A week in the Philippine Cordilleras – Part I

Over the last few years Amelia and I have discovered we really like a good hike in the mountains. So much so, we now investigate the hiking opportunities / mountain scenery first, before almost anything else when planning a trip to a new place. We love our mountains, although I do unfortunately have an innate fear of heights – which isn’t ideal, if you love being in the mountains.

There’s something about them; the dramatic landscapes, the fresh air, the colours, the nature, the sense of being away from it all, the tranquility. Few things in life can top a good hike.

Arriving in the Philippines before Christmas, our first stop was the Ifugao Rice Terraces of the Cordillera Mountains in North Luzon. A nine-hour bus ride (minimum) from Manila, with UNESCO World Heritage status, these rice terraces are spread out over an entire mountain range, in an extremely remote region, with many dating back over 2,000 years.

After an eight hour bus to Baguio, where we stayed overnight, and a further six hour journey, spent gazing at the breathtaking scenery passing us by, we finally made it to the hard-to-reach, (very) small town of Sagada.

Sagada was a breath of fresh air for us, quite literally. The sky was blue, temperatures were warm, but not hot. It was a small, sleepy town built-in to the mountains. There were guesthouses and restaurants to cater for the trickle of backpackers that make it here every day, and there was no traffic on the town’s main street. Local children were out in force playing football and basketball, families went for late afternoon walks, and almost everybody it seemed was outside, enjoying the cool mountain air, scenery and relaxed pace of life.

We went for a walk to check out Sagada’s hanging coffins, located in a small valley just outside the town. Pleasant and interesting, if a little eerie. Apparently (don’t quote me on it) if you are wealthy enough, as a local person, and have particular animist beliefs, your coffin can protrude from a vertical cliff-face, instead of being buried in the ground like other mere mortals. I don’t know how long it’s been going on for, and if it still does, but it was certainly erm… different.


The next day we got up early for a walk to check out the sweeping, panoramic views from Mt. Kiltepan of the rice terraces below. Sadly, the weather wasn’t great.

We then took a jeepney down the mountain to Bontoc, a town which is everything that Sagada is not. It really wasn’t the best place we’ve ever been, and I’m being polite here. We took another jeepney up to another hill, to the village of Maligcong, a 45 minute journey which left my knees in excruciating discomfort, having had my legs wedged in place by three 20kg bags of cement which were being taken up the hill with us. Without doubt, one of the most uncomfortable 45 minutes of my life.

There is almost nothing in Maligcong, except for its spectacular rice terraces, and a small village whose inhabitants have laboured on the terraces for centuries. This was a remote place.

People said hello, made us feel welcome, told us which way to go, and left us to it. A local man named William soon approached us, and appointed himself as our guide, although we didn’t want or need one, and had told him so. He proved to be a likeable man, and he took us into his village. We met four schoolgirls walking across the terraces who requested we buy them some snacks from the local shop, in flawless English.

Chatting to the girls as they ate their snacks, William pointed out that I was standing on both his sisters, and fathers grave. Awkward. I thought I was standing on the concrete path, but evidently parts of the concrete path doubled up to be various graves of local people’s loved ones. They bury their relatives inside the village, often right outside their front door.

We made it back to the other side of the village as darkness descended, William pointed us in the direction of the guesthouse (there were no streetlights here) and we walked up. Except we couldn’t see anything, and were terrified of being savaged by guard dogs as we found our way. We had to retreat in fear for our lives, and backtracked until we eventually found a local person who could take us to the guesthouse. Business wasn’t booming around here, our guesthouse hadn’t had a visitor since October!

Maligcong was a beautiful place, well worth a visit.

Related – A week in the Philippine Cordilleras – Part II


9 thoughts on “A week in the Philippine Cordilleras – Part I”

  1. Thanks for the extremely detailed post 🙂 we’re planning a trip to sagada in a couple of months and we might use this itinerary as a template 🙂


    1. Thanks girlie, I’m pleased it is of use.

      I would maybe recommend staying a full day in Baguio (two nights) if you have time. It looked like there was some cool and interesting things to see and do around there, but we didn’t have time. And it breaks up the journey to Sagada a little bit!

      Enjoy your trip!


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