Stairway to Heaven: Hiking Through the Batad Rice Terraces in the Philippines

The Ifugao people carved the Batad Rice Terraces out of the Cordillera Mountains more than 2,000 years ago. Often cloaked in a mysterious fog, these magnificent rice paddies are located on the Philippine island of Luzon, about 470 km (290 miles) from Manila.

Thanks to their grand scale and their amphitheater-like appearance, the terraces have been dubbed “the eighth wonder of the world.” It’s believed that if the Batad terraces were connected end to end, along with those of neighboring Banaue and Bontoc, they would reach around the world.

The journey to get to Banaue is not easy. First, we took a nine-hour overnight bus from Manila to Banaue. The highlight of the bumpy, curvy, accelerate-then-brake journey was meeting two super traveling duos — one from the Netherlands and another from France. We’d end up trekking the magnificent terraces together the following day after we’d all caught up with our beauty rest.

To get to the starting point for trekking the UNESCO Heritage-listed Batad Terraces, we had to ride a jeepney — a whimsical form of public transport in the Philippines — from Banaue Town to the Batad Saddle. The one-hour ride was rather treacherous with patches of rough finished roads and muddy passes on a 15-kilometer stretch.

Jeepneys are traditionally painted in a vibrant fashion with Christian icons and passages from the Bible; the stainless steel aluminum modes of transport also traditionally bear a name that is emblazoned on the vehicle’s forehead. Our jeepney was named Bethel Church.

Bethel Church’s interior was disco-like and our driver and his entourage played heart-thumping music that gave us the extra energy needed to keep holding on to the interior bars so as not to slide around the seats or onto the floor. A bumper sticker on Bethel Church’s rear window declared, “Safety First — Jesus on Board.”

Thank goodness we had an extra passenger, for on our return journey to Batad, Bethel Church had a head-on collision with a tricycle. Fortunately, no one was hurt. (Like the jeepney, a tricycle is another form of Philippine transport. Tricycles are like motorcycles with an attached cabin).

Incredibly, our jeepney driver, (who was spitting betel nut juice out of his mouth through an open window prior to the collision), didn’t even get out of the car to speak to the tricycle motorists, one of whom dashed out of the doomed tricycle at the time of impact.

We concluded that both parties were driving too quickly for the rainy and curvy conditions, not to mention riding over the center line. Our jeepney driver stated that the tricycle driver was drunk. Coming from a litigious land, we found it surprising that neither party exchanged contact information before driving on.

Rewinding a few hours back — prior to all the riding riding excitement — our trek through the Batad Rice Terraces was extraordinary! With walking sticks in hand our group of nine descended a lush ravine for about 45 minutes before we reached the overlook that revealed Batad’s terraces.

Shawn and me.

A few of the terraces had recently been planted; their Kelly green-colored plants made them easy to spot.

I pondered how men and women routinely climbed the terraces. Wouldn’t it destroy their knee joints over time?

I also wondered how the Batad townspeople’s ancestors crafted the terraces thousands of years ago. From how far away did they carry the stones? How did they devise their brilliant irrigation and engineering techniques that brought water from rainforests to quench the terraces?

And even in present times, I wondered, how do the locals get supplies or appliances delivered to their home in spite of such terrain?

Our walk toward Batad Town found us traversing the terrace walls, some of which are about 3.5 meters (12 feet) high. We climbed down to an overlook point where we relaxed for 45 minutes while other members of our party hiked down to the Tappiya Falls. The view from the overlook spot was serene. The fog that had hugged the mountains earlier on during our hike had lifted.

As we sat there, we watched as some locals hunted for snails within a terrace. Elsewhere, a cute scrappy dog was on the lookout for food. He eventually found a perch overlooking the dramatic vista and rested there. We treated him to a handful of our trail mix.

After our moments of respite and reflection, we began the grand ascent back to the Batad Saddle. To break up the climb, since it was about lunchtime, we stopped at a hillside-hugging homestay restaurant decked out with traditional Ifugao woodcarvings. (Interesting enough, many Ifugao figures represent deities revered for their ability to ensure a successful rice harvest.)

As we waited for our red rice, noodles and sautéed vegetables to be prepared, we played with a litter of puppies and admired the view that the locals likely take for granted since they see it everyday. The home’s friendly residents removed stalks of rice from a hand-woven basket and threshed them.

Two feisty roosters engaged in a cockfight.

Fortunately, this rooster skirmish developed only out of instinct. This was in contrast to the unsettling and forced scenes we would later see on a Philippine television channel devoted to cockfighting. During the Batad fight, one of the animals removed itself from the action when it was determined who the alpha rooster was, whereas on television, it seemed that victory could only be determined through the death of one — or even both — roosters.

After we had filled our bellies with Philippine comfort food and coffee sweetened with glorious, fresh brown sugar, we continued our climb.

Our legs and joints cursed us. A light rain started to fall. Finally, we reached the summit.

Back at the Greenview Lodge in Banaue, we enjoyed bowls of noodle soup and reminisced about the eventful ride and hike.

We’re so glad we endured rough roads from Manila to get there!

Planning Pointers:

  • There are many rice terraces in the Cordillera Mountains, but only five are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Batad, Bangaan, Mayoyao, Hungduan, and Nagacadan. We explored Batad’s rice terraces.
  • We took an overnight bus from Manila to Banaue and stayed at the Greenview Lodge in Banaue for a total of two nights.
  • From Banaue we took a jeepney to the Batad Saddle. Our small group then hired a local guide and hiked into Batad. After our hike and lunch in Batad, we returned to Banaue, stayed one night, and returned to Manila by overnight bus the next day.

Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

26 thoughts on “Stairway to Heaven: Hiking Through the Batad Rice Terraces in the Philippines

  1. Thank you for sharing your sojourn to northern Philippines. I only got as far as Baguio City in my younger days growing up in PHI. The terraces are incredible, as your photos clearly show. Nicely done!!!

    1. We had hoped to make it to Baguio City (among many other spots in the islands) but 14 days was just too short! Here’s hoping you’ll make it to the terraces someday soon. And, a pleasure to meet you – thanks for dropping in!

  2. I love the rice terraces, they are an ingenious use of such a hilly, steep environment. Great photos as usual.

    1. Hi again, Jane — they are quite magnificent but reputed to be possibly at risk since many of the young men in the area are said to be flocking to the larger cities – leaving the terraces potentially less attended-to in the future. We saw that there are opportunities to volunteer and help reinforce them – something we would’ve loved to have done had our time there not been so limited.

      1. Hi Tricia, I am very happy to hear from your feedback, I am Marcenio Himmoldang who is from Banaue, Ifugao where you have visited, at present I am aspiring in a legislative body in our Municipality of Banaue this coming 2013 election looking forward to luck to work on the Restoration of this Rice Terraces because I heard many the same suggestions from tourist like you, I will organize a Foundation to work on this to make this farm a leisure farm, a park where tourist will experience the green architectural landscape and hospitable community. it is a long story about this project so I have created a chartered website for a project proposal to be posted. . but as of now I am still gathering informations and to complete the project proposal to be sent to generous institutions. If you know something about this and if you have time PLease help me achieve this project. Once again thank you very much for your compliments.

        God Bless you and your family

  3. Just wonderful ..
    Great moments of life .. so colorful beautiful amazing
    what an experience ..
    Hats off to your fun and flair ..

    1. What a great comment, Subhash! Thank you so very much. We are very fortunate to explore a world deserving of all those adjectives and on a side note, we’re now in another colorful, beautiful and amazing place — India! All the best…

    1. Hi Jessie, and thank you! I’ve now been able to share two of my three favorite adventures from the Philippines (meeting the tarsiers and trekking the rice terraces). Alas, since my camera isn’t fond of water, I don’t have any images from my third — snorkeling off of Balicasag Island. The Philippine islands have such extraordinary natural beauty – what are your favorites spots?

  4. Fantastic pictures Tricia. Thank you for sharing your experience. It’s a real ambition of mine to visit the east. Such a rich source for photographers.


    1. Thank you, Mark – I’m happy you enjoyed reading about our Batad experience! You’re absolutely right that Asia offers amazing photo opportunities. I think I snapped more than 20,000 and I’m still swimming through them. :)

    1. Thanks for your kind words about this set of images, Stunninglyschoonhead. We didn’t get a chance to visit Baguio, but we certainly enjoyed our time in Bohol and trekking these rice terraces. Wish you safe travels and happy hiking!

    1. Zoe, that furry fellow indeed had character! I’m not certain if he belonged to anyone, but, if he wasn’t someone’s actual pet, I think he’d latched on to the locals in this community, and was taken care of, maybe in a collective fashion.

      As I’m sure you’ve seen in your travels, there are so many cats and dogs in the world looking for homes. It can pull at one’s heartstrings for sure, particularly when you feel you can’t do something to help. In Ukraine, last fall, we became foster parents to a little kitten tossed in the garbage, taking him by bus & train, all the way back to Germany. He’s now living the dream in Switzerland. :)

      Thanks for your comment, Zoe, and happy travels, and sketching!

      1. Oh wow! What a lovely story, I can completely imagine that :D I found a little black kitten in the Mekong Delta when I visited with my boyfriend for Tet (his family is from there), and I wanted to keep it…but I move all the time, and it would probably be more cruel than anything if I brought it back to my HCMC room and out of it’s wild, free, rice paddy context. I hope to meet it (I called it Jess) again next year!
        Happy travels to you too :)

      2. How nice that you have ties to the Mekong Delta, and are able to regularly visit. What are some of the parts of Vietnam that you most enjoy visiting?

        I hope your paths will cross with Jess again soon. I imagine the little kitten won’t be so tiny anymore, Zoe! One of these days, we’re also planning on reuniting with our foster kitten, Cocoa. We hear he’s grown into quite a lovable, healthy cat.

      3. I really hope Jess is alive and well Tricia, we shall see :) Wow, how will you meet wit Cocoa again? In terms of my favourite places in Vietnam, I can only really comment on the south. I came to Saigon with $600 and decided to focus on saving a bit of money and establishing myself more as a freelancer before moving around. But I can definitely recommend the Mekong as one of the most unassumingly peaceful places I have ever been to. Go to Can Tho, but don’t use a guided tour – just go there and make it up. I went to Tra Vinh which is practically off the tourist radar but does have some hotels catering to visitors, and is a really incredible little town to visit for a real taste of Mekong life. Also Phu Quoc is pretty darn spectacular! I would recommend taking the ferry rather than flying, it’s quite an experience.

      4. Zoe, I apologize for my slow reply. I also hope that Jess will be alive and well when you next visit his area; if not, perhaps you can take care of another kitten in his memory? As for Cocoa, our former foster kitten, we traveled overland with him for about 1,000 km. through 4 countries, by train, bus, and tram, and eventually one of my blog readers in Switzerland adopted him. He’s now living with that lovely family and thriving. Since we’re in touch, we’re looking forward to seeing him again. Here’s more on our story together, if you’re curious. This is the 2nd of 2 posts about Cocoa, and is his ‘photo’ shoot:

        Thanks so much for your recommendations about visiting some special places in Vietnam that aren’t so well-known. It’s been 3 years since we’ve been back, and I do hope we’ll get the chance to return soon.

  5. No worries Tricia! Im glad Cocoa is ok, and yes hopefully I will see Jess again one day. I suppose the reality is that many animals here in Vietnam don’t live very long. Thanks for the link! Will definitely have a read :)

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