A true off-the-beaten-path experience awaits the traveler in the Cordillera mountain region of Northern Luzon. Batad is a village near Banaue, a major town in the Ifugao province. For millennia, the indigenous Ifugao people here have carved giant steps into the mountainsides as a form of sustainable agriculture to produce rice. These rice paddies ’in the sky’ have made this area into a veritable feast for the eyes, with entire mountain ranges transformed into ‘stairways to heaven’ as they have often been described. It is no wonder that this man-made, yet natural-looking phenomenon has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There are several rice terrace clusters in the region and the Banaue-Batad cluster is one of the more accessible ones. Near the town center is Banaue’s major hotel perched on a hill with a view of the terraces that is the most universally recognized; it’s the view on the postcards and on the back of the Philippine thousand-peso bill. Several hostel-type lodgings are also available within the town center. For more serene surroundings and a sense of the traditional mountain village lifestyle, travelers opt for the Batad experience.
One can ride jeepneys-for-hire for a winding 45-minute drive from the Banaue town center to the Banga-an junction, the starting point for the trek to Batad. Be prepared for the uphill climb along a somewhat steep ridge; this first section may take anywhere from a half-hour to 45 minutes depending on what kind of shape you’re in. At the top of the ridge is a rest area and as you catch your breath, you spy the rest of the trail snaking around the mountainside towards the valley below. Relief, it’s all downhill from here! Another 40 minutes or so, again depending on your pace, and you arrive in Batad. Immediately, the breathtaking scenery grabs you.
At about 4,000 feet above sea level, the perfectly layered terraces here are carved directly from the solid rock and earth of the mountainsides surrounding the bowl-shaped valley, giving the Batad paddies the moniker, ‘Amphitheater Terraces’. The 360-degree panorama is simply majestic. Batad is surrounded on all sides by lush green mountains; the eye follows the stepped rice paddies down to the center of the valley where a small hamlet of traditional Ifugao huts is located.
Further on beyond the terrace lines is a gorge that leads to a rushing river. From Batad, it is about an hour’s hike through narrow edges of the terraces, down the steep incline to the riverbank and to the awesome Tapiya Waterfalls. If you make this somewhat strenuous trek, you will be more than ready to jump in for an invigorating swim and be in misty-waterfall-heaven here.
For the really adventurous, there are treks to other (even more remote) villages in proximity to Batad like Cambulo and Pula. These would extend the trip to at least an overnight stay in Batad. But beware; people who had initially planned a day-trip or overnighter have ended up extending their stay.
There are a few home stay type inns at Batad. Always choose the room with the view. You will marvel at the splendor of the mountain panorama outside your window and start to experience that feeling you never get living in the city – the feeling of timelessness.