Banaue is a rugged but spectacular four-hour trip from Bontoc to Banaue along a winding road that leads up into the misty Cordilleras, across a mountaintop pass, then down precipitous mountainside. It may only be 300km north of Manila, but Banaue is a world away, 1300m above sea level and far removed in spirit and topography from the beaches and palm trees of the south. This is the heart of rice-terrace country. Indeed, the rice terraces at Banaue are one of the great icons of the Philippines. They were hewn from the land 2000 years ago by Ifugao tribes people using primitive tools, an achievement in engineering terms that ranks alongside the building of the pyramids.
Called the "Stairway to Heaven" by the Ifugaos, the terraces would stretch 20,000km (that's halfway around the world) if laid out end to end. The future of the terraces, recently added to the United Nations' World Heritage List, is closely tied to the future of the tribes people themselves.
The region has other worth-visiting rice terraces, including those of Batad. Its terraces line a breathtaking amphitheater-shaped slope.
The Banaue Rice Terraces (as well as the other regional ones) are now facing erosion because of a decline in upkeep. This is the reason why Banaue is also part of UN's World Heritage Danger's List.
A quiet mountain town located in a Filipino backwater, Sagada is famed for an unusual combination of coffins and caving, as well as the chance for visitors to pour into the local wilderness o…