The road from Baguio to BONTOC is the Halsema Highway or “Mountain Trail”, a narrow, serpentine gash in the side of the Cordillera that’s sometimes no more than a rocky track with vertical cliffs on one side and a sheer drop on the other. Although the surface of the road has been greatly improved in recent years, it can still be an uncomfortable trip by public transport as some of the buses are crowded and not especially well maintained. The views are marvellous, especially as you ascend out of Baguio beyond La Trinidad and pass through deep gorges lined with vegetable terraces.

BONTOC lies on the banks of the Chico River about an hour east of Sagada. Primarily used by tourists as a transport hub, the town is also a good base for trekking and has easy access to the beautiful Maligcong rice terraces. Some of the local tribes can be nervous of foreigners and it would be unwise to approach them without a guide to help smooth the way (P300–500/day). One well-known local is Francis Pa-in (t0915/769-0843), who can also act as a guide in Tinglayen; ask at the Churya-a Hotel if you can’t get him on the phone.

There isn’t much to see in the town itself but don’t miss the Bontoc Museum, next to the post office close to the town plaza. It includes photographs of headhunting victims and of zealous American missionaries, and there is a small collection of indigenous buildings outside. The museum shop sells items including handmade jewellery and CDs of traditional music.

 

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