Located north of Manila is the Cordilleras region, which consists of a mountainous area spanning 7,500 miles of land, with its tallest mountains standing at more than 9,500 feet. The area is best visited from October until April. It is home to several interesting towns and cities such as Baguio, Banaue, Sagada, and Batad – a place people from Manila also love to visit. The Cordilleras is also a regional home to several indigenous tribes collectively referred to as the ‘Igorot’. You can also find traditional villages in the mountains, which still retain much of their culture and heritage.
Most places in the Cordilleras are easily accessible by road, and it’s great for driving your own car or riding a bus. Driving is a treat for the senses with views of stunning landscapes of tall pine-covered mountains, rolling hills, grassy valleys, and flowing rivers where fishing, swimming, and kayaking may also be enjoyed.
Rice is the major product produced in the Cordilleras by farming, with the Banaue Rice Terraces being one of the top attractions in the region (and already a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Aside from that, you can also find other rice terraces throughout Kalinga and Ifugao.
The Cordilleras is also home to the Philippines’ summer capital, Baguio City, which is favoured for its cooler weather and shopping options. Sagada is another well-known destination where you can enjoy fresh air, hanging coffins, and the spectacular laid-back mountain scenery; Bontoc is a busier alternative. Kalinga also has fascinating head hunters, while fans of the macabre may want to see the mummies in Kabayan.
Activities in the Cordilleras
The Cordilleras is made up of six provinces: Apayao, Abra, Ifugao, Kalinga, Benguet, and the Mountain Province, with its main capital being Baguio City.
Apayao is the northernmost province bordering the provinces of Abra, Ilocos Norte, Kalinga, and Cagayan. Because of its location, the province is rather remote but you can find plenty of breathtaking natural attractions ranging from vast farmlands, tranquil waters, and waterfalls. You can also find remains of old Spanish churches, which serve as constant reminders of the attempted conversion of the Isneg tribe into Catholics by the Spanish friars.
From Apayao, you can explore Kalinga, which is on the eastern section of the region. The province is known for the Chico River and a place worth visiting if you want to try white-water rafting, because of its varying class III and IV rapids. Kalinga also offers plenty of vantage points where you can enjoy views overlooking mountain villages with their rice terraces and traditional homes made of nipa.
The bottom part of the Cordilleras is made up of the Ifugao province, which is where most tourists go to see the Banaue Rice Terraces. However, activities such as mountain biking and trekking are also among the favourites of its visitors because it has a lot of trails nestled off the beaten path, perfect fpr a day exploring. You can also find waterfalls and mysterious caves to explore in this province.
The rice terraces can also be enjoyed from the Mountain Province but its main attraction is in Sagada and the town’s caves. The Sagada Caves are ancient burial sites with hanging coffins. You can also find swimming holes, particularly the waterfall that vanishes into the gorges with some greenery hanging over the river.
The Philippines’ second biggest mountain is Mount Pulag and it is located in the Benguet Province. Benguet is also home to a few sacred burial sites, which are also worth visiting. They are housed in caves, and you can still see some of the mummies. Baguio is also accessible from Benguet since it stands in the heart of the province, though it is not necessarily a part of Benguet.
Abra offers a tough and rugged countryside with several rivers flowing from the mountains and through the entire province. Both historical and natural attractions can be enjoyed in this province ranging from Spanish architecture in the churches and the tranquil valley rivers. The most notable among the rivers is the Libtec Underground River in Dolores, which vanishes into a cave reputed for the superstition and legends embracing it.
Eating and drinking in the Cordilleras
Filipino cuisine is widely enjoyed in the Cordilleras but the freshly grown fruits and vegetables sold in the local markets of towns are also worth trying. More urbanised cities such as Baguio have a greater choices for restaurants, fast foods, bars, and restaurants serving international cuisine.
Getting to the Cordilleras
The Cordilleras is easy to reach by land from Manila, with three major roads leading to its towns and cities. You can drive or get a bus to get to your desired destination. If you are heading for Baguio, Marcos Highway is a preferred route. Most buses take that route. If you are driving, Kennon Road can be an alternative. Naguilian Road is also another route which ends in Bauang.
If you prefer to ride a bus, the preferred bus companies from Manila include Philippine Rabbit, Dagupan Bus, Partas, and Victory Liner. They often offer frequent trips to Baguio from their terminals in Sampaloc, Pasay, and Cubao. If you are heading to Sagada, get on the GL Lizardo, which departs at the Dangwa Terminal. There are also D’Rising Sun buses from Slaughterhouse Road heading to Bontoc together with Norton Trans, which head to Kabayan. Bus companies like KMS and Ohayami also leave to Banaue from Shanum Street.
It is also possible to fly to the airport of Tuguegarao in the Cagayan Province and then ride a jeepney to Kalinga’s capital, Tabuk. There are also flights to Nueva Viscaya where you can ride public transport to the Ifugao province and get there within 45 minutes.