Kalinga, located in the Cordillera Autonomous Region of the Philippines, is a mountainous region home to various ethnic tribes, scenic landscapes, rich indigenous culture, and a variety of outdoor activities. For hikers and backpackers, the area is a pleasure to explore, as it has an abundance of hills and valleys. Aside from trekking, well-known trails like the Ngibat, Butbut, and Buscalan also lead to different villages. For those who want to have a more interactive, cultural immersion, village hopping is a must, considering that it allows one to talk to the locals and get to know their way of life. Rice terraces such as the Buscalan are also known for producing some of the finest varieties of rice in the country, such as the Red Unoy Rice – of which the Philippines takes a lot of pride in, given its flavorful taste.
Aside from these attractions, a trip to the Mabilong Weavers Village shouldn’t be missed, as well as the pottery in the town of Pasil, as these showcase the Kalinga people’s creativity in different art forms. One might even get a crash course on weaving or pottery, which can take years to master.
This is also where many tattooed locals reside, belonging to a variety of tribes whose cultures are just as intriguing as the sound of their names: Bangad, Sumadel, Basaso, Tinglayan, Dananoao. Unsurprisingly, many tourists frequent this town in the hopes of getting a tattoo from the great Whang-Od (Fang-Od), the older generation’s last tattoo artist of the Buscalan Village. It takes a tedious one hour trek to the village to get there and if Whang-Od deems the person worthy, she will grant them the honor of a tattoo.
This indigenous tattoo art is uniquely Filipino, as it showcases the rich culture of the Kalinga tribes, which has been practiced and passed on for over a thousand years. The process is said to be painful, as it involves using a stencil, a bamboo stick, and a siit (thorn). Yet people still endure it, as the tattoo proves to be beautifully designed with intricate patterns and shapes. However, respect and consideration to Whang-Od and the locals must always be prioritized, as they cannot be pressured or forced to give tattoos. To be tattooed by Whang-Od is a privilege, not a demand.
After hiking and sightseeing, one can trek to the Palan-ah Falls and the famous hot springs in the Tulgao West. Biking around the towns and villages is also a good way to explore local life without being intrusive. One can view the “Sleeping Beauty” Mountain (also known as Mt. Patukan, Mt. Mating-oy Dinayao, and Mt. Mantingoy) from the municipality of Tinglayan, named as such because the silhouette of its northern ridge resembles a sleeping woman. For the adrenaline junkies, white-water rafting is also a must-try outdoor activity in this area, particularly in the Chico River. However, travelers should exercise caution; the waters are often unpredictable and risky, ranging from manageable (Class III) to threatening (Class V).
Perhaps the appeal of Kalinga is more than just the exotic tattoos or the scenic views; rather, these things are manifestations of how both nature and culture were preserved and enriched through time. Away from the chaotic urban life in the city, people will often find that this is a place to come home to in the north.
Trips to Kalinga can be made by bus or plane. If traveling by air, catch a flight to Tuguegarao and then make a land trip to the capital, Tabuk City. Victory Liner’s Kamias terminal also has daily bus trips to Tabuk City (approximately 11 hours), which must be booked in advance.
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