Bontoc is not just one of the many places I go to for a visit or a tour. Bontoc is my birthplace and it has been my home for about fourteen years or so. Growing up there, I only spent most of my time around Bontoc Ili and its surrounding barangays such as Caluttit, Samoki, and Poblacion. I never really went out exploring for it was like an ordinary place to me. Yet, moving out of the province and being in the big city, it made me realize how beautiful the place I used to live in was. So then as I start another year of my life, I decided to have a look into the other side of the place I once called my hometown.
Capital of Mountain Province
At about 250 miles north of Metro Manila, the long and not-so-rocky-road anymore brings us to the center of Mountain Province. Bontoc, the capital of the said province comprising of ten municipalities, has sixteen barangays in total. With the diverse community that populates the region, being there for just a few days will never be really enough to get to know everything you want to. From the dialects that each barangay speaks to the customs and traditions that are in practice, I myself would be honest to say I am naive and don’t hold right to speak freely about this place. If there is anything though that I am confident of telling you about, then one of it would probably be about our trek to the newly discovered gem kept hidden for all those years I have been there.
Undiscovered no more
Over the years, a new tourist destination has been making a buzz over social media. At a glance, I would not expect that such a beautiful place can be found in our very own province. But come to think of it, there are a lot of undiscovered places yet to be known in the next coming years. As for today, let us talk about two mountains, namely Mt. Kupapey and Mt. Fato. Both mountains can be found in Brgy. Maligcong, approximately seven kilometers away from the center of Bontoc.
How to get there
For those coming from Metro Manila, you can take a bus directly going to Bontoc via Coda Lines which is located in Cubao. What is good about this bus company is that you can do online booking ahead of time to reserve your seat. Of course, you have to pay a little extra for the convenience you get. If you want to take a side trip first to the Summer Capital of the Philippines, then you can opt for Victory Liner with terminals located both in Cubao and Pasay (Online booking can also be done for this bus company). From Baguio going to Bontoc, you can take either of the buses D’ Rising Sun or GL Trans (a.k.a. Lizardo) with terminals located along Magsaysay Ave. and at the back of Baguio City Center Mall respectively. From the center of Bontoc, you can take a jeepney going to Maligcong with the terminal located just near Pines Kitchenette Inn.
Exploring the area
Arriving at Maligcong, one can take on several options on how to explore the area. What I would be sharing would be based on how we did it together with two of my high school classmates.
Day 0. Arrival
One of the highlights of this trip is the immutable and ever famous “sea of clouds” that one can revel in. With that, we decided to head for Maligcong late in the afternoon. As we ride the jeepney, we kindly asked for the driver to drop us at Suzette’s home stay with which I secured our accommodation for a night prior to our arrival. There is really no standard time for checking in so you can go there anytime. You just need to contact them first to ensure the availability of the rooms.
View from Suzette’s home stay
Once there, you can indulge yourself over a cup of brewed coffee as the dusk befalls and the cold night’s breeze starts to calm the place. As it has not rained over the past few days, Suzette said that we do have a great chance of seeing a spectacular view of the sea of clouds at the summit of Mt. Kupapey. Since we also plan on catching a glimpse of the sunrise, she then told us as well that we better start our trek as early as half past three in the morning. With that, we then set our alarm clocks to 2:50 AM for us to be able to prepare and grab some coffee first.
Day 1. Adventure Time
Out of excitement perhaps, I woke up an hour earlier than my set alarm clock. Then, I thought about having a coffee but it was yet too early and I would be needing all the energy I must for the climb. So I just switched on the lights and went back to lay down for a while, trying to keep my mind awake. At around 2:45, I took a shower and shortly after, I went up to the dining area to get some coffee. It was around thirty minutes after when our tour guide came and said she won’t be able to accompany us as one of her children has been having a fever the whole night. As her replacement, her daughter and niece was there, namely Britney and Riza. Together with us joining the climb also is of Irish descent Dara who is taking his holidays here in the Philippines for a month. We came to know him as we took the same jeepney going to Maligcong.
Destination # 1: Mt. Kupapey
We started at around 3:40 AM and just as we were going down the concrete road, our friend Khate twisted her ankle. The pain was too great for her to handle making us think she might not be able to join already. It took some time and after a while, it has been decided that we go ahead first and that she would just try to catch up together with Britney. So we then continued, taking a few stops along the way to catch up our breathe until we arrived at the summit at not more than a one hour trek. The trail going to the summit doesn’t really involve very steep slopes so you can even go at a faster pace if you want to.
Upon arriving at the summit, we were greeted by Lyka, a fellow climber staying at the same home stay as we are who went ahead thirty minutes ahead of us, together with her tour guide and two dogs. Oh and yes, together with us is also a dog named Dexter.
Since it was still early, we just sat there around the bonfire while we wait for the sun to rise.
It was around 5:20 AM when it started to brighten up. It was also in the same time that Khate was able to make it to the top. From the summit, the sea of clouds was just really stunning. At times, it would give way for us to have a peek of the rice terraces from below. It may not be as fervent green yet as we were expecting but such a landscape is a diamond that cannot be pocketed but has the beauty to fill the eyes of every athirst soul.
On another side, we can already see the golden rays of the sun making its way through an aperture of the long and stalwart pine tree that stands before it. It was indeed beautiful. The sea of clouds, rice terraces, and the sunrise was more than enough to satiate for our hunger. Kidding aside, we took a cup of instant noodles and a hard boiled egg shortly after to fuel us for our next destination which is Mt. Fato.
Destination #2: Mt. Fato
From Mt. Kupapey, one can reach the summit of Mt. Fato in about an hour or so as they say. In our case though, it took us almost two hours because of the nonstop picture taking and also, mushroom picking! There is not much of assaults along the trail. It just gets slippery at times because of the dried leaves from the pine trees. If you have a problem with heights, then look not to your side as there are some sections with deep ravine.
Along the way, we were able to see a bird’s nest hanging up in one of the pine trees as shown below.
There were also some one or two woodpeckers but unfortunately, no one was able to take a picture of it. There were also some cows that we have passed through.
At the summit of Mt. Fato, there are several rock formations similar to those found in Mt. Kalugong in La Trinidad, Benguet or Mt. Lubog in Rodriguez, Rizal. The only difference here is that they are less sharp making it easier to climb and walk on it and there are just a few of them. Other things to expect while at the summit? Well, I’ll let the pictures below do the talking for you.
After forty minutes of contemplating at the summit, we then decided to head back to our home stay. From here, they say it would take us around forty five minutes going down back to the village. But again, for the love of nature and living by the words “Take nothing but pictures”, it took us more than an hour to reach our end point.
Side trip: Maligcong Rice Terraces
Arriving at our home stay nearly half an hour past ten, we thought it was too soon to call it a day. With that, we took the opportunity of crossing out another tourist spot in the area i.e., the Maligcong Rice Terraces. Khate however had to decline as her feet is still in pain. Before we went to our next destination, we first took a one hour break to have our lunch and get some rest.
Note: Maligcong Rice Terraces is not included as part of the rice terraces listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. What is being referred to there are those terraces that can be found in Ifugao. You can read more about it here.
Going all the way to the top of the rice terraces can be done in less than an hour. Knowing that the last trip going back to Bontoc Ili would be at two in the afternoon, we adjusted our pace to move quicker and in about half an hour, we were already able to reach the top. From there, the view just couldn’t get any better. For now, I will have to let the pictures again speak on my behalf.
So that concludes our trip to Maligcong. I hope you’d find the time as well to go there and if you ever plan on doing so, don’t forget to invite me :p
Other useful information
- Planting season starts late in April and early May so the best season to go here would be during late May to June.
- There is also another attraction called Liknon falls. Currently, the barangay does not allow anyone to go there but some locals are letting tourists go secretly. Now it’s all up to you if you want to take that risk. If one really insists, you could provide a waiver indicating that the barangay would not be held liable for anything that might happen to you as you go there.
- Like visiting any other place, if you are a “budgetarian”, then bringing all the food and other stuff you need is still one of the best practices to cut down your expenses.
- Tour guide rates are as follows:
- Mt. Kupapey: P500 for 4pax
- Mt. Fato: P300 for 4 pax
- Maligcong Rice Terraces: P300 (this can be done however on your own)
- From Bontoc Ili, you can also opt to go for
- Sagada (~40 minutes away)
- Banaue, Ifugao (~two hours away)
- Buscalan, Kalinga (~two to three hours away)