NatGeo explorer and Cordillera Conservation Trust chief JP Alipio takes us to the lands he loves—and opens our eyes to the grand beauty of northern Philippines
Text by and photos courtesy of JP Alipio
The Philippines is one of the few countries in the world that has both magnificent beaches as well as beautiful mountains to climb. I was asked to write about some of the best mountains to climb but I thought, peaks aren’t really the walks I love doing so I thought I would talk about some of the best long walks in this country worth doing.
Some of the best hikes in the Philippines don’t involve just a mountain peak but the entire landscape, village, peak, river, and valley from point A to point B, staying in villages (rather than camping), and interacting with the locals.
The Mt. Ugo Circuit Trek
This trek will take you around the villages around Mt. Ugo going through the homes of different ethnic groups—Ibaloi, Kalanguya, and Iwac—whose villages are situated along its slopes. This is also the course of the International Trail Run of the Cordillera Mountain Ultra, which is held every March.
Start your trek in the Ibaloi village of Dalupirip in Itogon and head towards Bantik; the views of the entire Agno River Valley here are quite spectacular. From Bantik, head to the small village of Oling and to the Iwac village of Dalupirip and onto the summit of Mt. Ugo through one of the most beautiful ridges you will find anywhere in the country. From the summit, trek down the pine forest into the Kalanguya village of Lusod and back down to the Ibaloi village of Tinungdan where you can catch a ride.
The Pulag Round
This is a beautiful walk that will take you around both the peaks of Mt. Pulag as well as the beautiful villages around its more remote slopes on the less visited side of the mountain. The hike takes about three to four days: Start the hike in the Akiki jump-off in Kabayan then head to the summit of Mt. Pulag. From the summit, take the Lusod Trail down to the village of Danggo on the other side and hike up to Lusod and onwards to Ta-aw and exit through the beautiful mountain lakes in Tawangan.
The Barlig to Batad Trek
This is one of the most culturally interesting treks as well as difficult hikes on this list where you trek through hundred-year-old rice terraces from village to village and summiting at Mt. Amuyao. You start in the village of Barlig in the Mountain Province then head up to Mt. Amuyao and down the other side to the village of Patyay and onto the village of Cambulo and ending in the beautiful amphitheater rice fields of Batad.
This trek is probably one of the most culturally rewarding among all the hikes you can do on this list as the mix of walking through old villages and ancient cultures, is akin to walking through a piece of living history. Soak it all in and come out a changed person. This trek will take three to four days to do.
The Bontoc ili Circuit
Aside from the Barlig to Batad trek, the Bontoc ili circuit is probably one of the most underrated walks in the country. You walk through ancient rice fields, villages, and living heritage. You start in the valley of Bontoc and head up to the villages of Guinaang, Mainit, and Maligcong through ancient paths and rice fields. From Maligcong you head down to Tocucuan and around the river valley to Caneo and back up the mountain and down to Bontoc. The entire route will take you approximately two to three days of hiking or if you want to do it fast you can also run it in a day via the Tawid Mountain Marathon, which is held here once a year.
The Kibungan Circuit
This is one of the more remote walks where you will likely need a tent. For landscapes it is hard to beat this walk as you go through some extremely beautiful rocky walls, often very steep with vertical drops. All that work though will reward you with quite amazing vistas of the Kibungan mountain range and what they call the rocky wall of beauties. This hike takes three days to do and is one of the hardest of these landscape walks with the near vertical climbs and descents one has to do along the entire route.
These landscape walks shift the focus from simply climbing mountain summits to walking through landscapes with respect for both the land and the people that call these mountains home.
Learn more about the Cordillera Conservation Trust