Philippines - Getting to know the Cordillera Region

Located in the mountainous north of Luzon, far removed from Manila’s frenetic pace and heat, the Cordillera region offers a breath of cooler, cleaner air, and the chance to experience traditional tribal culture and life-affirming adventures in stunning surroundings. Whether you’re taking in 2,000 year old rice terraces, trekking beyond the clouds or plummeting to the depths of a sacred cave, here you will find experiences and sights that will undoubtedly form the highlights of your visit to the Philippines.

Philippines Cordillera Region Travel Guide

Known as the ‘City of Pines’, Baguio is the Filipinos’ summer capital: it’s a favourite escape for the megacitizens of Manila. Culturally, it straddles a border between the modern ways of the lowlands and the ancient customs of the hill tribes. A university city with a constant cosmopolitan buzz, a great culinary scene and plenty of trendy bars and clubs; it also serves as the gateway to the mountains and the opportunity to discover a world unchanged for millennia.

When you reach Sagada you will have traded malls for quaint old markets. You will be able to experience the stunning views of cascading green mountains without even leaving town, even the shortest hike will take you to serene natural spaces. Here you can take a dip in a thundering waterfall and discover the inner beauty of Mountain Province in a cathedral-like cave.

Head further to the ancient rice terraces of Banaue and you will have reached one of the precious few global attractions that have been dubbed ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’ and truly lives up to its name.

What to do in the Cordillera region

  • Visit the truly fascinating Echo Valley in Sagada, whose towering limestone walls have long been hung with the coffins of locals – a practice which continues to this day. While the Echo Valley deceased are considered to be closer to their gods, there are also ancient coffins stacked in the mouth of the nearby burial cave.
  • Only two of the ancient rice terraces around Banaue are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, those in Batad and Bangaan. These prime examples of the 2,000 year old hillside irrigation system climb 200 metres high from the valley floor. There are many more wonderfully photogenic, vertiginous terraces to trek and enjoy – they originally reached as far south as Quezon.

Getting off the trail in the Cordillera region

  • The spectacular rice terraces will inevitably form the main focus of any visit to Banaue, but a couple of kilometres south of town lies the sadly overlooked Museum of Cordillera Sculpture. Here the amazing antique woodcarvings of the local Ifugao people can be found. The ritual objects of these former headhunters offer a real insight into mountain people’s lives and culture in the pre-Hispanic era.
  • Sagada is a centre for mountain activities such as trekking, caving, rock climbing and even spectacular ziplining. A trek through the Sumaguing, Lumiang or Balangagan Caves can involve as much water, slippery rocks and time underground as you choose, but, when you finally emerge into the daylight, it will be with a sense of awe.
  • In Tam-awan Village, outside Baguio, nine traditional tribal dwellings have been reassembled in the midst of an artistic colony. Spend a night in a genuine Ifugao or Kalinga home, surrounded by indigenous dance and music demonstrations, and sleep under the authentic dreamcatcher you have crafted.

Delicious local food

Exotic foodie flavours awaits you in this region, very few of which have made the jump to street-food stalls in the West. Etag is a salted pork delicacy that features in spicy indigenous dishes accompanied by biko (Mountain Violet sticky rice) direct from the celebrated terraces. Abuos is another local delicacy made from the eggs of red ants that have been harvested from treetop nests and sauteed with garlic, onions and tomatoes.

How do you pronounce...

Local languages stress a word’s 2nd syllable: Banaue is pronounced ‘Ba-NOW-ay’, and Baguio is ‘Ba-GEE-oh’.

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