Sagada

Sagada is perhaps the most well known and visited place in the Mountain Province in the Philippines.  A haven for spelunking enthusiasts and those interested in learning about ancient tribal burial practices, it is the home of a number of caves and the famous hanging coffins.

Sagada is also one of the destinations where we enjoyed food the most.  It boasts a number of very cozy places where one can indulge in tasty treats and a great diversity of dishes, both local and foreign.

If you are on your way to explore the underground world of its caves, you are in luck.  Sumaguing cave is a short 1 hour treck that descends under a rocky tunnel of slippery limestone and bat excrements.  On the way down, one can enjoy a number of rock formations that say much about the geological history of the area.  As Sumaguing is the shortest and easiest cave exploration route in Sagada, it is also the most popular and the busiest, so expect having to make stops and wait for visitors to take selfies and pictures as the guides explain the different formations in a very friendly and humorous manner.

If you are up for a longer underground experience, Lumiang cave or the Lumiang cave connection, may be your more suitable option.  This cave starts closer to the Sagada town proper and descends into a similar rocky cave where Sagada elders used to be buried.  Note that a combination of earthquakes and tomb thieves have left the cave with very few of the coffins and you may come across bones and skulls that were left scattered due to seismic activity.  The Lumiang cave connection is however, not for everybody, as you will have to crouch and slide through very tight openings and rappel and climb through areas where a fall may complicate things and even be a certain death.  Having said that, do not let this information be a deterrant, and if you do have a special interest I n the cave, following the guides instructions should suffice to complete the exploration in a safely manner.  Our guide’s name was Apiit and not only he has been guiding the caves for a long time and knows them well, but as a local full blooded Igurot, he used to play in them as a child.  A well informed and experienced guide will be able to tell you if you can do this or not.  The Lumiang cave connection costs php800 (per guide) and the groups can be of up to 3 visitors per guide.

It would be important to point out that the guide carries a kerosene lamp and Filipino safety standards may defer from those in other countries, so it may help to bring your own head torch and a helmet, as these are not provided and we had moments where the presence of only one light in the group, left the ones behind in the dark.

There are other caves and other cave connections in the area (we heard of the Chrystal cave connection) which are even longer and harder than the ones aforementioned, but they are also a little more dangerous and suitable only for experts in the field.

Sagada offers innumerable hiking trails of durations varying from a few hours and up to 10 to 15 days.  It’s environment and surroundings are the perfect place for birdwatchers and nature lovers.  As well as the hanging coffins, some of which can be seen from the road, it has a number of waterfalls and it is also a good place from which to visit the village of Buscalan.

Sagada is a rough 3 hours away from Banaue and 5 hours away from La Union

Where to eat in Sagada?

Our first choice is usually the Coffee Heritage House.  A very cozy cottage close to Bomod-ok falls.  They grow their own award winning coffee and have a delicious food menu that will leave you wanting to go back for more.  This place is a must when you visit Sagada!

The Misty Lodge, also just outside the town proper, has the best burgers in Sagada and we dare say some of the best in the Philippines.  They only have one dessert (Ice Cream Yoghurt) but it is also a must if you dine there.

If you don’t feel like heading out of town, Sagada Brew, and the Yoghurt House are our top picks, but there are plenty of options and it seems like new ones are regularly on the way.

Rice terraces ::: Batad, Banaue, Sagada and sorroundings.

As much as the Philippines is mostly known for its beautiful beaches and coral reefs, one must not forget about the rice terraces located in the Cordillera Administrative Region, in Luzon.  We rode to Batad, Banaue, Buscalan Village and Sagada to get a glimpse of some of the most beautiful landscapes this mountainous region has to offer.

Batad

Located in the Ifugao province, Batad has probably one of the most remote and inaccessible rice terraces of them all, but at the same time the most spectacular.  It is roughly a 10-12 hour ride from Manila or a 40-60 minute ride from Banaue Town Proper, but one must park 1km away and hike to get to the village.

As a day trip, getting there relatively early will allow you to enjoy breakfast, overlooking the terraces before heading down to Tappiya Falls.  Many ask if it is a must to get a guide to do so, and as much as one could find the way fairly easily, it is not so much a question of whether one needs a guide but a question of whether the guide needs the traveller.  A guided tour of the terraces and a visit to the falls will set you back Php1200, which goes a long way for most locals.  Not to mention that the local guides will take you to the best places from which you can snap your Instagram worthy moments.

The hike to the Tappiya Falls and back, takes approximately 5 hours and it is relatively physically demanding, but definitely possible for anyone to do, and absolutely worth the effort.  Remember to bring river shoes to make getting in the water for a swim a much easier task.

If you do have time, 2 or more nights in Batad (we had an amazing experience at Rita’s Mount View Inn and Restaurant), are ideal to spend more time exploring the surrounding villages and sights.

Banaue

This larger and more easily accessible town, is our jump off point of choice, especially if time is of the essence.  From Banaue, one can reach a number of “must see” places with relative ease. The UNESCO World Heritage List included The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras in 1995 and includes the Batad Rice Terraces, Bangaan Rice Terraces (both within the Municipality of Banaue), Mayoyao Rice Terraces (in Mayoyao), Hungduan Rice Terraces (in Hungduan) and Nagacadan Rice Terraces (in Kiangan), all in the Ifugao Province and most, at a reasonable distance.

Buscalan

Similar to Batad, Buscalan requires visitors to leave their form of transportation (it takes 1.5 to 2 hours to ride from Sagada or 2.5 to 3 hours from Banaue) and hike for about 45 minutes to an hour and a half to get to the village.  A guide is required and you will have no problem finding one at the make shift car park area where the hike starts.

While you will be able to see some rice terraces (much smaller than the others mentioned in this article, the main attraction in Buscalan is the famous Whang-od and her students.  At 100 years old, Whang-od is the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines (at the time of writing) and is the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist).  Traditionally, these tattoos were done on Kalinga warriors, and to become a warrior, one should have killed another person and bring the head as proof.  Nowadays, many local and foreign tourists head up to Buscalan to get a tattoo from Whang-od and it may require an overnight stay (sometimes more) at the village.  There are plenty home-stay options in the village, but we were with Charlie Knows and highly recommend it.

A great alternative, considering Whang-od’s age is to get inked by one of her 2 students Grace Palicas, and Ilyang Wigan.  For some it may not be an option, but if you want something special, getting a tattoo from the next generation is as special, if you ask us.  Both Grace and Ilyang, will be in this year’s Singapore Ink Show.  You can also find more info on Tattooed by Apo Whang-Od Facebook Group.

Sagada

Another “must” while up in the mountains lies a 3 hour ride from Banaue.  In Sagada, one can visit it’s famous caves and hanging coffins, drink their coffee or go white water rafting.  We had our best food at Coffee Heritage House and the Yoghurt House.  The first one is a little more remote, but if you want a great meal in a very peaceful environment with a staff that has a good eye for details, this is definitely something you should keep in your list.

When visiting any of the sights in Sagada, one must first register at a tourist infformation office and hire a guide.

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