Three Worthy Lodgings Near the Philippines' Rice Terraces

Who Needs In-Room WiFi When You've Got Plenty of Personality?

It's a rare thing to have a UNESCO World Heritage site that isn't overwhelmed by tourist traffic. That's how the Cordilleras' Rice Terraces in the Philippines is turning out. The mountains and the dangerously curvy roads filter the rabble out: you're left with a town that still has that off-the-beaten-path feeling  and accommodations that feel more down to earth despite Banaue's high elevation.

If you keep your expectations humble, you'll find that each of these lodgings have properties more valuable than in-room WiFi. Ibulao, Ibulao's voluble host; the Banaue Hotel's Ifugao cultural show; the Sanafe Lodge's amazing dinner spread – these three are, for my money, the most fun stays you can book in Banaue, and I invite you to read the next few hundred words so I can explain why.

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Ibulao, Ibulao: So Nice They Named it Twice

The Rock Room, Ibulao, Ibulao in Ifugao Province, Philippines
Mike Aquino

It's not strictly in Banaue – this bed and breakfast is located in the neighboring municipality of Kiangan – but Ibulao, Ibulao demands a second look from travelers, as it's one of the few habitations around that's clearly a labor of love.

Owned and inhabited by a husband-and-wife team of OB-GYNs who gave up their careers in the U.S. to start over again in Ifugao Province, Ibulao, Ibulao takes bits and pieces of the surrounding landscape and makes them part of the experience.

World-War-II-era bomb casings are cunningly repurposed into lamps on the verandah. Wood carvings from local Ifugao artisans litter the interiors, contributing to the premises' rustically homey atmosphere. (Dr. Toto Kalugdan will be happy to give you the grand tour.)

Ibulao, Ibulao sits on top of a steep incline – the views are great from almost every room (Dr. Kalugdan tells us he designed it that way), but climbing up the driveway can be challenging, doubly so on rainy days. The “rock room” (pictured here) is this writer's favorite – a single large room for a group of 5-6 friends, the beds artfully arranged around the limestone that juts out of the floor.

To compensate for the distance from Banaue, the B&B offers tour packages to the terraces, even as far away as Sagada.

Reservations are required; walk-ins will not be entertained.

  • Address: Ibulao, Kiangan, Ifugao Province
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Banaue Hotel & Youth Hostel: Party Like it's 1985

Banaue Hotel room
Mike Aquino

The venerable Banaue Hotel & Youth Hostel is simply Banaue's top accommodation option due to its accumulation of onlies. The only hotel over three stars in Banaue. The only full-service hotel in the area, with room service, breakfast buffet, gift shop, in-room massage, and concierge. The only hotel with a swimming pool. The only hotel with cultural shows available upon request.

It's also the only hotel of its size in Banaue. It's huge: a cavernous lobby leads into its 80 guestrooms of varying comfort levels (the standard rooms are 250 square feet in size, with bathroom en suite, hot water for tea, and electrical outlets – no TV or WiFi though), and at the very end of the long building, the swimming pool.

All rooms look out to the east and a modest rice terrace rimmed with highland forest; on good weather days, you'll be woken up with the sun shining through your window, bathing the Cordilleras countryside in a golden glow.

It's a favorite of Banaue tour groups, who certainly don't mind the stuck-in-the-80s fixtures and finishes. The wooden walls and giant fireplace give the whole place a hunting-lodge feel. And the WiFi reaches only as far as the lobby. But those are easy to overlook considering it offers the best beds in Banaue: a three-ish star experience in what is still largely a frontier town.

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Sanafe Lodge & Restaurant: Everyone's Family In Here

Sanafe Lodge common area
Mike Aquino

It's a Filipino thing to name businesses after family members. So it is with Sanafe Lodge, named after the proprietor, her sister, and her mother. Susan Paredes, the owner, is a Banaue blueblood, the daughter of a former governor of Ifugao Province, but she gladly welcomes guests as if they were part of her own family.

The Sanafe's ground floor feels like a Filipino home, in only the best sense. Catholic imagery, traditional Ifugao carvings, and colorful textiles adorn the walls; little nooks for reading and conversing blend into the dining area, where guests can order some of Banaue's best homestyle cooking (this writer simply could not get enough of Susan Paredes' curry chicken).

Beyond a sliding-glass door, you'll find an expansive verandah overlooking the Banaue countryside, with a view of rice terraces and the forests beyond.

The rooms feel rustic, lived-in but clean: wooden finishes, warm Ifugao traditional fabrics and newly-waxed floors complete rooms with large windows that let ample light in. The Deluxe Rooms have their own balcony; larger groups can book the family rooms good for as many as seven people; and the dormitory rooms offer the Sanafe's best bang for one's buck.

The Sanafe's central location is one of its top perks: the bus terminal and the Banaue market can be reached a few minutes' walk from the Sanafe's doors.

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