The scenery in Kalinga is probably the best anywhere in the Philippines, with gargantuan mountains crushing up against one another and ancient rice terraces that remain cultivated to this day flowing down their sides. Although the traditional loincloth is now rare, Kalinga’s ancient warrior culture is alive and well in the modernized form of fully armed tribal warfare and blood feuding, although this is highly unlikely to affect tourists. Warriors such as the polite, soft-spoken, English-speaking man pictured below received their tattoos for bringing back an exceptional number of heads on a head-hunting raid, although that tradition of course died out many decades ago.

Tattooed former headhunter from Lubo village, Tanudan, Kalinga province, Northern Luzon, the Philippines

Tattooed former headhunter from Lubo village, Tanudan, Kalinga province, Northern Luzon, the Philippines

To get here from Manila take the daily bus to Bontoc in Mountain Province or the much more regular buses from Manila to Baguio (7 hours) and Baguio to Bontoc (also 7 hours). From Manila to Baguio the road is perfect tarmac, the bus modern and air-conditioned but the scenery flat and dull until the very end. From Baguio to Bontoc the road, known as the Halsema Highway, snakes up into the mountains through some incredible scenery. The highest point is 2,255 metres above sea level. At many points you find yourself careering around corners on a dirt track in a dodgy old bus just inches from a sheer drop of over 1000 feet, so this is definitely not one for the faint-hearted! Benguet Province, which you pass through, has some worthwhile stop off points including villages with mummies in mountain caves nearby.

Both Bontoc and Baguio have hotels and hostels you canovernight in to break the journey.

From Bontoc you will need to get a jeepney a further 7 hours north to Tinglayan, one of the first villages in Kalinga Province. The road is even rougher and the drive yet more scenically spectacular than the one from Baguio to Bontoc.

Tinglayan is the only place in Kalinga with any tourist infrastructure at all. That amounts to two hostels, one on the main road coming from Bontoc and one across a metal foot bridge on the other side of the river. Both can give you information about nearby villages, the very infrequent transport connections to them, trekking possibilities and can organise guides if necessary. They can give you information about which villages still have tattooed men or women and still preserve gongs made from human jaw bones.

Not for the faint-hearted, the hostel across the footbridge can also organise a guide to an area of Kalinga called Tanudan where the province’s modernised warrior culture is constantly on display. People walk around with uzis, M16s, pistols, shotguns and chainsaws. Getting to Tanudan involves a long bus ride to Tabuk, the capital of Kalinga, overnighting there and a 4-hour ride in an enormous 6-wheel drive ex-military vehicle the next day along one of the worst roads in the Philippines.

Despite the number of weapons around and the fact that they are actually used in blood feuds (someone was killed in Tabuk in a tribal feud while I was in Tanudan) the people of Tanudan are friendly, hospitable, cheerful, funny and make you feel at home. The gently-spoken 6WD driver who brought me there refused to take any money from me when I got out, despite the fact that the fare was fairly substantial by Filipine standards. As I walked away he began firing his M16 into the air just for fun.

The only thing in Kalinga that is likely to be a direct threat to tourists, however, is malaria. There is a very nasty strain of vivax malaria here which I myself caught and nearly died from because I took no prophylaxis and used no mosquito repellent (see this link for my experience of malaria). Anyone coming here should make sure they take both precautions.

Click here for my blog on Kalinga. It’s 5965 words and 15 photos.

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