Sagada is a laid back, picturesque and somewhat bohemian village nestled in a valley high in Mountain Province, Philippines. You could very easily spend away a few days or even weeks here, just enjoying the serene mountain atmosphere, good food and chilled lifestyle. Despite being a popular destination for backpackers, it hasn’t lost its small town charm, and remains pleasant and relaxed, unlike Banaue which has been somewhat overrun by tourists and touts.
If just chilling in the village is too tame for you, there are lots of outdoors activities and tours available in the area. The tourist office in town provides good information about what’s on offer, and can arrange for a guide if you wish. Nobody is too pushy here, and you won’t be constantly harassed by touts selling tours and souvenirs – a pleasant change from many popular Philippine tourist destinations. That said a guide is recommended for many trips, especially caving. Trips such as the Echo Valley hike and Bomod-Ok waterfall can fairly easily be done without a guide by those with a bit of experience, by using information on the tourist maps and simply asking the locals for directions as you go.
In all, a visit to Sagada is highly recommended, and a must for any Mountain Province itinerary.
WHAT TO DO IN SAGADA
There are two “standard” cave tours – the cave to cave link-up and the Lumiang Cave tour.
The cave link-up links Sumaging Cave (the largest cave in the area) and Lumiang cave. It takes around 4 hours to complete and there are numerous tight squeezes and several sections where you need to ascend/descend ropes to negotiate some steep parts. As such a reasonable level of fitness is required.
The Lumiang Cave tour takes only an hour or two, and follows the path of an underground watercourse, taking in some of the most spectacular formations in the area. Some scrambling over rock is required; however it is not too difficult and should be doable by most people.
For experienced cavers who are happy exploring caves under their own steam, there is much more to see in these caves. Best to discuss your plans with the tourism office first.
There are endless hiking possibilities around Sagada. A popular, easy hike takes you down through Echo Valley, which boasts hanging coffins and an underground river. Bomod-Ok waterfall (the “big falls”) is spectacular and well worth a visit – a refreshing swim there is just the thing on a hot day. The summit of Mt Ampacao is reachable in a few hours and affords good views of the town and the surrounding area.
There are many other extended hikes possible in the area. You can even traverse all the way from Banga-an to Bontoc, taking in the Bomod-ok falls and the Maligcong rice terraces. Just ask at the tourist office for further information.
There have been a few bolted “sport” climbs set up on the cliffs in Echo Valley. If you’re not an experienced climber, you can hire a guide to take you for a few hours of climbing there.
The food is good and fresh in Sagada. Most guest houses also offer food, and there are a few restaurants around town as well. Worth a special mention are the Yoghurt House (excellent, filling, organic and healthy meals), the log cabin (fine dining, albeit expensive, in a cozy atmosphere with a roaring log fire) and the Masferre restaurant (which has a collection of Masferre’s excellent cultural photographs hanging on the back wall). The cheap but delicious carrot and pineapple cake at the Co-op paired with hot coffee are just right to start your day on a chilly morning.
There are many accommodation offerings available in Sagada to suit all budgets. Prices start from around P200 per head for rooms with a shared bathroom (you should also be able to find one with hot water for this price (or at least “warm” water!), which is very welcome given the frequently cold weather in Sagada).
HOW TO GET THERE
The full trip from Manila will take you about 12 hours. To make the most of your time, catch a Victory Liner bus from Cubao to Baguio at around 11pm. Once in Baguio (about 6 hours), catch a taxi to the Dangwa bus terminal and jump on a bus to Sagada (another 6 hours), enjoying the views from the spectacular (and sometimes frightening) Halsema Highway en-route.
There are jeeps departing regularly (hourly) from Bontoc to Sagada.
Catch a bus or jeep to Bontoc and transfer to a Sagada jeep from there.