Kalinga: Land of the Last Headhunters

September 10-12, 2010

A three-day exploration of the remote villages of Tulgao and Butbut in Tinglayan with Benjamin Espina of visitsagada.com, documenting the vanishing generation of tattooed Kalingas.

Once the fiercest headhunting warriors of the Cordilleras, the Kalingas are on the brink of completely losing their ancient way of life to modernization, including the art of tattooing. Most of the tattooed individuals are in their 70s and 80s. If efforts won’t be made to preserve this art form and other Kalinga traditions, it will die out forever.

As for the landscape, it was the most majestic mountain scenery in the Philippines I’ve seen by far. Kalinga rice terraces are just as incredible as those in Ifugao and Mountain Province. Their beauty, however, are overshadowed by the vastness of the mountain ranges, sliced in half into a craggy valley by the turquoise Chico River. This trip has to be one of the most unforgettable adventures I’ve had.

Traversing the rice terraces of Tulgao village

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Tattooed women of Tulgao: Ammayo Sakwog and Banayan Alunday.

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Palan-ah Hotspring and Falls along Bunog River – an hour’s hike from the Guyang homestay; Wild pitcher plants along the Tinglayan-Tulgao road.

Spend a night at the Baccoy family’s homestay in Butbut – a traditional Kalinga hut! At night, sweet-smelling pinewood burning in an open fire keeps you toasty.


Suggested route: Manila-Bontoc-Tinglayan-Tabuk-Manila

Cable Tours buses (+63 9185216790) leave Manila for Bontoc (12 hours, PHP 650) daily at 8:30 PM from their inconspicuous terminal along E. Rodriguez Ave, Quezon City (across Trinity College & Shakey’s).

At Bontoc, buses bound for Tabuk, Kalinga, which pass by Tinglayan (2.5 to 3 hours, PHP 100) , leave at 9:00 AM. Buses wait beside Mountain Province State Polytechnic College.

From Tinglayan, one can start hikes to the many neighboring villages. A few villages are accessible by precarious public transport, which on the other hand offers some of the best roadside views. Tulgao village is accessible by jeepney (PHP 60) and motorbike (PHP 200 for 2 pax), which leaves Tingalayan at 2:00 PM. Butbut is accessible by motorbike (1hr and 15mins, PHP 400 for 2 pax).

A popular guide based in Tinglayan is Francis Pa-in – +63 9157690843 (Rate: P800 per day, 1-5 pax). He can recommend hiking routes, and refer you to other guides and homestays. Homestays in villages can also arrange for local guides (Suggested rate: P500 per day, 1-5 pax).

Jeepney for Tabuk (3 to 3.5 hours, PHP 100) leaves Tinglayan at 9:30 AM. For these and other schedules, double check by asking the locals.

Victory Liner leaves once a day for Manila from Tabuk (11 to 12 hours, PHP 493) at 4:30 PM, a few meters away from St. William Cathedral.


Sleeping Beauty Inn and Luplupa Inn are guesthouses in Tingalayan (PHP 200-250). But I recommend staying in homestays in Kalinga villages for an authentic experience of the daily life of the Kalinga locals. Homestays do not have a fixed rate. I suggest giving PHP 100-150 per night, and PHP 50 per meal.

At Tulgao, look for Miguel Guyang (+63 9067576236)* and his family. Their home is at the end of the Tingalayan-Tulgao road, overlooking the village.

At Butbut, look for Antonio Baccoy (+63 9275569119)* and his family, who will let you stay in their traditional Kalinga hut. At night, sweet-smelling pinewood burning in an open fire keeps you toasty.

* Cellphone signal is very weak and intermittent in these locations. Do not always expect quick responses.


• Although Kalingas are congenial, remember that photography is taboo for some superstitious individuals, most especially among elders. Most will welcome being photographed though, in exchange for loose change or, a token more appreciated, a box of matches. TREAT THE LOCALS WITH UTMOST GRATITUDE AND RESPECT.

• Tribal wars (like those between Tulgao and Butbut) persist today, but are isolated and sporadic. Otherwise, the Kalingas are very warm and hospitable people, far from what most outsiders assume. And tourists are never involved in quarrels. To ensure your safety, seek local knowledge on the current situation.

4 Replies to “Kalinga: Land of the Last Headhunters”

  1. lateralus says:

    It was an absolute honor to tag along! 😀

  2. Eped, headed here for the long weekend!

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