Philippine Rice Terraces – Cultural World Heritage Landscapes
The tropical island of Luzon is criss-crossed from north to south by a series of mountains called the Philippine Cordilleras. The peaks range in height from 1,680 to 2,922 meters. The central part of the island offers travelers stunning cultural landscapes on the mountain slopes. Indigenous villages are surrounded by stepped, man-made rice terraces, winding their way up the gently sloping rocky slopes. For two thousand years, the hard-working islanders have cultivated rice and vegetables in these narrow fields with their unique agricultural techniques and impressive irrigation system.
How rice terraces were created in the Philippines
Philippine rice terraces were created by the Ifugao people, which means “people of the land” in native language. Over the centuries, the inhabitants of the jungle-filled high plateaus have gradually reclaimed tiny strips of fertile soil from the mountains. They uprooted trees, leveled slopes, and fortified them with retaining walls of stone and clay. Although there is a humid tropical climate, during the dry season the plants in the fields require irrigation. Rice plantations in general are impossible without an abundance of moisture.
The farmers, who had only hoes, chisels, and axes at their disposal, created an intricate system of irrigation. Canals cut into the rocks and pipelines made of bamboo trunks bring water to the rice terraces from rivers flowing down the slopes of the Philippine Cordilleras.
In 1995, these grand man-made structures, built in the mountains at an altitude of 700-1,500 meters, were included in the World Heritage List. UNESCO experts estimate that the rice terraces in the Philippine Cordilleras cover an area of no less than 10,000 square kilometers. If they were hypothetically connected in one line, you could cover the distance to Antarctica and back.
On the brink of extinction: why see the terraces now
At the beginning of this century, there were disturbing overtones in the publications about this wonder of the world. The revenues generated by mass tourism in the formerly inaccessible mountainous regions of Luzon Island have long exceeded the hard work of farmers. The local youth prefer to engage in the tourist business, while the outgoing older generation toils in the terraced fields. Meanwhile, Philippine rice terraces, deprived of centuries of care, begin to gradually deteriorate. The weathered retaining walls are being reinforced with durable concrete, disfiguring the scenic, pristine appearance of the “hanging” fields.
How to Get There
There are shuttle buses from Manila to Banaue. If you want to catch a late-night bus, the travel time is about 10 or 11 hours. There is a tourist information office in the central square of the town, among the stalls and pavilions of the local bazaar. You will be told how to get to the famous sites and provided with a schematic map of the rice terraces in Banaue. Some are close by and can be reached on foot at the nearest viewing point. Tourists can ride trains (motorcycles with covered baby carriages) or the jeepney, a fancifully painted cross between a high-performance SUV and a minibus, to reach the outlying terraces.
When to visit rice terraces in the Philippines
The best time to visit the rice terraces in Banaue is from April to May and October to November. It is during these periods that the terraces are covered in lush greenery and the views are breathtaking. But it is not recommended to visit the rice terraces during the rainy season, from July to August. There is a threat of landslides, hiking and trekking is not possible at this time.
As for accommodation in Banaue, you get value for money. You will not find expensive and luxurious hotels here. But there is full communion with nature and stunning views of the rice terraces. The rice terraces in Banaue are not all you can see here. Be sure to visit the village of Tam-An.
This is a great way to experience the culture and life of the Ifugao people. There is a settlement of carvers and weavers whose skills have been passed down from generation to generation. Here you can see the traditional houses of the Ifugao people built without nails.
You can visit Tappiyah and Chappah waterfalls. They have a panoramic view of the rice terraces. Don’t forget to take a swimsuit and something to snack on. After a long walk on muddy and dusty trails, a refreshing dip in the cold water is just what you need.
You can stay in Banaue town itself or in the remote village of Batad. Its population is 1500 people. These terraces are considered the best preserved in the Philippine Cordilleras. They are between 2,000 and 6,000 years old, they were included in the UNESCO list in 1995.
There is no cell phone service everywhere in Batad, let alone the Internet. There are no roads and no transport. To get to the village you can get off near Saddle and follow the trail into the village. The temperature in Batad is almost always cool, no more than 21 degrees. It is best to visit Batad during certain months. For example, from December to March is the coldest period of the year. Rice terraces are like pools of mud.
In April and May, the rice begins to rise and turn green, but the greens are not yet so rich. In June-July it often rains. August through November is the time for lush greens. It’s better to wait until October, because August and September are the rainiest months.
Comfortable shoes for long walks and warm clothes in case of unpredictable weather in the mountains are a must.
Banau Rice Fields.
Called the Eighth Wonder of the World, Banaue Rice Terraces is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a true triumph of engineering, it took more than 2000 years to create these terraces for the people of Batad. Terraces are located in the picturesque province of Luzon in the northern part of the Philippines. The terrain here is characterized by high, forested mountains that rise more than 1,500 meters above sea level. Stunning terraces carved into the mountainsides stretch as far as the eye can see.
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Banaue’s rice terraces are a seemingly endless staircase of vegetable gardens and flooded rice paddies, all built by hand, and today cover more than 10,500 square kilometers. Rainforests high in the mountains have become part of the natural irrigation system, so that the local people continue to survive using traditional farming methods.
Using the most primitive tools, the people of Banaue hollowed out ledges in the mountains and filled them with fertile soil from the river valley. Replicating the shape of the mountain slopes of the Philippine Central Cordillera, the terraces of Banaue extend 22,000 meters in length. Some terraces have retaining walls up to 6 meters high made of stone. Water from the mountain rivers is supplied to the terraces by an extensive irrigation network. At any time, the terraces can be filled with water or drained to the brim. Rice is planted in December-January and harvested in June-July. All the time the fields are “under water vapor,” i.e., until December, small mud fish are raised on the terraces to supplement the ifugao’s diet.
There are no roads or electricity in these places, and people prefer to live as they have always lived, maintaining a spiritual kinship with their land and surroundings.
There are several popular hiking trails, and many people come here to admire the majestic work of human hands. The terrace complex includes the nearby amphitheater-shaped Banaue Terraces, the Mayoyao Terraces, where Tinahuao red and white rice are grown, the stone-framed Apao Terraces, which date back to 650, and the well-known Kiangan Terraces.
Banaue is immortalized on the largest Philippine banknote, the 1,000 peso. Gold deposits have recently been discovered in Banaue, but families whose plots of land have gold-bearing ores do not give permission to mine the yellow metal. Traditional rice farming is more important to them.
Eleven different ethnic groups live in this area. Each ethnic group has its own traditions, customs, and culture. The most famous ethnic group is the Ifugao, which means “people of the heavenly world,” a proud, warlike people who were only able to convert to Christianity in the 19th century. They still honor their old traditions and, according to researchers, after visiting churches, offer prayers to their ancient gods. At the observation point (a couple of kilometers north of Banaue) you can take pictures of elderly locals in national costumes. Don’t forget to give the “model” a few pesos afterwards. Here they also sell handicrafts.
There are several hostels and hotels near the observation deck, the best is considered to be Banaue Hotel. Next to the hotel there is Banaue Museum with Ifugao clothing and homeware (50 pesos, the key is in Banaue View Inn) and Spring Village Inn has a museum of wooden sculpture (Mon-Sat 8:00-17:00, 100 pesos).
In these places ancestor spirits are still worshipped, and often you can see how farmers make sacrifices, offering the angry spirit of three chickens or a pig. Another tradition is observed when someone dies: the body of the deceased is hung under the thatched roof of the hut for three days, so that all the locals know that the deceased has moved to a better world. The bones are then separated and placed under the roof of the family dwelling to provide protection and comfort to the living family members.
The rice terraces of Banaue were created by the Ifugao (“mountain people”) more than 2,000 years ago. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the Ifugao wore loincloths, lived in palm huts on stilts, and followed ancient beliefs that included a certain place in their rituals for hunting human heads. In the early twentieth century, the American administration officially banned head hunting, and today such rituals are possible only in connection with murders caused by scandalous disputes over land holdings. In the twenty-first century, many Ifugao practiced Christianity and went to church for services. Time has changed the Ifugao way of life considerably, but they still cultivate rice on the rice terraces of Banaue in the same way as their ancestors did millennia ago. Banaue has developed a peculiar cult of rice. The Ifugao people used to celebrate the sowing, harvesting and other stages of rice cultivation with songs and dances. Rice cakes and rice beer are the main treat of the feast. Ifugao dances are no less interesting. For example, one of the men’s dances imitates a cockfight.
How to Get There
Take a bus or plane from Manila to Baguio, then bus to Banaue. Buses of Victory Liner (www. victoryliner.com) leave for Baguio once an hour from several terminals in Manila. The most comfortable buses depart from 561 EDSA 1300 Pasay City. A one-way ticket costs 460-700 pesos, depending on the type of bus. Travel time is about 7 hours. There are regular buses from Baguio to Banaue. A direct night bus from Manila to Banaue departs at 10 p.m. by Dangwa Tranco or Autobus from 1600 Dimasalang Street, Sampaloc, Manila and 832 Aurora Boulevard, Cubao. The ticket is best purchased in advance (450 pesos) . Travel time is 9 hours. Tour companies offer organized tours for 3-4 days for 7000-14000 pesos per person (depending on the number of participants).
The best time to visit
From December to May inclusive. In the second half of December, the natives plant rice, by mid-March there are green shoots (probably at this time terraces have the most photogenic view), the harvest takes place in June and July.