by Julia Escano
With temperatures cooling down and rains coming in almost every day, beach bumming season has come to a close. But that doesn’t mean our wanderlust and thirst for exploration has to end too! Apart from seaside getaways, the Philippines is also rich in lush mountain destinations that don’t always get noticed.
Find your perfect escape in these idyllic locales nestled in the country’s lush mountain regions. Rainy days (and Mondays) don’t always have to get you down!
Bontoc, Mountain Province
The town of Bontoc may only be 45 minutes away from Sagada, but it has yet to enjoy the same fame. Walking through the streets of Poblacion, Bontoc is much like walking through the town center of Dagdag, Sagada from 10 years ago. Instead of hordes of tourists milling around, you see locals coming to and from the market, interacting with each other, and going about their daily lives. It paints a picture of authentic local color, which is a breath of fresh air.
Just like its neighboring town, Bontoc’s attractions are in the outskirts, where nature is relatively untouched. Bontoc’s stretch of the vast Chico River is calm and crystal clear, making it a great spot for swimming. A short tricycle ride plus a long hike will take you to some of the most breathtaking rice terraces in the region, such as the Palali Rice Terraces. Along the way are the Alab Petroglyphs, which were named a National Cultural Heritage site in 1975, and the Ganga Burial Caves, which up to this day is still enshrouded by mystery and mysticism.
The UNESCO World Heritage rice terraces of Batad, Ifugao is considered by many as the best and most scenic in the country. Unlike the Banaue Rice Terraces, the rice terraces of Batad are stone-walled and are laid-out in a vast amphitheater. Getting to the small village in the heart of this landscape involves an hour or two of hiking along the narrow, winding terrace walls – a challenge when all you want to do is stare at the bright green rice fields.
The village itself is very cozy, with only small homestays and traditional Ifugao huts for accommodations. Restaurants serve hearty comfort food prepared by your hosts themselves, which makes the experience even homier. Hikes around the terraces, checking out Tappiya Falls, and trekking to the Awa View Deck are a few of the activities you can enjoy in Batad. But really, simply being in one of the most stunning mountain destinations in the country is enough draw to visit.
Palaui Island, Cagayan
Palaui Island is not so much made up of mountains but of a terrain akin to that of Batanes. It has lush, sprawling green hills; sharp rock faces that drop into white sand beaches; and large, rolling waves lapping up onto land. Add to that a colonial lighthouse standing on the island’s edge, and you get an intimate and romantic scenery all to yourself. Palaui Island is a half-hour boat ride from the nearest town of San Vicente, Cagayan Valley. Because it’s a protected marine park, there are many strict guidelines imposed in the island to help preserve its ecosystem.
There are only two available accommodations in the area of Punta Verde: Nature Village or Elsa Lagdaran’s homestay. They both offer camp grounds, camp rentals, and rooms. Camping is heavily regulated in the rest of the island because of previous bad practices, when tourists and campers left their trash and vandalized the beaches. Exploring Palaui Island is relatively easy thanks to controlled boat and guide fees. Island hopping rates range from Php500 to Php1800 for 8 people, depending on which spots you’d like to visit. Meanwhile, guide fees for hiking start from Php300, depending on the number of people in your group. Must-see spots in Palaui Island include the Cape Engaño Lighthouse, Baratubut Falls, Crocodile Island, Dos Hermanos Islets, and Anguib Beach.
Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental
Don Salvador Benedicto, or DSB, is a municipality in Negros Occidental sitting on higher elevation than its neighbors. As such, it has a cooler climate which earned it the nickname “Summer Capital of Negros”. Much like Baguio, its smooth roads are lined with pine trees and many colorful temperate flowers. Also reminiscent of Northern Luzon is one of its main attractions, the DSB rice terraces. It may be smaller in scale, but what it lacks in grandeur, it makes up for with its quaint charm. The more laid-back nature lovers would also enjoy its scenic spots, including a bunch of waterfalls, caves, and a lake. The most famous of them, Malatan-og Falls, is only an easy 30-minute hike from the jump-off. But amongst all this, the best part about Don Salvador Benedicto is its cool, fresh air and relaxed vibe, which makes it a great destination for some mountainside R&R.
Canlaon, Negros Oriental
Just like Don Salvador Benedicto, Canlaon City in Negros Oriental was dubbed “Little Baguio” for its chilly air and higher altitude. Unlike Baguio, however, Canlaon has retained its small-town, rural charm instead of morphing into a concrete jungle of malls and traffic. It’s also thanks to this that the city has preserved its natural resources and best attractions.
You can rent a habal-habal and tour the region’s famous sugarcane plantations and flower gardens, have a picnic by the reservoir in the OISCA Farm, visit Padudusan Falls and its natural waterslide, or take a dip in the Bucalan Hot Springs to further soothe your body and soul. Those into mysticism can also visit Canlaon’s Wonder Tree, the oldest recorded tree in the country, rumored to be more than a thousand years old. It’s inhabited by critters, and fireflies that glows at night. Thanks to the fairy that lives in it – as legend says. The hardcore travelers, meanwhile, can take two days from their itinerary and hike the mighty Mt. Kanlaon, the region’s highest peak and one of the country’s many active volcanoes.
As mountain destinations go, Malaybalay City in Bukidnon is a true respite. Its lush greens, rolling terrain, and crisp air is a great escape after an adventure-filled day at nearby Dahilayan Nature Park or CDO’s hardcore outdoor offerings. Malaybalay is more for cultural and leisurely activities, perfect for city dwellers that prefer to sit, shop, and eat. The Del Monte Pineapple Plantation in nearby Manolo Fortich, and the Lapanday Pineapple Farm near the town center offer unique picturesque landscapes that you’ll rarely get to see elsewhere. There’s something about pineapples as far as the eye can see that feels cinematic. The famous steak made from pineapple-fed cows in Del Monte’s golf course clubhouse is also a must-try for foodies.
The Monastery of Transfiguration is also a popular spot for pilgrims and casual tourists alike. Its chapel, designed by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin, sits on a hilltop overlooking the Benedictine monks’ grounds and gardens. Their souvenir shop also offers a variety of homegrown products, such as coffee, tablea, peanut butter, and peanut brittle. Nature lovers can also visit the Nasuli Spring for family picnics and Two Trees Mountain for hiking and great views.