Northern Philippine Tours

with Ned S.

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Ned S.

Luzon Travel has been the leader in travel adventures on the island of Luzon, Philippines since 1997.

Trips range from breath taking river trips down the Chico River to hiking the trails with local mountain guides trained and licensed by the Philippine Government.

The Philippines is one of the world’s most underexploited tourism destinations. The country has yet to be exploited by the horde of budget tourists that has overrun mainland Southeast Asia, and most of the tourists that do arrive restrict their travel to a small number of established destinations, leaving large expanses of virtually untouched territory available for adventure-oriented travelers.

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Ned S.

We are in the Philippines The Philippines is one of the world’s most underexploited tourism destinations. The country has yet to be exploited by the horde of budget tourists that has overrun mainland Southeast Asia, and most of the tourists that do arrive restrict their travel to a small number of established destinations, leaving large expanses of virtually untouched territory available for adventure-oriented travelers. Significant and continuing improvements in infrastructure have made these challenges increasingly manageable and, together with dramatic improvements in the security environment in most of the country, have opened up hitherto unvisited areas to organized adventure travel. Northern Luzon is one of the most consistently overlooked destination areas in the country, a consequence of the tendency to stereotype the country as a beach/dive destination and focus on the island belts in the center of the country. While the Banaue rice terraces have emerged as a significant destination, very few travelers explore beyond the immediate confines of Banaue or Sagada. This oversight has left a vast area ideally suited for trips focused on nature, culture, and adventure virtually untouched. The Cordillera Central, the mountain range dominating the region, covers a sprawling 18,000 square kilometers of peaks up to nearly 3000 meters in height, draped in pine forest and montane cloud forests, bisected by clear rushing rivers and dotted with tribal villages and rice terraces, all but a tiny portion of it virtually untouched by tourism. The climate is generally cool and highly conducive to energetic activities; malaria is absent and many other traditional tropical health concerns much less significant than in lowland areas. The mountains offer exceptional scenery, minimal tourist traffic, and a huge range of opportunity for trekking, camping, mountain biking, spelunking, white water rafting and kayaking and other adventure sports, ranging from mellow and easily accessible to true wilderness exploration experiences. The cultural landscape of the Luzon Cordillera offers one of the few places in the world where indigenous tribes retain full control over their land and resources. Hill tribe interactions here are not about tribal people posing in canned cultural shows while entrepreneurs from the city pocket the money. Business in the area is locally owned and interactions with outside visitors take place on equal terms. Traditional ritual life and systems of resource management and dispute resolution are actively practiced and enjoy deep respect even as they evolve to meet changing circumstances. For travelers who wish to go beyond photo ops and experience the reality of indigenous culture on terms defined by the indigenous peoples, the Luzon Cordillera present a truly unique opportunity. The intense mountain and tribal experiences of the Cordillera are complemented by some of Southeast Asia’s most extraordinary and overlooked beach destinations. The coasts of northern and eastern Luzon offer huge expanses of golden and white sand beaches, some utterly deserted, others featuring world class resorts, with surfing and windsurfing prominent among activity offerings. The exceptional range of beach offerings allows outfitters to offer combined mountain and beach experiences of exceptional diversity within a fairly limited geographical area, with both mountains and beach offering an unparalleled combination of quality and isolation from mass-market tourists. Luzon Travel is run by Ned Sickels and Steve Rogers. They have done the most exploration in the Philippines to understand what is the best vacation possible for their guests. Steve Rogers lives in Sagada. Ned Sickels lives in Washington State USA. is their web site. Key Access Points Manila remains the primary landing point for direct long-range flights to the Philippines. A number of connecting flights to the north are available, though the the number of flights to each destination is limited, requiring careful coordination of international and domestic flight schedules. San Fernando, La Union is just over an hour from Baguio, a primary gateway to the mountain region, and is a popular surfing destination in its own right. San Fernando receives flights from Manila MWF. Traffic is minimal and the trip to Baguio is a scenic 1.5 hr drive. Cauayan, Isabela is a convenient access point to the mountain regions of Ifugao and the spectacular and generally deserted beaches of Eastern Luzon. Flights arriving in Cauayan allow convenient same-day access to premier rice terrace areas in Ifugao, with some driving on scenic and minimally traveled roads. Tuguegarao City receives multiple daily flights from Manila and is locate close to Tabuk, Kalinga, the northern gateway to the mountains and a popular jumpoff for rafting and cultural exposure trips. Laoag City has multiple daily flights to and from Manila. Located close to the prime beach area of Pagudpud, it’s a convenient return point for trips starting in the mountains and ending on the beach. Clark International Airport is located approximately 70km north of Manila. It receives no long-haul flights but Asiana and Cathay Pacific/Dragonair offer connecting flights from Hong Kong and South Korea. The terminal is easily navigated and exit is quick; the area has minimal traffic and very close access to a modern freeway going north toward Baguio, providing easy land access at any time without Manila’s notorious traffic problems. Key Destination Areas Baguio City is often dismissed as a congested pass-through point on the way to the mountains, but for those who know it there’s more on offer. The city hosts an extremely active mountain biking and trail running community that has explored and maintained an extensive trail network in the surrounding mountains, providing excellent access to these activities while retaining first class food and accommodation options. Beginner/intermediate surfing is available at day-trip distance in San Fernando. Even the urban area provides enough exploration to make a stopover rewarding, notably in an expansive and fascinating market and a number of parks. Sagada has a reputation as the Shangri-la of the Philippines, a mountain refuge set in the midst of pine-draped hills. Sagada has emerged as a mountain sport center, with first class mountain biking, trekking, spelunking and (seasonally) white water sports. The Sagada/Bontoc area is noted for strong traditional culture and active practice of tribal ritual, and is considered a center for Igorot cultural and political activism. Food and accommodation quality are excellent and the area makes an ideal stopover between Baguio and other mountain destinations. Kalinga is a province offering perhaps the most pure tribal experience of any part of the Cordillera, featuring numerous remote tribal villages tucked among spreading rice terraces deep in the mountains. The scenery is remarkable and treks to interior villages, along with rafting and kayaking on the Chico river, are favored activities. Other than the capitol at Tabuk, accommodation is limited to rustic inns and occasional homestays, but the friendliness of the people and the unadulterated natural practice of traditional culture offer experiences difficult to match anywhere. Primary destinations within Kalinga are Tinglayan, the jumpoff for expeditions in the remote southern part of the province, the spectacularly scenic Balbalan/Balbalasang national park in the north, and Tabuk, a provincial gateway offering an access point with a high standard of accommodation. Eastern Mt Province, primarily the towns of Barlig and Natonin, is virtually untouched by tourism and offers a range of back country treks through rugged mountains covered in undisturbed cloud forest. Accommodation is extremely rustic and infrastructure limited, but for the true adventurer wishing to explore the outer edge, this is it. Ifugao is, like eastern Mt Province, located between Sagada and the east coast beaches and makes an ideal stopover between them. Ifugao is best known for the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad, which have been somewhat degraded due to high volume tourism, but the province also offers extensive virtually untouched forest and rice terrace areas where cultural tradition remains strong. The East Coast Beaches range along the Pacific coast of Luzon, and have until recently been completely isolated by poor infrastructure. Newly opened roads have made them more accessible, opening huge vistas of deserted beaches facing deep clean oceans, from Dilasag in the north down to the surfing capitol of Baler. Once north of Baler accommodation is limited and some of the more remote beaches require camping… but for those searching fro the truly pristine and utterly undeveloped beach, the beauty is worth the effort. The North Coast Beaches offer some of the most stunning tropical beachfront on the planet, particularly the white and golden sand beaches of Pagudpud. Quality resorts are available but crowds are minimal, and Pagudpud offers an ideal seaside relaxation zone after an energetic mountain tour. For those who wish to stay active surfing and windsurfing are top notch, and inland town of Adams offers undisturbed and seldom visited jungle, river, and waterfall scenery. Close proximity to Laoag’s airport makes this an easy end point to mountain tours. Full profile Leave a Review

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