The star attraction in Banaue is undoubtedly the stunning rice terraces that surround the town. These are up to 3,000-years-old according to experts and sometimes referred to as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they were originally created by the local Ifugao tribe but are still very much in use today.
Irrigated by a series of mountain streams formed into irrigation canals, the creation of the Banau rice terraces was a gargantuan feat of engineering. The supposedly ‘primitive’ tribe covered the every inch of the deep valley for miles around, ensuring the prosperity of the local population for thousands of years. A great icon of the Philippines, these ‘stairways to heaven’ would stretch out 20,000kms if laid out end to end.
Unfortunately many of the terraces are falling into disrepair, and tourism is once again at the nub of the matter. Local people find it much easier (and profitable) to hawk wooden artefacts or rare orchids to passing visitors than help with farming upkeep. Another problem is the drain of young workers from the region to the big cities such as Manila, with the resulting shortfall in labour meaning the terraces only produce 35 per cent of the area’s rice consumption instead of the 100 per cent potential it possesses.
There are viewpoints set up around the town with the best views gained from elevated positions on the road travelling north to Bontoc (tricycles cost Php200, but agree price beforehand). The further up you go the more spectacular the photo opportunities. Some guesthouses and restaurants also have platforms where meals and drinks can be enjoyed with superb vistas of the undulating landscape.
Museum of Cordilleran Sculpture
This Banaue attraction was founded more than 30 years ago by George and Candida Ida Schenk and is the culmination of their desire to help preserve a fascinating culture that is slowly dying out. Developed from a tiny antique store in Manilla, there are now over 1,000 artefacts in the museum’s collection ranging from large, carved wooden Bululs and erotic sculptures to masks, smaller scale figures, textiles and household objects. (website: www.cordilleranmuseum.weebly.com).
Documenting the life of American anthropologist Hery Otley Beyer, this Banue tourist attraction depicts this early explorer’s research into the Ifugao tribe of this part of the Cordilleras. There are fascinating documents and accounts of his experiences here.