Early morning views of Kalinga’s surrounding areas. Photo courtesy of Jake Verzosa for the Department of Tourism.

Buscalan has become a bucket list destination for travelers here and around the globe. Many are interested to find out more about the tattooed women and warriors of Kalinga’s Butbut tribe, and to see how a batok is made up close.

Others are particularly interested to meet the legendary Whang Od Oggay, the oldest living mambabatok or a traditional tattoo artist. A few lucky ones even get to go home with a piece of her art on their skin.

Obtaining a batok from a living legend is something you would be lucky to get. But the remote, small village also provides a wealth of other sights, rituals, and experiences.

Here are seven immersive tourist experiences that will connect you to the tribe’s rich culture and history.

 Take in the views on top of a jeepney

Buscalan Tattoo Village is located in Barangay Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga. A 15-hour drive from Manila will have you navigating twisting mountain roads in the Cordilleras.

There are no direct bus routes to Barangay Bugnay from Manila, and the most convenient public transit route is via Tabuk. From Tabuk, there are minibuses and vans available for this three-hour drive to Barangay Bugnay.

But if you’re looking for a thrilling experience that the locals prefer, you can try going “top load” on a jeepney.

Going “top load” or riding on the roof of a vehicle has become common practice because transportation here is hard to come by. Riding this way allows unrestricted views of the steep slopes and lush forests of the region—but don’t forget about safety when you’re up there!

Enjoy the breathtaking scenery while hiking

Going to Buscalan involves a two-kilometer hike up stone stairs. This path can be challenging as you would have to go down a valley and climb a steep slope. Don’t worry, you can go as fast as you can, and take as many rest stops as you need.

Going slow will also give more opportunities to take in the view, which is better in the summer. There are many sights along the way, from a variety of birds (woodpeckers, toucans, and eagles) to wildflowers (wild orchids and poppies) to lesser-known rice terraces.

One tip: Try to start your hike early. You’ll avoid the heat, and you’ll get better views of the Cordilleras as the sun rises. Pack light and carry plenty of water so you can fully enjoy the trek and all that it has to offer.

You should also hire a local tour guide to assist you. These guides will also serve as a translator as most of the locals do not speak Tagalog or English. Booking a guide costs Php 1,000 for 1-5 individuals and can be done through Kalinga tourism office: Tinglayan tourism officer Johnny Tiggang (09152837885) or Tinglayan information officer Larae E. Lactao (09152837885 or Larae E. Lactao) (09151576809).

Before the hike, each visitor must also pay a Php 100 environmental fee.

 Experience farming with the locals

Male tribe members lead farming during harvest season. Photos courtesy of Jake Verzosa for the Department of Tourism.

Surrounded by the aforementioned rice terraces, Buscalan (and its way of life) is heavily dictated by farming.

During harvest time, visitors are welcome to participate and learn about rice cultivation. Male tribe members lead the cultivation of the rice fields from February through March while women take the lead from April to May. Everyone in the community pitches in during June and July harvests.

Visitors learn how to use a hand sickle to cut the plants, then transfer them to a different location where the crops are spread out and dried for about three days.

Guests can also learn about Buscalan’s sustainability practices, and join in on different stages of farming as well as cooking demonstrations. Everybody who participated in harvest labor is invited to a communal dinner that is traditionally held after a long day of work.

Take part in their festivities

A live chicken being sacrificed by locals for pinikpikan. Photo courtesy of Jake Verzosa for the Department of Tourism.

During the summer, many of Butbut’s tribal festivities and rituals take place. These are community activities, and everyone is invited, even tourists.

These celebrations include songa (traditional wedding ritual), to-or (harvest ritual), so-ob (coming-of-age celebration for young male members of the tribe), and posipos (blessing ritual for elders).

There is a lot of cooking, eating, singing, and dancing involved in these festivities, and it may go on for days. Try pinikpikan (a ritual dish prepared by beating a live chicken) and etag (salted and smoked or air-dried slab of pork) when sharing a meal with the locals.

When a gong is sounded, watch as elders and young members of the tribe perform a ritual dance filled with elegant and fluid movements.

 Stay for the night and live local

There are no hotels or inns in Buscalan, but there are many homestays to lodge in. Local households provide accommodation for guests in their own homes. The guest rooms are modest, but they are decorated with Kalinga flair and provide magnificent views of the rice fields that surround the town.

Homestays can lend authenticity to your experience and allow guests to learn more about indigenous cultures. Stay for a night or two, have dinner with your host family, and listen to their traditional tales over a campfire while sipping Kalinga coffee.

A night at a homestay starts at Php 300 for one person. Locals will charge you Php 100 for each meal. Alternatively, you are allowed to bring your own groceries and prepare your meals there instead.

For reservations, guests may contact Gaspar Lagunday (09991805012) at the DOT-accredited Buscalan Tattoo Homestay.

Explore the stunning natural wonders of Buscalan

Buscalan is bordered by stunning rice terraces and the adjacent mountains of Patukan, Mating-oy Dinayao, and Mantingoy, which the locals refer to as “Sleeping Beauty.”

An excellent time to take landscape photos is just after dawn when the light rises over the nearby mountain range. You can also walk across the rice fields to get a closer look at the terraces and observe how they’ve been cultivated for centuries.

If you’re looking for a cool down, head to one of the nearby waterfalls for a dip. You may also go hiking in the surrounding mountains, such as Mt. Canaan, where you can find a life-size statue of Whang-od.

One of the rewards of trekking this mountain village is having clear skies almost every night, especially during the dry months. Buscalan’s isolated location and high elevation make it ideal for viewing a star-studded night sky.

Get a traditional hand-tapped Kalinga tattoo

A woman applying an intricate hand-tapped Kalinga tattoo on a visitor. Photo courtesy of Jake Verzosa for the Department of Tourism.

Of course, the number one immersive experience to have in Buscalan is to get a batok.

If you’re looking to get a tattoo from Whang-od herself, please note that she can no longer accommodate everyone as her eyesight and physical strength are not as they were.

Thankfully, she has taught the traditional art to younger women, many of whom are Apo’s relatives. There are about 30 talented artists who can ink a Batok for you, each with their own distinctive take on these ancient Kalinga designs.

You can choose from any of these designs, which can be seen on wooden boards there. While you can tweak it a bit, it’s best to stay with the original design since not everyone will consent to alterations.

Depending on the size and level of intricacy, a tattoo by one of the new generations of mambabatok would cost anywhere from Php 300 to 1,000. Your tour guide can help you make reservations for your Batok session. The tattooing process can take anything from 30 minutes to an hour to complete.

For Php 100, Apo inks her trademark three-dot Batok, keeping her work alive. However, you are free to offer extra or bring her useful presents if you please. You may express your appreciation by donating canned goods, pastries, and sweets.

A few more tips:

  • Prepare for a drizzly and sometimes chilly morning. It’s best to wear a light sweater because the weather might get hotter throughout the day.
  • Bring a water bottle for refilling since they have clean spring water.
  • Be responsible and refrain from adding to the increasing trash problems in the village.
  • Show sensitivity to the customs of the people in the village.

Travel safely!

Kalinga’s official Facebook page maintains up-to-date travel advice that travelers may access or contact Kalinga tourism office at kalingapgo@gmail.com.

Visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app on app.philippines.travel or on Google Playstore for the most up-to-date information about re-opened local destinations as well as the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location.