Dubbed as the Philippine’s own “Shangri-la,” Sagada continues to live up to its name as a hidden mountain paradise. This small town up in the mountains of Mountain Province became a center of tourism in the province. When one asks any Filipino for must-go places in the island of Luzon, Sagada will likely be on top of their list.

If it’s your first time to visit this destination, let this guide help you in putting together your Sagada travel itinerary.

A Bit of Local History

Sagada, history, Episcopal Church, The Church of St. Mary in Sagada, Mt. Province is part of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines.
Image credit: Marsky | Wikimedia Commons

According to local legend, Sagada started out as a small village established by a migrant from nearby Abra province. This man named Biag was forced out of their land by headhunters from other tribes. So he and his siblings decided to look for other places to settle. He ended up in the mountains of the Cordillera where he settled down.

Because of the village’s remoteness, it can only be reached on foot through difficult mountain trails. This became advantageous during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines as it protected the village and its occupants from the invaders. It was only in 1882 when the first Spanish mission was established.

Aside from the Roman Catholic faith, other religions also took root in Sagada. Once such religion was of the Anglican tradition when the Episcopal Church of the United States established its mission in the town. This was part of their bigger mission among the indigenous peoples of the Cordilleras. To this day, it is said that more than 90% of the local population belongs to the Episcopal Church of the Philippines.

Understanding Local Culture

Image credit: Allan Ascaño | Flickr

Before you venture into Sagada, it would be good to understand a little bit of local culture. The locals mostly belong to indigenous cultural groups that are native to the Cordillera region. This group is called the Kankana-ey, which is also the name of the language they speak. Don’t fret though as most of the locals speak and understand English. This is because the Episcopal mission also established local schools.

The Kankana-eys rely heavily on agriculture – farming and livestock raising – for their livelihood. When local tourism in Sagada boomed, however, most of the locals also turned to tourism and tourism-related services as a major source of income.

Local indigenous culture has been preserved very well. Spanish cultural influence is almost nil because Sagada was not easy to reach. Certain indigenous cultural practices still remain, which is probably why this town continues to attract so many visitors.

When in Sagada…

Sagada, limestone, karst, caving, outdoor activities
Image credit: Sagada | Wikimedia Commons

When in Sagada, outdoor activities and outdoor exploration are among the best things to do. More so during the dry season, between the months of December to April, when the climate is cooler and the weather better for outdoor activities.

Both natural and man-made attractions can be enjoyed all over Sagada, but some would require you to be physically fit and a little bit adventurous. Aside from these activities, another way to learn and appreciate local culture is by trying out local food. Sagada has quite an interesting mix of local restaurants that serve up different types of cuisines.

What to see:

  • Lumiang and Sumaguing Caves
  • Bomod-ok and Bokong Falls
  • Kiltepan Peak
  • Echo Valley and Hanging Coffins of Sagada

1. Caving and Spelunking: Lumiang and Sumaguing Caves

Sagada, Big Cave, caving, spelunking, tourist spots, Stalactite formations inside Sumaguing Cave.
Image credit: Jojo Nicdao | Flickr

Caving and spelunking is a must-do activity in this tourist town. Sagada’s mountains are mostly composed of limestone and karst formations, having been submerged under water thousands of years ago. You don’t need to be an expert in geology to appreciate the beauty of stalactites and stalagmites.

The biggest and most famous cave in Sagada is Sumaguing Cave. To fully appreciate the excitement of cave exploration, you can opt for the short caving course which takes you to Lumiang and Sumaguing Caves for 2 to 3 hours. If you are more adventurous, you can go for the Cave Connection course, which starts at the much smaller Lumiang Cave and ends at Sumaguing Cave. This can take from 4 to 5 hours depending on how big your group is and how physically fit you are.

All caving and spelunking activities have to be guided by local tour guides. These guides are trained to assist visitors in these activities, so all visitors are required to get their services and not go caving on their own. Tourist guides in Sagada are well-organized. You can get a guide through the Sagada Genuine Guides Association or through the local Tourism Office. The Short Caving Course is around PHP 500 for up to 4 persons per group, while the Cave Connection Course will cost you PHP 800 for up to 2 persons.

2. Chasing Waterfalls: Bomod-ok and Bokong Falls

Sagada, Bomod-ok Falls, Big Falls, tourist spots
Image credit: Jojo Nicdao | Flickr

Bomod-ok Falls is also called the Big Falls by locals, as its name is the Bontoc word for “big.” It falls at a towering height of 200 meters and is found in the northern part of the town. You need to take a quick 20-minute ride from the town center and a one to 1.5-hour hike to the falls. The hike takes you through a small village and magnificent views of the surrounding rice terraces. Be prepared to shell out PHP 600 for guide services and PHP 650 for roundtrip transport for your group of up to 10 persons.

Bokong Falls is a much smaller waterfall located nearer the town center. The falls are usually part of the Eco-Tour or Eco-Trail itinerary (3 hours duration) which also includes the Hanging Coffins and Echo Valley. You can also go to the falls on its own. As part of the Eco-Tour, you need to shell out PHP 600 without a vehicle and all hiking.

Some of the important survival tips while you are chasing waterfalls include wearing comfortable footwear and fast-dry comfortable clothes, putting on and having sun protection, bringing lots of drinking water, and using a hiking stick.

3. Kissing the Sun: Kiltepan Peak

Sagada, tourist spots, Kiltepan Peak
Image credit: Jungarcia88 | CC BY-SA 3.0 | Wikimedia Commons

You should not miss this for anything. Kiltepan Peak on Mt. Kiltepan is said to be one of the best places to catch the sunrise. You have to be an early riser to do this, especially if you want to be among the first ones there. The peak is only a 10-minute ride away from the town center on paved roads. Some groups leave as early as 3am and huddle down until the sun shows its face.

4. Local History and Culture: Echo Valley and Hanging Coffins of Sagada

Sagada, tourist spots, hanging coffins, Echo Valley
Image credit: Rick McCharles | Flickr.com | CC BY 2.0

If you take the Central Sagada Eco-Tour package, Echo Valley and the famous hanging coffins of Sagada will be part of it. This tour does not require hiring local transport – all you need to do is find your way to the valley from the Church of St. Mary. You can choose to view the hanging coffins from a viewpoint and try out why it’s called Echo Valley. Or with the help of a guide, hike your way to the limestone mountains to get a better view of the coffins. According to local beliefs, burying the dead in hanging coffins may bring them closer to heaven.

Tasting Local Food: Best Places to Eat

Sagada, food, cafes, tourist spots, where to eat
Image credit: Gaia Cafe Facebook page

Trying local food is another way of getting to know another culture. And you will have many opportunities to savor different types of cuisine in Sagada. Be warned however that prices for meals may be higher due to the tourist demand. But there are more than enough places to eat.

For international cuisine, check out Log Cabin Creative Cuisine located at the town center. They are especially famous for their lunch and dinner buffet spreads, which become extra special during holidays. If you want to try vegetarian food with a magnificent view, don’t miss Gaia Cafe. Aside from dishes made of organic, locally-sourced ingredients, they also serve very good local coffee.

Sagada, Cellar Door, private dining, places to eat
Image credit: Cellar Door Facebook page

Sagada Yoghurt House is another local favorite and has been voted the number 1 restaurant by local and foreign tourists alike. But they are not just about homemade yoghurt, but they also serve good breakfast meals. Aside from the rice meals, you can also have your yogurt served with banana pancakes. Their omelettes are a must-try too.

One of Sagada’s best-kept secrets when it comes to dining is Cellar Door, which provides a private dining experience with a taste of locally-brewed beers and well-curated wines. Cellar Door is the brainchild of couple Andrew Chinaplan Jr. and Binggirl Clements. It is only available when the couple is in town and by reservation only. They serve up an Igorot dinner buffet which uses local indigenous ingredients. Their micro-brewery also has beers made from heirloom rice, with unique local flavors.

Take That Trip to Shangri-la

View of the beautiful valley and rice terraces in Sagada
Image credit: Allan Ascaño | Flickr
  • Best time to visit: November to February when the weather is cool and dry.
  • How to reach: 5h30 drive from Baguio or 6h40 drive from Banaue. Buses are available.

 

Now that you have more than enough information to guide you, what are you waiting for? Include it on your travel bucket list and start saving up. Or better yet, go ahead and plan that trip to Sagada, and experience your own Shangri-la.

Any other destination we should visit? Let us know in the comments below.

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