Philippines Emerald Terraces of the Cordillera

Philippines Emerald Terraces of the Cordillera

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 15 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


Comprising more than 7000 islands scattered gracefully along the westernmost rim of the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines is a country known for its boundless hospitality, and the friendly smiles of its people. A wealth of possibilities of discovery and adventure await visitors to these islands with their blend of picture postcard beaches, historic sites, natural attractions and the most important asset of all, the Filipino people. Among the many attractions we will embrace the big city excitement of Manila, the breath-taking rice terraces of Banaue, and the atmospheric cobbled streets of Vigan. Added to this we will sample life on the island of Palawan, with the opportunity to marvel at the stunning Underground River, and enjoy the crystal clear waters and beaches of the beautiful neighbouring islands.

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●●○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●●○ | Culture ●●●●○ | History ●●●○○ | Wildlife ●●○○○

Tour Pace


Tour Highlights

  • Drink in the vivid colours of the stunning rice terraces of Banaue
  • Savour the cool temperatures of the Alpine village of Sagada with its ancient burial caves and hanging coffins
  • Marvel at the atmospheric and beautifully preserved colonial city of Vigan
  • Sit back and relax while island hopping through the crystal clear waters around Palawan

Tour Essentials

Accommodation: Mix of Comfortable hotels and lodges
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary
Group Size: Maximum 12
Start Point: Manila
End Point: Manila
Transport: Minibuses, buses, domestic flights, jeepney
Countries: Philippines

Tour Itinerary Notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour.

Day 1 - Manila                                                                     

Arrive in Manila and transfer from the airport to your hotel. Depending on the time of your arrival you will meet your tour leader at the hotel and have dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight at The Bayleaf Hotel or similar. (D)    


Manila is the gateway to the islands of the Philippines and is the historical centre of government and history. Although sprawling and frenetic, the city offers a delightful mix of the old and the new, from ancient Spanish churches to gleaming high-rise structures, quaint street stalls to stylish shopping malls. With the old Spanish heart of Intramuros at its centre, and its many varied sights, round every corner of Manila lies a discovery.

Day 2 - Manila                                      

After breakfast take a tour around Old Manila and admire some of the marvellous Art Deco buildings which are still standing around the city. Lunch will be in a local restaurant from where we will begin a tour of Intramuros, the oldest district and historic core of Manila, aboard a “kalesa”, a horse drawn carriage. We will ride through the streets built by the Spaniard Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, between the city walls which once protected the most important homes, buildings, churches, and hospitals from attacks by the Chinese, Dutch, and Portuguese. The colonial buildings include the baroque church of San Augustin, the oldest in the Philippines, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. We will also drop by Rizal Park where Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, was executed. Overnight at The Bayleaf Hotel or similar. (BL)                                               

Day 3 - Gawad Kalinga “Enchanted Farm”- Pampanga- Abe’s Farm

Today we take a one and a half hour drive north of Manila, to Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm. This is a prototype of a sustainable community dedicated to ending poverty by empowering people to develop useful skills. We spend time discovering how the lives of the residents here have benefited from the enterprise, and have the opportunity to taste some of the organic farming produce when we take lunch. Continue 1 hour via the North Expressway to Bacolor, Pampanga, which is among hundreds of towns and villages devastated by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in June 1993. Tour the village and visit the Basilica, which is now 3/4 buried in lahar (a mixture of rainwater and volcanic ash), and see the remains of houses which were also covered. Mt. Pinatubo's wrath continues to wreak havoc on the lives of the villagers every year as the monsoon rains carry more lahar down from the mountain adding further layers. The townsfolk have adapted to the situation by building houses on stilts several metres high. Our day ends with the chance of an afternoon dip in a warm pool in a garden setting. Overnight at Abe’s Farm. (BLD)

Gawad Kalinga

Gawad Kalinga (GK), which means to "give care" in Filipino, is officially known as the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation, a Philippine based poverty alleviation and nation-building movement. The GK Enchanted Farm is Gawad Kalinga’s platform to raise social entrepreneurs, help local farmers and create wealth in the countryside. The foundation provides homes, and harnesses the country’s abundant resources (land included) with the aim of ending poverty for every Filipino. 

Day 4 – Pampagna- Banaue

We leave the farm behind and drive to Banaue which will take 7-8 hours through the countryside and rice fields of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya. En-route we make a short stop in San Jose City for lunch (payable locally) before continuing to Banaue. Along the way we also visit Dalton Pass, a shrine to the Battle of Balete, before passing by Bagabag where picturesque mountains and rivers unfold. Arrive in Banaue late in the afternoon. Overnight at Banaue Hotel or similar. (B)

Banaue’s rice terraces

The rice terraces were named “Stairways to Heaven” by the Ifugao tribespeople, who fashioned them in the mountainside by hand, some 2000 years ago. They appear on the UNESCO World Heritage list and are among the most spectacular sights in the Philippines.

Day 5 – Batad

Board local jeepneys which will bring you to Saddle, the jumping off point to start your hike to the terraces of Batad. Forming an amphitheatre, these rice terraces are truly stunning. Visit a typical Ifugao village where most people still live a traditional lifestyle. It is interesting to see how the bones of their ancestors are preserved and wrapped in colourful hand woven blankets. Return to Banaue and overnight at Banaue Hotel or similar. (B)

To reach the rice terraces entails hiking up and down paths which are narrow and steep in places, and which do not have any walls or rails. The area around Banaue is very scenic and you may prefer to enjoy the views by jeepney and tricycle. If you have any questions or concerns and would like to discuss them please contact us.

Day 6 – Hapao

Today we take a local jeepney to the Hapao rice terraces, which offer a breath-taking view over stonewalled rice terraces, bisected by the sparkling water of the Hapao River. We will walk across the terraces to see them close up, and visit one of the villages to admire the traditional houses and interact with the local Ifugao people. We will stop at some of the viewpoints and call into a local market on the way back to our accommodation in Banaue. Overnight at Banaue Hotel or similar. (B)

Today will include the opportunity to walk across the rice terraces along the stone walls, which are narrow in places with no support, and you may prefer to view them from the road. If you have any questions or concerns and would like to discuss them please contact us.

Day 7- Sagada (approx. 3 hours driving time)

After breakfast we will visit the excellent Museum of Mountain Culture in Bontoc. It has exhibits from all around the region and a reconstructed Bontoc village in the grounds. There are a number of black and white photographs which offer a fascinating glimpse into the different indigenous cultures of the area, including a rather unsettling photograph of a headhunting victim. We will continue our drive to the Alpine village of Sagada, and in the afternoon we will visit the ancient burial caves and also view the unusual hanging coffins from Echo Valley. We will also visit the fascinating Ganduyan Museum, which houses a private collection of historical artifacts assembled by a mother and son over many years. Overnight at Masferre Country Inn.(B)

Day 8 – Vigan (approx. 5 hours driving time)

After breakfast we begin our drive to Vigan Ilocos Sur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Vigan, earlier known as "Ciudad Fernandina" from 1758 to the late 19th century, is the oldest surviving Spanish colonial city in the country with some of its finest architecture. After a typical Ilocano lunch, at Café Leona located on the ground floor of a traditional Vigan house, we board a calesa (horse drawn cart) for a tour of the Heritage Village of Vigan with its well preserved old stone houses (bahay na Bato) . We visit the Burgos Museum and the beautiful Quema House. In the evening you will have the chance to sample some of the local delicacies including longaniza (sausage), empanada (meat pie) and bagnet (deep fried crispy pork crackling). Overnight at Hotel Felicidad or similar. (BL).


Vigan is the oldest surviving Spanish colonial city in the country. It auspiciously escaped the bombs of World War II, unlike its sister cities, Manila and Cebu. The UNESCO Word Heritage listed city is known for its fine colonial architecture, cobbled narrow streets and old-world atmosphere; a place where "time stood still”. The old stone houses with their spacious interiors showcase hand-crafted period furniture and accessories. The Burgos Museum was the official residence of one of the original martyrs of Babumabyan, Father Jose Burgos, whose martyrdom in 1872 spurred on the revolutionary movement. Quema House was built in the 1820s, as a home for one of the city’s wealthiest merchants, Don Mariano Quema. It has retained its original decoration, furnishings and features, including the volada passageway surrounding the first floor, which allowed the servants to move discreetly around the living areas.

Day 9 – Laoag (approx. 1.5 hours driving time) - Manila

After breakfast we will continue our tour of Vigan before we depart for Laoag, stopping en route to visit Sitio Remedios. This is a village of traditional houses, moved from around the country, and lovingly restored to their original glory in beautiful grounds by the coast. Upon arrival in Laoag we take lunch at Café Herencia to sample Ilocano cuisine before beginning our exploration of the city. We stop at the fortress-like church of St. Augustine in Paoay and move on to Museo Iloko, housed in the old Tabacalera where government-controlled tobacco was stored in colonial times. Drive past the Abolition of Tobacco Monopoly Monument at the town plaza and pause briefly at St. Williams Cathedral and its Sinking Bell Tower. We will then drive to visit the Malacanang of the North, the former lakeside residence of the late President Ferdinand Marcos and his family, when they visited his home state of Ilocos. Later transfer to the airport for our flight back to Manila (PR 2199 2100/2200) where we will transfer to our hotel on arrival. Overnight at Bayleaf Hotel or similar. (BL)

Church of St Augustine in Paoay

First constructed in 1704, the church is noted for its variety of architectural styles and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, built to withstand earthquakes and is probably the best known “earthquake baroque” church in the Philippines. One of its key features is its 26 carved buttresses that support the church’s structure during earthquakes.

Day 10 – Puerto Princesa

After breakfast transfer to the airport for a scheduled flight to Puerto Princesa (PR 2785 1315/1430), which has been acclaimed as the cleanest and greenest city in the Philippines. We will take a late lunch on arrival and then check in to our hotel. In the evening we head out for dinner at a local seafood restaurant, and after our meal we drive about 40 minutes to the Iwahig River where we take a Firefly watching tour. The river is clear and wide, winding through dense jungles on either bank. We join a local guide to travel by kayak through the mangroves, and watch hundreds of fireflies clustering on their favoured fragrant mangrove trees, and performing their electric dances. It is an amazing sight! We then return to our hotel. Overnight at Hibiscus Garden Inn or similar. (BLD)

Puerto Princesa

Puerto Princesa is located on the island province of Palawan, previously rated by National Geographic Traveller magazine as the best island destination in East and Southeast Asia, and the 13th best island in the world. Legend attributes the name “Puerto Princesa” to a princess-like maiden who in the early days is said to have roamed the area on certain nights of the year. On the other hand, some people attribute the name to its geographical advantages as a seaport – naturally protected the whole year round and with a depth that can accommodate any size of shipping. Among its sites is the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre (formerly Crocodile Farming Institute) the showcase for a successful conservation project. The farm breeds two endangered species found in the country including the endemic Philippine Crocodile. There is also the unusual Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm- it is without walls and inmates tend vast farms instead of idly spending time behind bars. The Iwahig Firefly Watching excursion is an ecotourism project initiated by the City Government of Puerto Princesa and ABS-CBN Foundation. The goal is to conserve the natural resources, provide a sustainable livelihood to the local population, as well as giving tourists an unforgettable experience.

Day 11 – Underground River and Ugong Rock

After breakfast at the hotel we drive about 2 hours to Sabang, where we proceed to the wharf, to take a boat to the mouth of the Underground River. We will take a tour with a local guide who will point out the many different features. Later we continue to the town of Barangay Tagabinet and the110m high Ugong Rock which has taken its name from the echoing sound the rocks produce when tapped. We climb up inside the rock with its caves, stalagmites and stalactites. Stairs lead to the top from where we can choose to descend by zip line or reverse climb. We return to our hotel in Puerto Princesa in the evening. Overnight at Hibiscus Inn or similar. (BL) 

The Underground River

Recognised as one of the new “Seven Wonders of the World” in 2012, this natural wonder features an 8.2km navigable Underground River reputed to be the longest in the world, which winds through a spectacular cave before emptying out in to the South China Sea. Cathedral chambers, wide hallways, and interesting geological formations greet wide-eyed visitors to the grotto hidden beneath St. Paul Mountain. At the mouth of the cave, ancient trees grow right on the water’s edge framing a clear lagoon. Monkeys, large monitor lizards, and squirrels can be seen in the forest near the cave.

Day 12 – El Nido

Drive about 6 hours further north, amidst rice plantations and along the coast to the town of El Nido, considered a showcase of Palawan’s geology and diverse wildlife. Its majestic limestone cliffs stand guard over clear waters, with hundreds of species of tropical fish and coral, and three species of endangered sea turtles. El Nido’s forests are host to more than 100 species of birds, a large number of which are endemic to Palawan. Later you will have some free time to explore the town on your own. Overnight at El Nido Cove Resort or similar. (B)  

Day 13– El Nido                                                 

Today we will join an island hopping tour of the beautiful islands and beaches around El Nido. Our boat takes us through the crystal clear waters to the enchanting Big and Small lagoons of Miniloc Island, Shimizu Island and the Seven Commandos Beach with opportunities for swimming and snorkelling. We will take a picnic lunch on a picturesque beach before continuing on to the Secret Lagoon. We then return to El Nido. Overnight at El Nido Cove Resort or similar. (BL) 

Day 14 – Manila

The morning will be free to enjoy El Nido before we transfer to the local airport for the flight back to Manila (1600/1715). On arrival in Manila transfer to your hotel and the rest of the day will be at leisure. Overnight at Bayleaf  Hotel or similar. (B)  

Day 15- Tour ends

Transfer to the airport at a time convenient for your onward flight. (B)  


Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation
Transport throughout
Services of English speaking guide.
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Domestic flights as shown in the itinerary.


International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance

Updated 17/04/2019