Thursday, May 2, 2013

Five Recommended Places to Visit in the Philippine Cordilleras

There is no denying it. The Philippine Cordilleras located in the northern part of the Philippines is one of my favorite travel destinations in my country. With the prospect of there being a Grand Cordillera Trail established, I'm getting more excited about having a teahouse trekking route in the region. The Philippine Cordilleras occupy about a sixth of the landmass of the entirety of Luzon Island, the largest of the 7,000 plus islands of the Philippines. There are so many places and people to see along the winding mountain roads of the Philippine Cordilleras. Here are five which I think are the most recommendable places to visit in the Philippines Cordilleras.

1. Baguio City

Baguio City, Philippines
Baguio City perched on top of mountains and among the clouds

Baguio City, the de facto capital of the Philippine Cordilleras, is a city I have grown to love. Though much of it is being rapidly developed, it is still quite a travel experience being in a city perched on top of mountains and among the clouds with an elevation of 1,600 meters above sea level. It certainly helps that the city's climate is cooler than any other city in the country and that it is home to a number of fantastic restaurants, one of which is the vegetarian restaurant cum art gallery Oh My Gulay. If only for Oh My Gulay, Baguio is worth a visit.

2. The Halsema Highway

Crop Terraces at Natubleng, Buguias, Benguet
Crop terraces viewed from the highest highway in the Philippines, the Halsema Highway

The highest mountain range in the Philippines happens to have one of the most scenic drives in the country. The Halsema Highway begins in La Trinidad, Benguet right outside Baguio City and winds through the gorgeous mountain scenery of the Philippine Cordilleras featuring rice terraces, verdant valleys, deep gorges and dizzying cliffs. The highway even climbs up to 2,200 meters above sea level in a section of the road near Atok in Benguet. Views from up here are stunning. The road passes through the capital of Mountain Province Bontoc before winding down to Tabuk in Kalinga. Many hours later, you suddenly find 800 new photos in your camera.

3. Mount Pulag

Mount Pulag, Philippines
Mount Pulag rewards trekkers with the most spectacular view of its sea of clouds.

Being the highest peak in the Philippine Cordilleras and on Luzon island and the second highest peak (or third, depending on which survey you follow) in the Philippines, Mount Pulag attracts trekkers far and wide. The peak features seemingly barren terrain full of dwarf bamboo and no tall trees or shrubs. Hence, its name: pulag or pulog, which in the local language means kalbo or barren. Mount Pulag's peak is a trekking peak, so no specialized equipment or skill necessary to reach the highest point at 2,900 meters above sea level. I have climbed to the peak of Mount Pulag a rainy first time and a relatively pleasant second time. If you are lucky enough, you get to see what Mount Pulag is famous for—the sea of clouds. It is undeniably breathtaking.

4. Sagada

Photo by Jun Garcia | CC BY-SA
The hanging coffins of the local Ifugao people of Sagada

The small town of Sagada in the Philippine Cordilleras has often been described as Baguio many years ago. I cannot say that for certain as I never saw what they were many years ago. What I can say is that the distinctive customs of the locals of Sagada here such as hanging the coffins of their dead on the side of the cliff are worth coming here. It helps that Sagada is also an outdoorsman's paradise. Here, there's trekking, swimming by the waterfalls, rafting, spelunking and a ton of other stuff to do.

5. Banaue (pronounced bah-nah-weh)

Photo by Sertmann | CC BY-SA
Banaue's signature landscape: a rice stairway to heaven

No other image best represents the Philippine Cordilleras other than the rice terraces which generations of local Ifugao people have constructed here in a bid to temper the land that they have been given. The grand green terraces are indeed a sight to behold that UNESCO noticed and named it a World Heritage Site. Banaue is just the jump-off point. There are many rice terraces here such as Batad and Mayaoyao to last you your whole trip.

There is a reason for which I am writing about the Philippine Cordilleras at this point. By the time this post is published, I will actually be in the Philippine Cordilleras. The first three in the list, I have done. The final two should be easy. I hope.

What are your top five most recommended place to visit in the Philippine Cordillera?

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