Cordillera Terraces, Philippines – Original ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (31.05.15)

The mountain terracing of Cordillera, built by the ancestors of today’s indigenous mountain people in the Bontoc region on North Luzon, dates back nearly 3,000 years. Magnificent, spectacular and remarkable for their hand-made longevity, the terraces are one of the world’s ancient, as well as modern, wonders of the world.


I vividly remember the first time I clapped eyes on them in 1985, ten years before they appeared on the UNESCO World Heritage Convention radar. I gaped in wonder at the sea of terraces that stretched before me like a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle.

ploughed-terracig-luzon-copTended and cultivated by generations of the Ifugao community, they are one of the world’s most impressive examples of a living museum. In today’s ever-changing world, they are the enduring legacy of an Asian civilisation that has harnessed the natural environment to produce the most efficient, intricate and sustainable irrigation system of all time.terrace-village-luzon-copyr

Visitors can also explore the other four rice terrace regions of Batad, Hapao, Mayoyao and Kiangan. Cut 1,500m high into the steep mountainside, the terraces have often been referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World. They cover approximately 4,000 sq miles of mountainside, and feed off the run-off waters from the rainforest higher up. Built with hand tools they comprise a labyrinth of waterways channelled by bamboo pipes, sluices, aqueducts and dams. As the 50ft terrace stone walls accommodate each farmer’s needs, the distant valleys wait for their run-off water only after the combined benevolence of each farmer has allowed the sluice gates to feed all their terraces.

Local expertise is constantly needed to maintain the terraces’ earthworks and stonework. It is this graduated levelling that gives the region the nickname ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

bontoc-rice-terrace-stairwaThe strong Ifugao cultural identity remains in evidence to this day; it has safeguarded the terracing despite Spanish and American pressure to change. The vast majority of local guides come from the Ifugao, who offer a welcoming and proud insight into the rice terraces that first attracted a UNESCO World Heritage Site Advisory Body Evaluation twenty years ago.

I urge you to follow the many Nomadic Thoughts clients who have enjoyed this remarkable mountainous, physical ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and its standing as a monument to human cultural development. Led Zeppelin’s hit ‘Stairway to Heaven’ (1970), inspired by Welsh mountains, is similarly acclaimed in the rock world – and might just come to mind.