Embark on a three-day trek through rice fields, forests and villages, staying in local Ifugao communities along the way.. Just 25 years old, the lake-filled crater of Mt Pinatubo is a fresh wonder to explore – trek to the summit and camp right next to pristine emerald waters in the heart of the volcano.. Take an evening adventure to the Iwahig River where you’ll see swarms of fireflies dancing at dusk. The natural beauty of the Philippines continues to shine, whatever time of day.. Enjoy a full day of island hopping and snorkelling off the coast of El Nido. Look to the bottom of these clear waters, and glide among the coral and tropical fish.
Discover spectacular mountains, picturesque rice terraces, stunning beaches and vibrant cities on a 19-day exploration through the heart of the Philippines. See the fusion of the past and present in Manila, admire the world’s oldest rice terraces in Banaue, be intrigued by the curious Hanging Coffins in Echo Valley and relax on the beach in sunny El Nido. Snorkel in the sapphire waters of the South China Sea, discover the limestone caves of Sabang and see fireflies dancing at dusk at the Iwahig River. With plenty of free time to travel your own way, this is an island getaway abounding with natural beauty, stunning landscapes and welcoming local communities – you really are getting a true taste of what the fascinating Philippines can offer.
Mabuhay! Welcome to Manila. An intriguing, bustling and overwhelmingly chaotic city, Manila is the worthy capital of the Philippines. With contradictions and surprises around every corner, Manila is packed full of things to see, do, taste and experience. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm tonight – check with hotel reception for more information and have your insurance details and next of kin information ready for collection. If you can't arrange a flight that will arrive in time, you may wish to arrive a day early. We'll happily book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. If you arrive early, why not spend time discovering what the sprawling city has to offer. A unique mixture of the modern and historic, Manila has both sights like the walled city of Intramuros, built by the Spaniards in the 16th Century, and the Mall of Asia, a shopping centre that spreads for nearly a kilometre in length. A unique way to get around Manila and the Philippines is by jeepney, colourfully and flamboyantly decorated vehicles originally made from jeeps left by American troops after the war.
It's an early start today as you leave Manila by private van and travel to Banaue, settling in for a 9-10 hour drive – get out your book, get to know your fellow travellers, listen to your new favourite album, or watch out the window for your first taste of the Philippines outside of the metropolis. The isolated and quaint town of Banaue features markets and a local museum, but the main drawcard of the area is the rice terraces. Referred to by some as an ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’, the stunning Banaue rice terraces were constructed over 2,000 years ago by the native Ifugao people. Still in use today, these remarkable rice terraces stretch like stepping stones towards the sky, some reaching an altitude of 1,500 metres (4,920 feet). The best way to view the terraces is from the nearby viewpoint, where the lush green steps unfold below and sunlight reflects off the surface of the pools. You’ll get more time on Day 6 to really appreciate this wonderful view.
Notes: Tonight you’ll stay in a simple hotel with twin share rooms, with private bathrooms with hot and cold water showers.
Cambulo / Trekking
Leave you main luggage in Banaue and pack a daypack with your necessities for the next few days, then drive 40 minutes to the start of the trek. Over the next 3 days and 2 nights, you’ll hike through rice fields, forest and villages, staying overnight in local Ifugao villages where people farm rice the way their ancestors did 2,000 years ago. On this first day of the trek, you’ll walk for approximately 4 hours on a mixture of up and down, but mostly flat terrain. Start from Kinakin and we take a short drive up a paved road to get to our start of the trail. The next 3 hours will be on a rather flat path, and the last hour includes steps down to the guesthouse in Cambulo. There will be plenty of stops along the way, including for lunch, so keep your camera handy for those scenic photos – the rice terraces here are characterised by their pyramid-like appearance, cut almost 360 degrees around the mountains. When you finish today’s hike, you can take a refreshing swim in the river 2 minutes walk from the guesthouse – a welcome relief from a physically demanding day! You’ll spend the night in isolated Cambulo Village – the guesthouse has multi shared rooms, shared bathroom with Asian style toilets. Cold water is expected with scoop showers.
Notes: The rice terraces in this region are very steep, which means at times you’ll be trekking on very narrow paths with steep drops on either side. A very good level of balance is required for this trekking. Your leader can assist you, providing a walking stick to help you keep balance over these sections. Accommodation is in basic village guesthouses with shared facilities and cold water for bathing. Bedding will be provided, but you may like to bring your own sleeping sheet and a warm layer for cool nights (especially during January and February). Meals are provided at the guesthouses – simple dishes like stewed vegetables for dinner, and omelette or pancakes for breakfast. Basic hot drinks are also available.
Batad / Trekking
With the sound of animals as your alarm clock, wake up to a fuelling breakfast, and then begin the second day of your walk. Walk a total of approximately 3 hours to Batad Village, where you’ll spend the night. Today involves some serious walking and can be especially challenging for those with limited experience in hiking. The trail is a combination of up and downhill, and there are sections where you’ll walk on the edge of steep rice terraces, balancing on narrow edges of concrete or natural stone. Sticks are used for balance – plant them in the rice terraces to help your progress – and the local guides will assist you if you need. The incredible views are more than worth it though, and you can also use the time to learn about the customs and culture of the local Ifugao people from your guide. This afternoon you’ll have some free time to relax, read a book, or enjoy a massage from one of the locals. Soak up the views of Batad's famous rice terraces, which line the entire valley like an amphitheatre, and can come in and out of the clouds like a mirage.
Notes: In Batad your guesthouse has twin and triple share rooms, shared bathrooms and Asian style toilets. Showers are usually cold water only, but you can request a bucket of hot water for a small fee.
You’ll start the third day of the trek with a short final walk of approximately 30 minutes up to Sadel. Then you’ll probably be happy to not use your legs for a bit as you’re transported back to Banaue by road (approximately 1 hour). Here you’ll be reunited with your main luggage back at the guesthouse. Enjoy plenty of time to freshen up, then later in the afternoon head out to the Hiwang Village. Here you’ll find wonderful views overlooking the rice terraces, Banaue town, and the Cordillera Mountains. Your leg muscles haven’t done all their work quite yet – you’ll also wander around traditional Ifugao houses that have been converted into mini museums. Here you can discover the traditional culture of the local people, including a multitude of wooden carved rice gods and decorative skulls. Later tonight at the guesthouse, you may want to enjoy a celebratory drink while watching the sun set over the rice terraces for the last time.
Notes: In Banaue you’ll stay in a simple hotel in twin share rooms with private bathrooms, with showers of hot and cold water.
Leave the rice terraces behind and travel into scenic alpine mountains by jeepney. There’ll be plenty of time to stop off at the many viewpoints along the way and capture those priceless photos of the rice terraces below. Along the way you’ll also pause at Bontoc, the capital of the Mountain Province (2 hours from Banaue). Here there'll be time for some lunch and a visit to the Bontoc Museum. This wonderful museum, laid out in the style of a traditional Ifuago house, is packed with captivating memories from the past of each of the region’s main tribes. There are turn-of the-century photographs of headhunters with their loot, hunting implements, baskets for carrying severed heads, traditional costumes, farming tools, musical instruments, jewellery, and more. From Bontoc, continue to today’s destination of Sagada (approximately 30-45 minutes). There will be fresh mountain air and stunning views everywhere you look.
Notes: Tonight’s accommodation is in twin share rooms with private bathrooms, with showers of hot and cold water.
Today you’ll get trekking again with a 3-hour walk to the Hanging Coffins in Echo Valley. Pass by the town cemetery, the American Anglican St. Mary’s Cathedral built by missionaries, then continue into Echo Valley. Trek down the side of some cliffs, maybe testing out the valley’s name, before reaching an unusual burial site. Dangling high up on the limestone cliffs, the coffins are both mystifying and eerie in their presence. The Igorot practice of attaching the coffins to the mountain comes from a belief that underground burials isolate a person from the natural world and the gods. Continue on your trek, crossing an ankle deep stream, and pass by a coffee plantation and a small waterfall. The trek then ends at the Sagada weaving factory, a local pioneer in the industry having been making products since 1968. If you’d like to delve deeper into the local burial practices, this afternoon you can take local transport to a valley view point across to the Sugong Hanging Coffins, visit Lumiang Burial caves to see stacks of carved coffins, and also see the Klitepan and Kapay-aw rice terraces.
Notes: Today’s trek is quite adventurous and a good level of fitness is required. Shoes with a good grip are a must on this trek as the trail is steep and often slippery, with loose gravel at times.
Hop on a private mini bus heading towards Baguio City. This journey takes approximately 7 hours through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Philippines. Travelling through the Cordillera Central, the highest and largest mountain range in the Philippines, pass peaks of incredible heights (and drops), dotted all-over with small villages and terrace-upon-terrace of rice and other crops. This is one journey you don't want to sleep through. Baguio City was established by American troops in 1900 and has become a popular destination for both travellers and local tourists seeking a retreat from the heat of the lowlands. It's now a bustling urban centre offering town comforts high in the Cordillera Mountains. When you arrive you’ll take a leisurely afternoon walk to explore the city, visiting Burnham Park, which features a lovely lake, lawns, wooded areas, and also stop by a local market and the town's most popular shopping mall.
Notes: Tonight’s accommodation is in twin share rooms with private bathrooms, with showers of hot and cold water.
An early start by private mini bus (it can get cold on the bus so pack a light warm layer) takes you to the small town of Capas (approximately 5 hours). Here you’ll meet your guides and prepare for the trek to stunning Mt Pinatubo, which erupted as recently as 1991. By the time the explosions had finished, the top of the mountain was gone, replaced by a large lake-filled crater. Jump in a 4x4 and travel along a bumpy, dusty road (bring a scarf and sunglasses to protect your eyes) for around an hour before disembarking and starting your trek. You’ll hike for around 2.5 hours to reach the crater. On the way you may meet some of the indigenous people of the area, the Aetas, who have lived on the slopes of the volcano for several centuries, surviving as hunter-gatherers in the dense jungles. Nowadays, they live in more modern settlements and some of them work as guides on the volcano. Arrive at Lake Pinatubo, a stunning vista of pristine emerald green water in the heart of the volcano; relax and take photos of this magnificent sight. Tonight your unique accommodation is in tents by the crater lake.
Notes: Your main luggage will be stored at a guesthouse close to the base of the mountain, so you'll only take a small daypack for overnight necessities. Please make sure everything is waterproofed as it can rain heavily at times. The terrain is uneven so bring supportive shoes with good grip. Sleeping bags will be provided, but it can be cold at night here so bring warm clothing as well. Please refer to the “Important Notes” section for further information about the camping on this trip.
Wake up in unique surroundings, soak up the views across the lake, then trek around 2.5 hours back from the campsite down the mountain. Get back in the 4x4 for an hour, and then transfer to a private bus to swap mountains of rock for mountains of buildings as you return to Manila (approximately 3 hours). Depending on traffic you’ll arrive in the city in the late afternoon, around 5-6pm. Reacquaint yourself with the hustle and bustle of city life after all that time spent out in isolated communities, and then tonight perhaps gather together your fellow adventurers for an optional dinner in downtown Manila.
Today is a free day for you head and experience this lively city however you’d like. Remember to take a hotel business card with you to help you get back to your hotel! You might like to check out Binondo – Manila’s Chinatown, and one of the oldest in the world, or take a stroll along Roxas Boulevard in downtown Manila, full of shops, street vendors and coconut trees. If you’re feeling like releasing your inner child, why not head to Star City – a waterfront theme park with a heap of rides and attractions. Keep in mind that tonight there is another group meeting scheduled at 6 pm, where you’ll be briefed on the next stage of your Philippines adventure. Here, you may also meet some new travel pals joining you! Afterwards, why not get acquainted with your updated travel group with a meal at a local restaurant. Your leader will know of some popular spots, but if all else fails, head down to Dampa Seaside, where the day’s freshly caught seafood gets cooked up in myriad ways at a variety of harbourside stalls and restaurants.
In the morning, take the short flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa (approximately 1.5 hours). On arrival, you'll instantly see the slower pace of this island compared to the busy capital. Puerto, as the locals call it, is the capital of Palawan and has been internationally recognised as the cleanest and greenest of all cities in the Philippines. You’ll likely arrive after lunch, and if your group has time, head to the Palawan Heritage Museum, the Palaweno Brewery for a drink and the Baywalk for a stroll. Later on, travel for around 45 minutes out of Puerto Princesa to the Iwahig River, where you'll see fireflies glowing among the mangroves by the river. It's a truly magical experience and the perfect way to spend an evening.