We have just returned from a trip to the Philippines, including an excursion to Banaue (late October, 2012). Thought that our experiences might help others. We are an older couple (late sixties) but fit, active and like to do our own travel planning. How to visit Banaue and Batad was much more of a challenge than expected. First thought was to go by bus, but the only option appeared to be overnight—and we simply don’t like the discomfort of that (and we can afford not to have to suffer it). Have since read about suspension of service by some companies on this route (for licensing issues), so we are really glad we didn’t opt for this. Having now been there, Banaue really is isolated and if you are on a timetable as we are (since we still work part time) the options for travel out of there are very limited.
We then thought of renting a car and driving ourselves. Again, having been there do NOT do it! We thought Manila would just be the problem and if we could get out of there we would be OK driving ourselves. (I’ve driven in many places—London, Paris, New York, Mexico, Romania, Brazil, etc.) Not true. Believe everything you read about road problems in the Philippines, especially in the mountains of northern Luzon—people, kids, dogs, houses, crops being dried, landslides, road repairs, pure mud, driving rain, constant hairpin bends, etc. We then checked out tours, but none had a timetable which fitted our needs, especially since we were going in the off-season (October). We also were concerned about cramped, van-type travel—we like a little more comfort in our old age!
Eventually decided on a personalized tour with driver, so the question became which company to use. Several show up on the Internet but I couldn’t find much in the way of recommendations or reviews, even on TripAdvisor. I Just gambled and chose one. We used manilastay.com. They were not especially cheap, but it proved a good choice. They showed up on time with a new vehicle with good ground clearance (which you need in the mountains!). The driver was knowledgeable about the trip, drove safely, all the arrangements for hotels, local guides, etc.. worked out without problems. Overall, we were very satisfied.
A few final comments and details on our trip. Travel is VERY slow in the mountains. It took us 9 hours to drive back to Manila from Banaue, and its only 350 kms, and that included an hour of expressway at the end and no hold-ups in Manila itself (which apparently is unusual). Our trip was 4 days and three nights—one day travel from Manila via Baguio to Sagada, morning and lunch in Sagada, afternoon to Banaue via Botoc rice terraces, the next day was a full day visiting Batad using a local guide and a jeepney (but you have to walk a couple of miles down to the village itself to see the most famous of all the terraces), then back to Manila on the fourth day. It was enough time, but I wouldn’t want to try to do more than this.
Hope this helps someone else. Will be glad to answer questions.