To Sagada (1 hr) jeepneys in the morning; Skyland minibuses at about 10:00 and 15:00
To Banaue (2 hrs) several jeepneys daily; a Dangwa bus departs at about 13:00
To Baguio (89 hrs) Dangwa buses at about 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, 9:15


Philippines / Central North Luzon / Sagada And The Vicinity

Sagada is a very quiet, scenic rural town which to the newcomer seems little more than a few scattered buildings at the fork of a country road. Like Banaue, Sagada is located among numerous rice terraces. The inhabitants are mostly Bontocs (Igorots).

In addition to the rice terraces, the most popular attractions here are the local burials in socalled hanging coffins in subterranean caves. For the subterranean caves, local guides should be hired as the way is circuitous and dark. The price per person is 20 pesos for a shared lantern. The hike usually begins at 9:00, return is at about 13:00. Because there is little else to do, Sagada offers a nice opportunity to hike or just rest. Some budget travelers go there also to smoke marijuana.

A note of caution to hikers: As there are many pagans here, a branch across a trail indicates that for religious reasons the trail is closed. Sometimes a trail is closed for the day and sometimes for several days.


A detailed map with descriptions of possible excursions is displayed at Julia's Guest House. Information and guides can be provided. Some excursions offered:
Mt Ampakau (3 hrs)
Bagnen and Mt Polis (3 hrs)
Balangagang Cave (2.5 hrs)
Ankileng & Suyo Village (3 hrs)
Mt Sipitan (3 hrs)
Besao Village (3 hrs)
Agawa Village & waterfall (4 hrs)
Sabian Village (3 hrs)
Fidilisan Village and waterfall (4 hrs)
Tanulon Village & rice terraces (4 hrs)
Baang Village & rice terraces (4 hrs)
Tetepan pools & hanging footbridge (4 hrs)
Matangkib Cave a cave with coffins, about 10 min walk from the village center; one follows the road to Bontoc and after 'Sagada Weaving' takes a trail down to the right.
Sumaging Cave another cave with hanging coffins; about 15 min hike from the center along the road to Ambasing. One passes through a small wooden gate leading to a trail down to the left.
Marcos Cave an exciting rock formation inside a cave; crystals are embedded on the rocks. One needs a guide to explore the cave.
Church a very strange sight is the huge episcopal church which is much larger than the size of the village would lead to assume.
Bokong Falls a waterfall with a natural swimming pool; a 30 min walk towards Bokong, then left on a trail downhill. One kilometer further one can find another waterfall with natural pool.
Kiltepan Rice Terraces; 3.5km (2mi) from Sagada; view on the rice terraces and the villages of Kilong and Tetepan


To Baguio Dangwa bus early in the morning beside town hall
To Bontoc bus or several jeepneys beside the town hall
To Besao infrequent jeepneys.


Philippines / Central North Luzon / Mount Data

A 5,500 hectare (21sqmi) national park along the BaguioBontoc road on the boundary of Mountain Province, Ifugao and Benguet provinces and an ideal stop over on this route. The surroundings all up to the peak are dominated by pine trees. Mount Data is 2310m (7,304ft) high.