Aside from Baguio, a popular go-to and must-visit destination in the Cordilleras is the town of Sagada. This town situated over 5,000 feet and within reach of the clouds is best known its cultural heritage and natural attractions ranging from the famous hanging coffins and burials caves to its magnificent caves and waterfalls, among many others. As the home of the native Igorots, various tribal customs, traditions and festivities are practiced and observed within town. Due to its elevation, it also enjoys a relatively cool climate suitable for growing vegetables, fruits and other highland varieties, including its famous Arabica coffee.
In recent years, this mountain town has further attracted visitors after it figured as the set of a local romantic film, That Thing Called Tadhana (2014). The town has also been marked among backpacking communities and have become a destination for foreign off-the-beaten path travelers. Out of curiosity and the will to explore the Cordilleras led us to a quick weekend trip to Sagada coming from Baguio.
We started our 2-days / 1-night trip from Baguio City early Saturday morning at Dangwa Terminal and hop on a GL Trans bound for Bontoc at around 7AM. The trip towards Sagada takes around 5-6 hours on regular buses given the narrow, steep and winding road connecting Benguet and Mountain Province known as the Halsema Highway. This stretch is also considered as the highest point in the Philippine highway system at 7,400 feet above sea level. Private vehicles usually make pit stops on the designated marker in the town of Atok but you can ask the bus crew to make a photo stop.
Along the route, your eyes will feast on its steep valleys dominated by pine forests and vegetable plantations and panoramic views of the Cordillera mountain range, including Mount Pulag (to your right side), which is Luzon’s highest peak and the country 3rd highest and Mount Data (left side).
We reached Bontoc, the provincial capital of Mountain Province, a little before lunch and we immediately transferred to a waiting jeepney bound for Sagada. It took us another 30 minutes to reach Sagada amidst the fog and clouds slowly blanketing the town below. We immediately checked-in before proceeding to the town proper, a walking distance from our hostel. Unfortunately, it started raining as soon as we completed our registration (Environmental Fee: Php 70), and so we decided to take our late lunch. Given our limited options, we decided to just walk around town and check out its popular cafes and shops. If you have time, you can check out the popular Gaia Cafe.
To better maximize your time, there are various activities or attractions you can choose from. The local government has been regulating the activities and implementing a system that organizes activities into packages which you can avail from authorized local guides group like SAGGAS or directly from the Tourism Office . These tour packages have fixed rates and come with defined itinerary and require local guides. This way, you can plan out your limited time well and go for the most convenient or your preferred package. For first-timers like us, it is better to start off from the popular spots and activities.
WHAT TO DO
Central Sagada Eco-Tour
This is a popular tour route for beginners or first-timers since this only involves a continuous leisurely walk for about 3 hours just within the town which ends at a natural pool. While this may not involve some strenuous effort, make sure to enjoy this tour at your own pace.
- Church of St. Mary the Virgin – This is a famous landmark of Sagada and this would welcome you upon entering the town proper. This is the main church of the Episcopalian Church in the town built in the early 1900s, making it the oldest church in the Cordilleras. Hence, unlike many towns in the Philippines, Sagada is pre-dominantly Episcopalian.
- Sagada Cemetery – From the church, you will pass thru this cemetery used since the American times.
- Echo Valley – Just before descending toward the hanging coffins, a viewing point gives a good view of Sagada town proper.
- Hanging Coffins – This is perhaps one if not the most known and distinct sites in Sagada, having preserved the old traditional practice of burying their loved ones by way of hanging their coffins on the edge of cliffs. While the practice has since waned following the arrival of Christian settlers, they still value and offer respects to their ancestors. Another burying practice in the town is by keeping them inside the caves like the Lumiang burial caves.
- Underground River – The river that cuts across the towering limestone cliffs enabled this unique feature along Echo valley. Be careful when navigating this portion of the tour.
- Bokong Natural Pool – After more than two hours, and given the slippery terrain due to the rain the other day, we decided to call it a day and skipped this last stop since we were so hungry then. So we decided to head back to our hotel for lunch and check out.
Kiltepan Peak & Sunrise Watching
This spot is perhaps one of the most popular and the town’s best Insta-worthy site, thank to the movie frenzy mentioned above. This peak offers a stunning sunrise view amidst a sea of clouds and against the pine-covered peaks of the Cordilleras in the backdrop. It is best to arrive here early to get a perfect spot for photography and selfies. Another site farther from town is Marlboro Peak. Please inquire at the Tourism Office for details.
Just recently, the town has regulated the number of visitors to 800 at any point. Therefore, you have to reserve a slot before you are allowed entry to the viewing area.
After satisfying your eyes for that perfect sunrise, crave for some hot coffee and kakanins in the nearby stalls. From our hotel, it is actually possible to walk (for 30-45 minutes) to the peak but please observe caution and make sure to reserve a slot.
For the adrenaline seeker, take on the challenging caving adventure of the Sumaguing Caves trek to the majestic Bomod-ok Falls for 3-4 hours each or depending on your pace. Each package has corresponding fees and guides depending on number of people joining the activity. Before heading home, take that stunning mountain view sunset at Lake Danum.
Sample Weekend (2 days / 1 Night) Itinerary
Day 0 – Friday*
|2300 – 0900||Take CODA Bus Line direct to Sagada via Banaue||From Cubao / HM Terminal|
Day 1 – Saturday
|1000 – 1200||Register at Tourism Office & Check-In||*Reserve tour for Kiltepan|
|1200 – 1300||Lunch|
|1300 – 1600||Sumaguing Cave or Bomod-ok Falls||Tour Office / Guide|
|1600 – 1800||Lake Danum – Sunset||Tour Office / Guide|
|1800 – 2000||Dinner / Chill|
Day 2 – Sunday
|0300 – 0400||Wake-Up Call|
|0400 – 0500||Travel to Kiltepan Peak|
|0500 – 0700||Sunrise Viewing & Breakfast|
|0700 – 0800||Return to Hotel & Proceed to Tourism Office|
|0900 – 1200||Central Sagada Eco-Tour: Central Sagada Eco-Tour (Echo Valley, Hanging Coffins, St. Mary’s Church, Underground River, Bokong Natural Swimming Pool||Walking Tour – PHP 600|
|1200 – 1300||Return to Hostel & Check-Out|
|1300 – 1400||Lunch|
|1400 – 1500||Buy pasalubong|
|1500 – 0100||Take CODA Bus Line to Manila via Banaue||Stop at HM Terminal|
*Option: If buses from Manila are fully booked, you can proceed to Baguio (take 11pm or 12mn trips) & proceed to Dangwa Terminal for the earliest Saturday trips to Sagada.
WHERE TO STAY
There are many hostels, inns and bed & breakfast operating in Sagada. Depending on your preference, rates may range from 500 to 2,000 per night. Since we visited on a low-season, we were able to haggle for an overnight room for two (Php 1,500) at Rusty Nail Inn and Cafe. We inquired and reserved thru their Facebook page without any reservation fees. Their room rates range from 1,500 to 1,800 for 2pax and from 3,000-4,000 for bunker type rooms that can accommodate from 6-8 pax. This hostel is located outside the town center just before reaching Sagada proper but you can walk for about 10-15 minutes. It has also an in-house restaurant, a souvenir corner and they also provides transportation for Kiltepan Peak. The property also offers an overall rustic feels as it is surrounded by pine trees and ornamental plants.
Another good option is to book at Misty Lodge and Cafe. We initially inquired with them thru Facebook but replied a bit late. They are located adjacent to where we stayed and so we check out their cafe for dinner, which has great reviews online. True enough, the place is packaged artsy set with fireplace and food are awesome. Shout out also for their frozen yogurt in the house. Not yet over with their good food, we also had our breakfast here. Their room rates range from
WHAT TO EAT/TRY
Popular selections in Sagada are its local roasted coffee known as Sagada Coffee. It is available in many of its coffee shops and restaurants. It is best paired with homegrown pastry selections.
Another unique home-grown specialty is the Lemon Pie which is also perfect match for your coffee.
- Public Utility. Better to reserve early for your bus tickets as this gets overbooked especially during peak season or holidays.
- Private vehicles: The local government has also regulated private vehicle access of the town’s narrow streets and requires guests to park at their respective hotels or at pay parking areas and just walk to the town center.
- Safety First. When availing activities/tour, make sure that you are physically able. When in doubt, do not attempt to force into any activity. Note that health care services and facilities are limited in the town. Follow advise of your guides always.
- Respect locals and their traditions. Ask for permission when taking their photos or never coerce/force the locals to don/wear something for the sake of photography.
- Keep spare batteries or bring mobile chargers. Keep critical contact numbers in case of emergency. When caving/trekking, keep your gadgets in water-proof containers.