The Philippines is home to over 7,000 islands with pristine white beaches, stunning sand bars, enchanting lagoons, and diverse coral reefs. If you are planning a trip to the Philippines, you probably have considered spending your precious holidays at one of its beautiful islands. However, not a lot of foreign travelers know that the Philippines also boast some of the best mountain ranges in Southeast Asia. While you can’t possibly explore all the destinations in just 7 days, our suggested itinerary will give you a real taste of Northern Philippines and you will be introduced to its best attractions. You can absolutely make any changes you like, to adapt the tour to your preferences. Enjoy!
Things to know before traveling to Northern Philippines:
Language – The national language was labeled Filipino to acknowledge and embrace the existence of many English and Spanish-derived words. In the North, the locals speak regional languages, which include Tagalog, Ilocano, Pangasinense and Kapampangan. English is emerging, especially in some popular destinations like Sagada and Ilocos, so you can get by without learning the language. However, speaking at least some Cordilleran/Filipino or attempting to learn is greatly appreciated by locals.
Currency exchange – The official currency of the Philippines is the Peso (₱). Exchanging money in the Philippines is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Asia. Before your trip to North Luzon, make sure to bring enough cash because there are not many ATMs in the region. Ask your hotel if they accept credit/debit cards and how much is the transaction fee.
Social norms and etiquette – Filipinos are extremely tolerant people, and are generally happy, generous and gregarious. Being a Spanish Colony for over three hundred years and being under the United States for 50 years, foreign values have been adapted by Filipinos in their own peculiar fashion. For a foreign traveler, it is important to know that Filipinos, like most Asians, stress public harmony and overt conviviality. Any indication of conflict is readily buried and confrontation is frowned upon.
Accommodation – North Luzon has a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. Budget hotels, bed and breakfasts, youth hostels and guesthouses, luxurious beach front resorts and villas are aplenty in the region. In Banaue, choose a guesthouse in downtown near the market and tourism office to get spectacular views of the rice terraces and mountains. In Bontoc, most accommodation options are located along the town proper’s main road. In Sagada, there are no luxury hotels but there are plenty of budget hostels, inns, guesthouses, lodgings, and homestays.
Getting around – Getting around North Luzon and taking public transportation might be a shocking experience to foreign visitors. Transportation options include local buses, jeepneys, habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) and tricycle. If you want the most flexibility, rent a motorbike for about 350 pesos per day and explore by yourself. Renting a car and driving on your own is another great option, which will give you complete control of the trip.
Detailed itinerary: Up North: A 7-day Adventure in Northern Philippines
Day 0: Manila to Banaue
Your adventure in Northern Philippines starts today! Please note, there is no airport with commercial service in Banaue nor any nearby city and province. However, there are plenty of direct and in direct buses that go to Banaue from Manila. There are nightly bus services offered by three companies (Ohayami, Florida and Coda Lines) that go directly to Banaue. If you prefer day buses, you can take the Florida Bus from either Sampaloc and Cubao terminals to Nueva Vizcaya. At Bagabag Junction (Nueva Vizcaya province), there are plenty of jeepneys going to Banaue.
Assuming you arrive in Banaue at around 7 in the morning, you will probably be able to check into your preferred accommodation at around 12 in the afternoon. Allow yourself to rest then arrange your tour for tomorrow.
Where to stay in Banaue:
Day 1: Banaue
On the morning of Day 1, get set to experience the glories of Banaue, known for Banaue Rice Terraces (Hagdan-hagdang Palayan ng Banawe). Its 2,000-year-old terraces that were carved into the mountains were probably its most famous tourist attractions. Aside from exploring the rice terraces, there are plenty of other things you can do in Banaue. You can visit the Tam-an Village, a local village located on the outskirts of Banaue. Here, you can get an insight of the Ifugao culture through survival skills performance, traditional song and dance, and weaving practices. If you have enough luck credits, you might even witness an actual wedding ceremony in the village!
Day 2: Banaue – Batad
For one of the most memorable sunrises you’ll ever see, take a walk at the viewing deck in the early morning. For breakfast, try 7th Heaven’s Cafe and enjoy their best tasting coffee as you enjoy the views of rice terraces. Then, make your way to Batad, one of the five UNESCO World Heritage site listed rice terraces in the Philippines. It is said that Batad is the best among the five clusters of Ifugao Rice Terraces. To get to Batad from Banaue, take a jeepney or charter a tricycle to the Batad saddle point. From there, you can hire a local guide to take you to Batad Rice Terraces. If you still have time before you travel back to Banaue, then you can ask your guide to take you to Tappiya Falls. Do not miss to try some local specialty like Pinikpikan and buy some handmade souvenirs.
Day 3: Bontoc
On day 3, embark on one of the most exciting trips in the Cordillera by heading to Bontoc. From Banaue town proper, take a van or bus to Bontoc. For adventure enthusiasts, toploading on a jeepney from Banaue to Bontoc is an excellent way to learn about local culture. Top loading is one of the ways in riding a jeepney in the Philippines. Instead of getting inside (or if the jeepney is already full), passengers go up to the roof of the vehicle and sit on a long wood with cushion. This is commonly seen in the provinces where local transportation is limited.
Depending on your time of arrival, you can either take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in Bontoc or you can begin your tour of its famous attractions. Check into your preferred accommodation. Some attractions you can visit are Bontoc Museum, Maligcong Rice Terraces, Chico River and Bayyo Rice Terraces.
Where to stay in Bontoc:
Day 4: Bontoc to Sagada
On day 4, enjoy an exciting jeepney journey through one of the most breathtaking scenery you’ll ever see from on your way to Sagada, a remote mountain town in the Cordillera Mountains. A 5th class municipality of the Mountain Province, Sagada is known for its unique traditions, cool weather, natural attractions and friendly people.
Once you arrive in the town proper, go to Sagada Tourism Office and pay the environmental fee of 35 pesos (0.70 USD). Remember to keep the receipts as you cannot enter the Sumaguing Cave without this. After check in, take it easy and soak up the atmosphere in Sagada by visiting Saint Mary’s Church, Echo Valley and the Hanging Coffins.
Where to stay in Sagada:
Day 5 to 6: Sagada
On days 5 and 6, experience some of the best attractions in Sagada. You cannot say you’ve been to Sagada if you did not conquer Sagada Cave Connection, a 5-hour spelunking in Lumiang and Sumaguing Cave. These two caves feature awe-inspiring cave systems, which are both fascinating and scary. The cave connection requires a local guide, which you can hire at the tourism office. Before you sign up for this, make sure to assess yourself because this activity is physically demanding. Make sure to wear sturdy pair of sandals. Bring a head lamp, waterproof bag for your gadgets, some snacks and water.
Day 7: Sagada to Manila via Baguio
Savor your last morning in paradise with a relaxed breakfast in your room or at a nearby restaurant. You can also spend a few hours in town before you prepare for your departure to Baguio, where your Northern Philippines adventure ends. To get to Baguio, take a GL-Lizardo Trans Bus in Sagada town proper. There are about seven trips per day and the last trip is at 1 in the afternoon. Travel time to Baguio is 5 hours and one way bus fare is 220 pesos. In Baguio, take a cab to Victory Liner Bus Terminal and board a bus bound for Cubao or Pasay (Manila).
This is the end of our 1-week suggested itinerary to explore Northern Philippines. The sequence of activities and attractions above are just a guide and you can definitely change it to suit your interests. You may opt to continue traveling independently, or extend your stay in North Luzon. The decision is all yours!
Have you been to Northern Philippines? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Banaue Rice Terraces (Christian Vollmert / Shutterstock.com)