When in Sagada you can shout your lungs out at Kiltepan and relieve yourself of the extra (emotional) baggage you’ve been holding in, then leave with a renewed hope of finding your “tadhana,” but if all fails, you can still try these activities that will either make your heart skip a beat or make your legs ache. Or both.
Sagada in the Mt. Province was recently made popular because of a movie That Thing Called Tadhana. A story of a love lost in Italy and found once again, where else, but in Sagada.
I went to Sagada (with a perfectly healthy and happy heart) together with a couple of friends mid-August and our activities were often interrupted by light rain in the afternoon. They say January to April are the best months to book your visit. You’re going to take your chances and hope for good weather when you visit during the months of July to October because these are the rainy months in the Philippines.
On that day in mid-August while taking lunch, we were told by locals that it usually rains in the afternoon and advised us to take the tours early in the morning. Here are the activities that I recommend you to try when you visit Sagada. All these can be done on a 2 or 3-day stay. Depends how comfortable it is for you and how prepared your body is. The spelunking and trekking activities will wear you out if you are not used to it.
We only tried the shorter route of spelunking, entering from Lumiang cave and exiting at Sumaguing cave. Our group took more or less 3 hours for this activity. We started at 4pm and ended by 7pm. It may take longer for some depending on how many people there are in a group. I suggest you line this activity up as first in your itinerary because this constitutes 50-75% of your leg pain. I kid you not.
You will be joined by tour guides who will carry lamps and assist you inside the cave. In our case, the guides were kind enough to carry our cameras. They are so used to this they even took our pictures. Multi-tasking at its finest.
Listen to your guides and stay with your group always. If you take the wrong step or slide, and it can be as simple as taking the left turn instead of to your right, that you may get lost or slip to the deepest parts of the cave where even the guides don’t have access to.
Be prepared to bend, slide, climb on tightropes and jump on super cold waters. Wear comfortable clothes that can allow you to move freely without risk of exposure. This is important for girls. You wouldn’t want accidental exposures of your privates and much worse, find out later on that they were captured on camera. Also wear something that you don’t mind getting dirty on. Expect a lot of mud.
If you can, be sure to book this activity early in the morning because if it took you longer inside the cave and went out by 8pm or later, I’m guessing it is difficult to find a place to have dinner. Restaurants close early in Sagada.
Trek to Bomod-ok falls
Here’s another leg killer. But what you will see at the end of the trail is totally worth the sweat and pain. On average, it takes 3 hours to get to the water falls and another 3 hours to get back to town. Ugh, I know. If you make it to the falls, a dip in the cold waters is your sweetest reward.
Buy a walking stick. They sell this at the registration for 50 pesos. You might raise an eyebrow and wonder why, would you need a walking stick? I’m sure you can walk three hours straight and still be okay but not up and downhill on steep steps and under scorching heat. A stick that levels with your chest is perfect.
Keep your luggage light. The important things you need to carry are food and water, lots of water. Apply your sunscreen before the trek or cover up.
Rise with the sun at Kiltepan Peak
To rise with the sun, you need to be up by 4am. Probably the coldest hour at dawn but you have to fight it or else, regret it. By van it will only take less than an hour to reach the peak. If you’ve seen Tadhana, (movie reference again???) this is where Mace, the protagonist shouted all her pains for the world to hear.
Once you get there, pray for the sun to show up. A friend have been here three times and he never saw the sunrise. The place is usually covered in fog especially in the morning.
Visit the hanging coffins
This is quite another challenge to reach if you DIY. There are tour packages with a trip to the hanging coffins but I believe you can go without paying. And that means finding it yourselves. To reach the hanging coffins you will have to walk from the church and through the modern cemetery where you will also see a satellite tower so prominent so don’t worry about getting lost. Once you pass the cemetery that is where the tricky part begins. You have to trek downhill then up to get to the hanging coffins.
Our first attempt at finding the coffins was during late afternoon after a light rain. The area was so foggy we decided to abandon the plan and tried again the next day.
The best advice I can give is don’t be shy to ask around. There are locals who work at daytime in the cemetery that you can ask for directions. If you get lucky you might arrive at the Echo Valley with other tourists on a tour package, then you only have to follow or ask them to reach the hanging coffins.
But why do they hang coffins?
In the old days, the natives believe that the higher the coffins of their deceased is placed, the closer they are to reach heaven. The placement of a coffin also denotes the importance of the dead person in the community.
Experience top loading
Van drivers can allow you to top load safely a short distance after your departure in Bontoc on your way to Sagada. You can do this for around 30 minutes or so and not longer because it can be a real pain in the ass, literally.
Hangout with the locals and take lots of pictures
There will be stopovers on your way to Sagada from Banaue. These are at specific view decks where you can take photos of various rice terraces in the area. In one of the stopovers you will have the chance to take your photo taken with elders wearing traditional Igorot clothes.
Where to stay
Grandma’s Yellow House
This was the cheapest accommodation that we found at 300 pesos per head for one night. There are other transient houses with the same rate but we opted to stay here fearing that others were already fully booked. The room we got was big enough for three persons. Bedsheets were clean and there were enough blankets to keep us warm at night. We even brought one blanket at Kiltepan Peak.
They have three rooms available at the upper floor and one rest room. The family who takes care of the house live downstairs. But you barely see them, there is a different entrance for guests which is beside a souvenir store. They are very accommodating. You only need to ask them if you need anything and they will provide if they can. They clean the restroom every morning and inform you if there is water interruption during the day.
Other accommodations we considered were:
Kanip-Aw Lodge was my first choice because of many positive reviews from Filipinos and foreigners alike. We just didn’t have the energy to walk further on when we learned it was far from the town center.
George Inn is also quite far from the town center but I have to say they were the one who was very prompt in replying to my messages. They have also expanded and now have a new building right across the street from the main building. The rates that they offered me was the same with Grandma’s at 300 pesos per head per night.
Isabelo’s is right smack in the middle of town. Very convenient if you like to be near the market, tourist information center, restaurants and bus terminal. But since they are in a busy area I thought it would be noisy.
Sagada Igorot Inn is near Grandma’s but closer to town center. The only reason why we chose the latter is because it is slightly cheaper. Walking a bit farther was okay for us if it meant getting cheaper accommodations. Nonetheless, if you are looking for a hotel that is closer to the market and everything else, for a budget-friendly price, this is the right place for you.
*Most budget-friendly accommodations in Sagada don’t have room air-conditioning or even electric fans. You wouldn’t need those because it gets real chilly at night.
Where to eat
Meal prices at Sagada can be quite steep for budget travelers. If you’d rather save on other things except food, then be sure to eat at Yoghurt House for their yogurt of course and some pastries, then try lemon pie at the Lemon Pie House, Salt n’ Pepper for anything (food is delicious!) and Shamrock.
There is a cafeteria at the lower ground of the big maroon building near the market where you can buy your meals at 100 pesos.
How to get there
We bought bus tickets with Ohayami, their terminal is at Lacson St. near University of Sto. Tomas and they are the only bus operator with trips from Manila to Banaue route. Air conditioning at the buses can get really cold, colder than it was in Sagada, imo.
From Banaue ride a jeep or van to Bontoc then take another ride from Bontoc to Sagada. But when we arrived in Banaue we were able to make arrangements with a multicab driver to take us directly to Sagada. There are several options in Banaue you just have to ask around and negotiate. The best place is at the market, just a few walks from the bus terminal.
Manila to Banaue – 9 hours
Banaue to Sagada – 3 hours
Remember to secure your return tickets once you arrive in Banaue. Near the Ohayami bus station in Banaue is a ticketing station just look for Ohayami Reservation board on a post beside a small house with wooden windows in front that serves as their ticketing counter. This is best to avoid delays especially if you are traveling on a schedule.
As with all tourist spots there is always an appeal to fellow travelers to be responsible when visiting. Sagada has been experiencing scanty water supply for quite some time and locals fear it’s not going to be enough to maintain the rice fields and terraces in the near future. Some advocates convince other people not to visit anymore, but I’d still say go if you must and want to see it’s beauty, you are still helping local tourism anyway. Aside from being responsible with your actions, bear in mind that you need to respect the locals, their livelihood and their way of life.