Located 1,500 meters (4921.26 feet) above sea level, Banaue is a municipality of Ifugao Province in the Philippines, where the indigenous culture still thrives up to this day. The name of the place came from the call of a now-endangered bird, which sounds like “Bannawor”. Now called Banaue, it’s home to the famous Banaue Rice Terraces, which is sometimes referred by locals as “the Eighth Wonder of the World.”
When coming to Banaue, you should leave all your luxuries behind and, if you can, disconnect from the rest of the world. The simplicity of life of the Ifugao people is admirable. It is meant to be enjoyed for yourself.
Here are some of the most exciting things you can do in Banaue. Take note for your future visit!
1. See the 2,000-year-old rice terraces
Approximately 2,000 years ago, ancestors of the indigenous people of Ifugao created a system of paddies with its own natural irrigation from the rainforest—something that is believed to be made by hand and other primitive tools. A part of this system is what we know today as the Banaue Rice Terraces. At present, locals still use the paddies to plant rice, vegetables and other crops. In 2009, through the joint efforts of the local government and non-government organizations, the rice terraces were declared free from genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Meanwhile, similar rice terraces are found in the nearby towns of Batad and Bangaan.
The best time to come here is from February to May, when the paddies are still green and vibrant. Wear comfortable footwear because exploring around the rice terraces would require you to walk up and down steep paths.
Tip from tour guide
A must visit - making the stone walls of the rice terraces required millions of stones. If the locals find good quality stones fit for the wall, they will collect them. Dry wood is used to start a fire on top of the stone, and while waiting, they'll continue to work. When the stone gets very hot, they'll pour cold water on it and the pressure will break the stone into pieces. Some of the pieces were used for the walls - this is the method they used in the absence of modern cement.
Tip from tour guide
If you are fond of trekking expeditions, Banaue offers some of the top hiking sites in the northern Philippines. This expedition connects all the remote villages in Banaue so you can witness the rice terraces that were built 2,000 years ago. The hike will take you through Pula Village, Cambulo Village, and Batad Village. It will take you 2 to 3 days of trekking to cover these places so you can see how the rice terraces work and how the local tribe maintains them. The locals are happy to share some daily activities and to show some of the culture and traditions that we have in Banaue.
2. Experience traditional Ifugao dance and music
Video contributed by Banaue local tour guide, Marvin Dumawol.
Planting rice and crops is not just a source of livelihood for the Ifugaos. It is part of their culture, characterized by traditional agricultural rites. During the harvest season, locals even hold a feast where they sing, dance and consume rice wine, as well as rice cakes and betel nut. Other significant life events also involve specific dances and songs for Ifugaos. There’s the Ifugao wedding festival dance for example, where gongs are used to create music. Meanwhile, wealthy Ifugao people who are called “kadangyan” are entitled to have the gongs used in rituals during their death. Another notable example is Ifugao’s courtship tradition. In this practice, an Ifugao male sings romantic songs to a female in a betrothal house.
You can visit one of the tribal villages and meet locals who’ll gladly share their songs and dances with tourists. They can also teach you the basic Ifugao dance steps. If you are lucky, you might even get to witness an actual Ifugao rite instead of a staged cultural show.
3. Buy Ifugao crafts and native products
Aside from planting and farming, many Banaue locals find a source of income in arts and crafts. They are known as the best makers of wood art, like furnitures, home decor, and even knick knacks such as jewelry boxes. What makes shopping in Banaue interesting is that even souvenir products have their own backstories! There’s the “bulol” or rice guard for instance, a staple Ifugao souvenir item, which is a carved image of a standing or sitting man. It is considered a deity who protects the rice terraces from harm. Weaving is another form of craft practiced by the Ifugaos, particularly the women. It is a long process, starting from preparing raw materials, to spinning and dyeing the cotton threads until it is ready for the actual weaving.
Both carving and weaving are passed on from one generation of Ifugaos to another. These are traditional practices that they value and consider as essential as the things that the young people might learn inside an actual classroom.
If you are looking for edible items to bring home, check out the Ifugao rice wine and rice coffee. Most of the Banaue souvenir shops are clustered at the Banaue View Point. However, a quick trip to the Banaue Public Market is also recommended. In case you would like to see the process of making the crafts before buying, visit the Tam-an Village located near the Banaue Hotel.
Tip from tour guide
This is called "Bulul". It's a rice guardian that we believe houses our ancestors' souls. In some ritual rites, for example, when talking to the dead, we always use it with sacrificial animals such as chickens or pigs and have betel nuts around them to talk with our ancestors. This was done in the old days, especially when there was a sickness in the family and it couldn't be cured by modern medicine, so we ask our ancestors a favor.
4. Ride on top of a jeepney
A jeepney is one of the most popular modes of transportation in the Philippines. You can easily ride in one wherever in the country, but in some remote areas in the highlands like Banaue, jeepney rides are best enjoyed by toploading. In this activity, instead of going inside the vehicle, you will climb on top and sit there until you reach your destination. It is another way of seeing the Banaue Rice Terraces that wouldn’t require you to trek. The winding road along the mountains makes for a thrilling ride, while the cool weather provides a really great atmosphere. Be sure to hold on to the provided safety handles while you enjoy the scenery!
If you wish to experience this in Banaue, consult the local tourism office located in Poblacion. They can recommend a tour provider for you.
5. Camp in the mountains
Banaue does not have luxury hotels and that is actually one of the reasons why it is so appealing to many tourists. Staying here means immersing yourself in the local culture and communing with nature. There’s no excuse not to enjoy the simplicity of life in the highlands.
Most of the accommodations in Banaue are native houses, transient homes and hostels. If you want to be more adventurous, you can go camping in the mountains. There are campsites in Banaue where you can set up your own tent, cook your own food and even make a bonfire. An example is the Banaue Ethnic Village, spanning a total of six hectares (~14.8 acres), which can accommodate big groups. It is located in downtown Banaue and also features picnic shelters and a swimming pool.
6. Enjoy photography and filming
Surrounded by picturesque green paddies and mountains, Banaue has been a popular destination for photographers and filming enthusiasts alike. One of the most recent films shot here is Sean Ellis’ “Metro Manila.” There’s also Robert Martin’s “The Banaue Boy,” a coming-of-age film about a young local’s journey to adulthood. Another example is “The Year of Living Dangerously,” which was directed by Peter Weir. Aside from creative films, various documentaries have also been made regarding the life of the Ifugaos.
7. Join Imbayah Festival of Banaue - contributed by local tour guide Marvin Dumawol
This festival occurs every three years, but we’re hoping the government can make it a yearly festival. It’s based on an old ritual where the people celebrate commoners ascending to a higher rank called “Kadangyan” (elite). “Imbayah” is taken from the word “bayah” (rice wine).
The last Imbayah Festival was held in late April (2023). There was a parade with locals wearing ethnic attire, street dancing, and games. This is the Ifugao version of Thanksgiving after a good harvest.
Banaue: a mix of nature and heritage
If you are a nature lover and you are interested in learning about indigenous cultures, Banaue is a great place for a vacation. The weather is cool and sometimes even freezing, but this small town has a way of making visitors feel warm. The people are welcoming, always ready to give a smile.
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