2017 Guide: How to Get to Banaue
I'm prefacing my posts about my hikes in Banaue and Batad with this guide, because information on the internet is still surprisingly outdated, if you can find any information at all.
Banaue is located in the northern region of the Philippines called Luzon. There are two ways to get there: by bus or by private car.
From what I could find, there seem to be three bus companies that run daily buses to Banaue. This include Florida, Dalin, and Ohayami. I decided to travel with Ohayami because they had an easy-to-understand website and their name seemed to pop up the most online.
To purchase your bus ticket with Ohayami, you must do it several days before hand, especially during peak season (which is pretty much every month except for July - September). I purchased my ticket four days before I left, and the 10PM bus was already full, so I was bumped to the 9PM bus.
To purchase a ticket, you must fill out a form on the Ohayami website. You will then be emailed a PayPal invoice. After forwarded your PayPal receipt, you will be emailed your ticket voucher. The process took about 24 hours to complete. Ohayami has a helpful FAQ section here.
By Private Car
You could also hire a private car to take you from Manila to Banaue. It would probably take 7 hours. You can find the numbers of reliable drivers in TripAdvisor reviews.
The Ohayami bus transit station is in center of a very crowded and chaotic part of Manila. There will be two big Ohayami buses and then a small check-in counter with chairs. There will be plenty of backpackers waiting -- you won't be alone! You can take a pedicab or taxi to the bus station.
To check in, show them your ticket voucher on your iPhone (unless you printed it). They will then give you a paper copy of your ticket. Don't lose this - you have to show it upon leaving the bus to get your luggage.
The bus itself is clean and full of character. My bus had purple curtains, neon lighting, and rock music. The driver never spoke to us, but there were two 10-minute stops (11:00PM and 3:00AM to use restrooms and buy snacks). Make sure to have 5 pesos on you to pay for the restrooms and bring toilet paper with you.
My bus arrived at 7AM, so 10 hours of travel. We made very good time because there was actually very little traffic. The bus the day before didn't arrive until 9AM, so be prepared and be patient if you do hit traffic.
It is also cold on the bus. Wear layers - I had on leggings, sock, tennis shoes, a tank top, a fleece jacket, and a windbreaker.
To get your return ticket, you need to go to the Ohayami office in Banaue. It is located a few steps away from the tourism office; it is a big blue house with a small ticket window.
Arriving in Banaue
A ticket officer will ask for your bus ticket to retrieve your luggage. You will then have to pay 50P to register as a tourist in Banaue, which is mandatory. There is then a free shuttle that will take you into town, or your accommodation will have arranged to pick you up at the bus station.
A fair warning - if you take the free shuttle into town, they will most likely take you first to a restaurant that overlooks the rice terraces. You will be with other tourists. After encouraging you to take coffee or breakfast, guides will then enter the restaurant and try to match up with any tourists, depending on where tourists want to go and what terraces they want to hike. They will then not permit you to leave until you book a tour with them, often costing way more than the typical going rate for a hike.
It's not a dangerous scam, per se, but it's much more advisable to be picked up by your accommodation and arrange a reliable guide through them. At the hostel I was staying at, all the prices for transportation and treks were printed on a laminated sheet of paper, so that you knew you were paying a fair, set rate.
Hiking into Batad
Some people will not stay in Bananue and will instead hike directly into Batad. To reach Batad, you can take a pedicab or a local jeepney. Once you reach the saddle, the road is no longer paved, but it's only a 15 minute walk to the town of Batad.
Where to Stay
You can find accommodation easily on Agoda.com or Booking.com. TripAdvisor has reviews for many accommodations. I stayed at Evergreen Hostel and loved the owners - they were so sweet! I also met some backpackers who were staying at Pink Hostel.
Homestays are also an option; many of them are based in Batad. I considered Tony's Homestay and Mama Ramon's Homestay.
How Long to Stay
I stayed two nights: Monday night and Tuesday night. This worked well for me because it felt like I had three full days, since the bus arrived Monday at 7am and did not leave til Wednesday at 7pm. You could certainly stay longer, especially if you base yourself in Batad.
There are no ATMs in Banaue or Batad! You must withdraw cash in Manila and keep that on you throughout your stay. Make sure you have enough to cover accommodation, food, transporation, and treks / guides.
There is limited 3G cell phone service in Banaue. I had Globe and had (sluggish) service. Many accommodations have wifi, now though. I had good wifi at Evergreen Hostel.
The Banaue rice terraces are no longer as remote as they used to be. The mountain towns are much more accessible than they used to be and they are now also a tourist spot not only for Westerners, but also local Filipinos. There will be plenty of other backpackeres on the bus and in town.