The Ifugao Province is blessed with a culturally rich landscape, boasting five clusters of rice terraces inscribed under the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1995 as Living Cultural Landscapes. These include the Batad and Baangaan Terraces in Banaue, the Mayoyao Rice Terraces, the Hungduan Rice Terraces, and the Nagacadan Rice Terraces in Kiangan. Among these, the Mayoyao Rice Terraces stand out for their exceptional preservation, owing to their remote location, resulting in minimal tourist activity and thus, reduced environmental impact. My long-awaited journey to Mayoyao was made possible thanks to the Tourism Promotions Board, as we joined their Community-Based Tourism workshops in Mayoyao.
The Stone-Walled Marvels of Mayoyao
Our voyage to Mayoyao commenced from Manila in a convoy of vans, traversing the Banaue route and later venturing via Isabela on our return journey to Manila. With several stops for breakfast in Banaue, and later for snacks and sightseeing in Bangaan, the trip stretched over a leisurely 12–13 hours. Situated in the north-central region of Ifugao, it was only natural to pass through other municipalities before arriving at the heart of Mayoyao.
We reached Mayoyao mid-morning, greeted by sunny yet cool weather at an elevation surpassing 1,000 meters above sea level. The Tourism Office, conveniently located in front of the plaza, provided us with a map displaying the key areas of interest in Mayoyao, including the various clusters of terraces such as Bongan, Chumang, Chaya, Magulon, Banhal, and other minor terraces within the municipality. According to our veteran guide, Leandro Elahe, the UNESCO World Heritage designation extends across all these terraces collectively, underscoring the vastness of this cultural treasure. Each UNESCO cluster boasts unique characteristics, with the Mayoyao Rice Terraces elegantly carved along mountain ridges, converging like giant stairways to the heavens, all meticulously crafted utilizing stone walls.
Banhal Village Heritage Trek
On our first afternoon in Mayoyao, we set out to explore the Banhal Rice Terraces, a brief showcase of Ifugao’s agricultural landscape. We were guided to an area where modern tetrahedral houses designed for visiting guests. These contemporary dwellings, distinguished by their galvanized roofs, stood in stark contrast to the traditional cogon grass-thatched huts of old. Yet, stepping inside, we found a world unchanged—a space efficiently organized with storage for rice grains, a fireplace for cooking, and an area designated for rest.
Descending further into the terraces, we encountered the Mayoyao Women’s Organization weaving center, a hub of creativity and tradition. Here, skilled artisans showcased their craft on loom weaving and handicrafts. As we admired their handiwork, we were treated to a taste of local hospitality—a generous serving of sweet potatoes, a humble yet heartwarming snack.
Banhal village offered a brief yet enriching trek. As we bid farewell to this charming village, we looked forward to the adventures that awaited us in the days ahead.
Basking in the Glory of Sunrise
Our group was fortunate to be accommodated at the Mayoyao View Inn, nestled within the town proper near the plaza, offering easy access to the central rice terraces of Mayoyao. Eager to explore further, I embarked on a solo expedition the following day, seeking out a perfect vantage point to witness the sunrise. Guided by curiosity, I navigated through a series of stairs near the inn, meandering down the road and into the terraces, eventually ascending to higher levels at Bongan.
Though reminiscent of an early morning workout, the effort was rewarded as I stumbled upon a native house with a captivating panorama of the valley and the sunrise unfolding before me. The amiable couple residing there graciously allowed me to capture the breathtaking scene, a moment of serendipity that would later prove to be a highlight of our trek.
A Terraced Trek Adventure
After a satisfying lunch, our group reconvened for a guided trek led by Leandro, a seasoned local guide renowned for his expertise in Mayoyao. Setting off from Bongan, our starting point, we followed a narrow stair path near the Police Station, where the first UNESCO marker welcomed visitors to venture on the trail.
Navigating the familiar pathways, albeit potentially perplexing to newcomers, we made our first stop at the Sembuco residence, where traditional rice pounding and processing techniques were demonstrated, offering us a glimpse into the age-old practices of terrace farming.
Exploring Mayoyao Proper
Our trek led us deeper into Mayoyao Proper, descending into the lush valley where traditional tetrahedral or pyramidal houses coexist with modern dwellings. These houses standing on neatly tiled stone platforms, much like the stone-walled terraces, stand as a testament to the Mayoyao people’s craftsmanship, now enhanced with modern tools for refinement.
Passing through fields where both men and women diligently tended to the land. A laborious task used to be done only by women. We paused midway for a well-deserved rest and sampled local delicacies such as tinnudok, a pancake-shaped carioca, and banana cue, replenishing our energy for the journey ahead.
Continuing our descent towards Pfonto’ River, we eventually emerged onto a road near a school in Mayoyao Proper. According to my Strava data, our trek lasted 2 hours and 31 minutes, with an actual moving time of 1 hour and 7 minutes, descending from 1,080 meters above sea level to 820 meters, reaching depths of 797 meters.
Though demanding, the trek proved to be a rewarding exploration of one of the best-preserved rice terraces in the country. Reflecting on our adventure, I couldn’t help but contemplate the possibility of returning to explore the legendary Lumanguig Rock at nearby Balangbang, perhaps providing a compelling reason for a future expedition.
Beneath Celestial Skies
Familiar with the landscape, I embarked confidently on a pre-dawn photoshoot at the terraces on our final day in Mayoyao, hopeful for a glimpse of the galactic core and rare astronomical alignments. Despite the cloudy skies dimming my initial hopes, I persevered, making my way through the sleepy town to my chosen vantage point near the Sembuco residence.
Though the window for capturing the Milky Way narrowed, the night sky still shimmered with countless stars, offering a spectacle of its own. Though not as envisioned, the sunrise painted the sky in a burst of color, casting a mesmerizing reflection upon the majestic landscape, a fitting conclusion to our Mayoyao adventure, and a promise of future returns.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.