The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras are among one of the most remarkable landscapes in the region—and in the world in fact. So unique are these rice terraces that in 1995 UNESCO recognized the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras as a World Heritage Site for its outstanding cultural landscape that can be traced as far back as two millennia ago in the pre-colonial Philippines.
The Rice Terraces of Banaue are considered by many to the 8th Wonder of the World. The mountainsides of the area have been carved out to create terraces for rice farming over the last 2,000 years.
People come from all over the world to see the Banaue rice terraces—the most famous in the region—read on for more about their cultural significance and history, their coordinates, and how to visit the best terraces.
The Rice Terraces in the Philippine Cordilleras region was designated a cultural site by UNESCO in 1995—the site represents over 2,000 years of ancient and cultural living landscape that illustrates how the Ifugaos in the area has lived in harmony with nature. It also showcases a sustainable agricultural method that has been passed down from generation to generation—the Ifugao have retained cultural traditions that were passed down long before the arrival of the Spanish, Americans, and others. In addition to seeing the vast beauty of the terraces, experiencing the Ifugao culture is a compelling reason many travelers visit the region—they have retained many of their animist traditions and sacrificial harvest rituals.
There are five sites included within this World Heritage Site property:
- Batad Rice Terraces Bangaan
- Rice Terraces in Banaue
- Mayoyao Rice Terraces in Mayoyao
- Hungduan Rice Terraces in Hungduan
- Nagacadan Rice Terraces in Kiangan.
All of these rice terraces sites are located in the Ifugao province of the Philippine Cordillera Region.
Contemporary analysis points to a more recent history for the terraces—perhaps as young as 500 years ago—which while changing the history, does not change the impact when you visit this incredible site. Additional information from the UNESCO World Heritage inscription:
The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras is an outstanding example of an evolved, living cultural landscape that can be traced as far back as two millennia ago in the pre-colonial Philippines. The terraces are located in the remote areas of the Philippine Cordillera mountain range on the northern island of Luzon, Philippine archipelago. While the historic terraces cover an extensive area, the inscribed property consists of five clusters of the most intact and impressive terraces, located in four municipalities. They are all the product of the Ifugao ethnic group, a minority community that has occupied these mountains for thousands of years.
The rice terraces in the Ifugao region of the Philippines play a vital role in its cultural formation. Hence, they are considered national cultural treasures. The terraces play a central role in the locals’ survival primarily because this is their main source of food. However, the season system of planting is also intermingled with some religious rituals. The act of planting and harvesting is an activity shared by the entire community.
Due to modernization and children abandoning the tradition to move to urban centers, the site has been placed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger. More than 25 percent of the terraces have been abandoned and continue to deteriorate. Today, its value is primarily on tourism and its contribution as a source of rice has been exceeded by that.
Features of the Rice Terraces
The rice terraces in the Philippine Cordillera follow the natural contours of the mountains in the region. The original terrace builders used mud and stone walls in order to construct these rice terraces. These walls serve to hold the pond fields in which the rice is cultivated.
Aside from the construction of the pond fields themselves for planting the rice, the Ifugao natives also developed an irrigation system that would supply water to these plots of rice. The water used for irrigation is sourced from the mountaintop forests. It’s an engineering feat of farming that was way ahead of its time.
Planning Your Trip to Philippine Cordilleras Rice Terraces
When to Visit
- Summer: When planning to visit to the rice terraces, June is your best bet since this coincides with the harvesting season and the landscape is golden.
- Spring: But tor the lush green landscape you’ve seen in photos, you’ll need to visit spring and early summer—but hiking in the rice terraces is trickier during this wetter part of the year.
- Winter: Planning a winter trip? That’s a gorgeous time to visit as well. From December onwards the terraces are filled with water and in the right light will reflect the sky and surrounding countryside all around you.
- Late Summer and Fall: The harvest season has ended and it’s rainier this time of year—there’s still a lot to see but there is less activity in the terraces themselves as locals prepare their harvest for transport and sale.
How to Get to Rice Terraces
Many travelers choose to book a three to five day tour from Manila instead of going independently mostly because it’s a pretty rough journey if you’re going it on your own. You’ll have to arrive very early to secure your bus ticket, then it’s a winding and long bus ride to Banaue. Getting to Batad will also take additional transport and guides. These three tours are great options for those inclined to have a guide along to arrange transport and share the cultural history, and below are transport options outlining how to get to the main rice terraces in this region of the Philippines.
- Banaue & Batad UNESCO 3days 2 nights Tour
- Small-Group Weekend Hiking Tour to Banaue-Ifugao from Manila
- Banaue Batad Day Tour
- 9-Day Northern Philippines Tour
Getting to Banaue Rice Terraces: For those traveling through the Philippines, the Banaue Rice Terraces are the most famous of the rice terrace sites—although these in particular are not part of the UNESCO property listing—they are the easiest to visit. The Banaue terraces are located 348 kilometers from Manila. The daily buses from Manila to Banaue is a long drive that takes between eight to 10 hours.
Getting to Batad Rice Terraces: Your trip is going to take you to Banaue first since it is the biggest hub in the region (although still tiny), which is fine, but for those with time and inclination, head to the more pristine and a bit more remote Batad Rice Terraces. You’ll need to take a tricycle, motorbike, or private/public jeepney from Banaue and there is a paved road for much of the journey from Banaue, but it stops well short of the terraces. Your best bet is a motorbike or jeepney to the Saddle. Then you’ll have to off-road hike for three hours with a strong sense of adventure to visit this more remote and better preserved set of terraces. Once there, it’s easy to book a place to stay at the local tourism office, or online ahead of time. Pack super light if you’re undertaking this trek, and leave any big and heavy bags in Banaue.
Manila Bus Stations: You’ll like want to use either Ohayami Bus Station or GV Florida Station for long-distance transportation. These buses cost about $10, give or take depending on current exchange rates, and leave in the evening from Ohayami (9pm and 10pm). Arrive well early to book a seat, and once you arrive you should book your bus ticket back to Manila while you’re there. Bus rides in Asia can be brutal, and this one is no exception—pack a sweater and motion sickness tablets (and sick bags if you’re really prone to it).
Where to Stay in Banaue
High-end in these parts is still less than $50 a night, so manage your expectations of the “splurge,” and note that budget accommodation is just that: very budget. Everything recommended though is still clean and well put together, and the homestays are a great way to more deeply connect to the local culture.
Essential Reads About the Philippines
- Culture Shock! Philippines: Even more than a guidebook, the Culture Shock! series to destinations around the world is a book you should absolutely read before your trip if you hope to get the most out of your time—it gives details on etiquette, cultural nuances you might miss, and so much more.
- Lonely Planet Philippines: Of the mainstream guidebooks, this one is best for independent travelers navigating the region.
- The Philippines: 100 Travel Tips: Think of this as your best friend or family member sharing with you essential tips they learned from their past travels in the region.
- Somewhere in the Middle: A journey to the Philippines in search of roots, belonging, and identity: A former Peace Corps volunteer shares a compelling account of her time in the country.
View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines.
View my complete list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.