all the colours of the Philippines, designed your way
Tropical Experience Travel Services - Tours of the Philippines
Our website featured some tour samples chosen from among the frequently requested and most favourite Philippine destinations. We had to select a limited number of samples and the task of choosing wasn’t that easy. Indeed, there are many things that these 7,107 islands have to offer that can match with the different tastes and desires of those who would like to explore them.
In this post, you can find what we may call an “alternative” trip that is ideal for active people who’d care to experience local traditions, cultures and landscapes. Plus, among other things, it allows to discover 5 UNESCO Heritage Sites in one tour.
A view on the incredible Rice Terraces of Batad (Banaue-Philippines). Photo: Tropical Experience.
Starting with Manila, the vibrant and chaotic capital of the Philippines, you already have the chance to visit the main attractions of its “historical center”, the colonial Spanish citadel of Intramuros. Apart from the many intersting sites, you can find within the walls the first of the 4 UNESCO Heritage Filipino baroque churches: the San Agustin Church.
The northwards road trip then starts from Manila, entering the countryside of Luzon Region, the biggest island of the Philippines, nonetheless the 15th biggest and 4th most populated island of the world. The road passes through several provinces, particularly Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya. Their names reveal their Spanish origin: Ecija is the name of a town nearby Sevilla (Spain), while Vizcaya comes from the name of Biscay district in the north of Spain. The roadtrip allows you to begin to witness the Filipino countryside – admiring a very flat valley with the bright colour of infinite rice fields, decorated by huge mountains in the background. The rural landscape that you see from the car windows is sometimes interrupted by small agricultural towns developed on by the main road.
Evening in Nueva Vizcaya, with big strange mountains on the background. Photo: Tropical Experience.
You then reach higher altitudes and hairpin bends take you to Ifugao province, around which mountains and valleys you find the marvelous Banaue Rice Terraces, ideally explored doing trekking. We talked about this world-reknowned UNESCO Heritage many times (like this post here), just know that visiting them allows you to see an ancient and spectacular agricultural landscape at 1500 meters height, which construction started more than 2000 years ago. It is one of the most interesting and unique places of the country and surely one of the most unusual of the world. The isolated location of these areas surely helped them in preserving their pre-colonial traditions, one of which is the typical Ifugao house, locally known as “fale”.
An Ifugao house and a rice-pounding tool . Source: Tropical Experience Travel Services.
Moving on towards the north-west, you pass by the town of Bontoc. Bontoc is the capital of Mountain Province and is also the historical capital of the entire Cordillera region is famous for the (past!) presence of the feared Bontoc headhunters. After Bontoc, you then reach another significant stepe of the trip: Sagada. Sagada is a small town of 20,000 inhabitants with clear American resemblances. It stretches on a main road full of little family guesthouses: it is a very loved destination for local tourism thanks to its fresh climate, but it is also internationally famous for the funerary tradition of the “hanging coffins” in the Echo Valley. This narrow and long valley is dotted with small caves and niches where traditionally the coffins of loved ones are put, instead of burying them. And about funeral traditions, let’s not forget to have a stop to see the “fire mummies” of Kabayan in the near Benguet Province, preserved for more than 3 millenniums.
Sunrise in Sagada. Photo: Tropical Experience.
The visit of Luzon Region is not all about mountains: if you go more west, you are going to meet the western coastline of the region, specifically of the two Ilocos provinces (Ilocos Sur and Ilcoos Norte), overlooking the South China Sea. These two beautiful and quiet provinces conserve colonial times traditions in a fascinating way, made of a fusion of different styles: Spanish, Local Filipino and Chinese ones (indeed, these areas were an important crossroad of the sea commerce with China).
One first Ilokano gem waiting to be discovered is the UNESCO Heritage city of Vigan: colonial-style buildings are still intact and will let you soak yourself in a historically fascinating atmosphere. Around museums and old houses, you can spend one day in the past, like being stuck in time, ending the day strolling in the charming Calle Crisologo, visiting antique shops and crafty restaurants. The cuisine of Ilocos is one of the most refined of the country, even though one of the most famous local food treat here is Vigan empanadas, a street food of Spanish origins adapted to local taste and ingredients.
Another city worth a visit is Laoag, the capital of Ilocos Norte. Here you are in the birth place of Marcos, the dictator that governed country at the turn of the 70s and 80s. The summer house where he was used to spend time with his family (and his famous wife Imelda) is called Malacañang of the North: located by the tranquil Paoay Lake, the house is today an interesting museum and a nice example of Filipino-style architecture. Still near Laoag, you can experience the local sand dunes for an experience filled with adrenalin hoping on a 4×4 vehicle.
The cultural experiences did not finish yet: near Laoag and Vigan you find another 2 of the 4 UNESCO Filipino baroque churches. Santa Maria Church (Ilocos Sur) and Paoay Church (Ilocos Norte). Looking at them you can admire the creative architectural inventions that allowed to adapt the colonial style to the local environment, which modified shapes and materials.
After all these transfers and travelling, the best thing is to dedicated some time to relax. Best way to do so is going to one of the splendid wild beaches of the extreme north of the country. In the picture below, you can admire Saud Beach, in Pagudpud (Ilocos Norte), a pearl of peace and communion with nature.
Let’s do a recap of the main destinations/highlights of the trip:
The colonial citadel of Intramuros, in Manila
The rice terraces of Banaue and surrounding villages
The hanging coffins of Sagada
The mummies of Kabayan
The colonial-style city of Vigan
The baroque churches of the Philippines (San Agustin in Manila, Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur, Paoay in Ilocos Norte)
Laoag city, with the nearby sand dunes and the summer palace of Marcos
Pagudpud, Saud Beach and beaches of Ilocos Norte
Let’s now check on the practical aspects and how to see all these things.
Best time to go: the north of the Philippines is best visited during the months between November and June, where you can find a more favourable climate with less rain. Anyway, the trip can be organized all over the year.
How many days: the trip is intense and packed, so in order to visit all the listed destinations, you would need at least 8 full days. The trip can also be extended to 11-13 days, slowing the pace or adding further destinations. In any case, you can also have fewer days if you choose fewer destinations.
Means of transportation: this trip, if made entirely, will necessarily need road transfer starting from Manila. If you choose to concentrate your trip in Ilocos only, then you can also have flight+land transfers. The ideal way is to have a charterred van with a dedicated driver to take you around. Other means of transportation could be needed depending on the destinations, like Jeeps (going around the mountains and transfers to jump-off points) or tricycles. In Vigan, you can also ride a kalesa (cart pulled by a horse).
Overnight: out of the cities, the offer of hotels is surely simple and a bit “sporty”. It is anyway possible to find cozy and clean hotels with all the basic comforts. In Banaue, you could experience sleeping in a real Ifugao house.
How: we (Tropical Experience Travel Services) are located in the Philippines and can organize this trip.
Contacts: you can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Viber or Whatsapp at the number +63 9998019918
(written on May 2016)