In northern Luzon, just 2 hours from Banaue, lies another tourist magnet. Sagada is a small town in the Mountain Province and can be reached by van or bus. The ride is not exactly pleasent, but well worth it. Like the name suggests, the province is mountaneous, so you will find a changed vegetation. Instead of palm trees, pines and evergreens dominate the landscape. One could think this was the mediterranean if it was not for the extensive rice fields.
Sagada proper is a cosy, small town with 11.000 inhabitants, none the less the infrastructure is excellent. Finding an affordable accommodation is not difficult. A room should cost between 350 and 400 Pesos (6,5-7,5 USD). The restaurants are cheap, too, although I could not see any small eateries like in other places in the Philippines.
Your first stop in Sagada will be the Tourist Center. Here you have to pay a fee of 40 Pesos (0,75 USD). Then you have the choice between a wide variety of tours. In theory you can hike the countryside on your own. However, many places like the hanging gardens and the caves can only be accessed with a guide. The prices of all tours can be found here.
Sumaging Cave / Short Course Caving
My group decided to go caving on the first day. If you are inexperienced in caving but physically able, and if you want an adventure without having to fit through narrow cave tunnels, you should take this tour. You will explore Sumaging-Höhle, which can be reached on food in one hours from Sagada. Alternatively you can hire a van for 350 Pesos per group (6,50 USD). Exploring the cave takes about 1,5 hours and costs 1000 Pesos (19 USD) for 9 people.
You enter the cave through a wide entrance and then follow an underground stream. At times you will be walking, at other times wadding through water or climbing down while holding on to a rope. It is an exciting experience, although you have to be careful as the rocks get very slippery. Even if you are not that fit, the tour is still doable as there are always enough tour guides ready to help you.
If you are looking for a more challenging adventure, you should try the Cave Connection. You start in a different cave and make your way through a narrow passage, only armed with a candle, until you reach Sumaging Cave. This tour can not be taken in a large group. Two persons pay 800 Pesos (15 USD), the price increases for every additional person.
Kiltepan Sunrise Tour
If you like romantic sunrises (who does not?) and do not mind getting up early, you should consider this tour. It starts at 04.30 am at the Tourist Center and costs 550 (10 USD) Pesos for the van plus a fee of 55 Pesos per person. You will set off while it is still dark and drive to the Kiltepan Viewpoint, where you will be greated by cheerful vendors selling coffee and breakfast.
The place is also known as the „Sea of Clouds“ because of its high altitude. The cloud-hidden valley below and the serene pine forest give the place a mystical aura and watching the sun climb up there gave me a truly elevated feeling. After a hot breakfast, preferrable rice porridge with chocolate, you will have enough energy for the other tours.
Echo Valley Adventure Trail
Chances are you want to visit Sagada for its famous Hanging Coffins. In this case I can recommend a trip to the Echo Valley, where they can be seen up close. Taking the Adventure Trail, you can not only see the coffins, but also a subterrean river and a waterfall. The tours costs 1000 Pesos (19 USD) per group, so it is still reasonably cheap.
The tour starts at the church of Sagada, where you will get to know some of Sagada´s history. The path leads across the modern graveyard of the town, to the Echo Valley where you can already see the Hanging Coffins from a distance. Down in the valley you can see this attraction up close. Hanging the coffins has a long tradition in Sagada and was done in order to prevent wild animals from eating the deceased. It is still practiced today, although not as commonly as in old times. If one wants to be buried in a Hanging Coffin, they have to be from Sagada and already have grandchildren. Ultimately the family have to decide whether they want this kind of burial.
Next you will follow a riverbed until you reach a cave, through which the river flows. It is pitch dark here, so your tour guide will light the way. You should bring your flip flops as you will have to wade through water.
Next stop is a waterfall, which is not very big or impressive. However, it is refreshing to swim in the basin, and you can even jump from a rocky flatform if you wish. After having a look at the work of local weavers you will return to Sagada.
This tour takes you to the Bomod-Ok Waterfall and takes about 3 hours. It costs 500 Pesos (9 USD) per group plus 500 Pesos for the van that takes you to the starting point.
The path leads through a dense pine forest, alongside rice terraces and through small villages where you will be greeted by the friendly locals. Once at the waterfall, you can take a swim or just lie on the warm stones and relax from the hike.
If you travel to Banaue or Sagada, chances are you will see some men with red-stained teeth. This is due to their excessive consumption of Moma, the local drug of choice and energy booster. It is a mix of dried tobacco leaves, vine leaves, betel nut and a white powder made from snail chells. The substance is chewed and then spot out. It produces a high that is not too strong, but still tops the effect of coffee and cigarettes. If you are looking for an energy boost, you will not be disappointed. However, I was feeling rather dizzy and light-headed after my first try.
If you are in the north of Luzon, you absolutely have to visit Sagada. In my three days here I was only able to do a small portion of the activities provided by the Tourist Center. There is a lot to see and do in this mountaneous region and I was never bored. However, it was not just the beautiful landscape and the fun activities that made me fall in love with Sagada. It was also its laid back, friendly people and the relaxed atmosphere. The small town with its narrow streets and the beautifully furnished wooden houses is a place where you can truly forget time.
Sagada is very affordable as it provides cheap accommodation and food, and the tours are not expensive either. An average day here including your stay in a single room and three meals should not cost you more than 1215 Pesos (23 USD).
Accommodation: 350 Pesos
Food: 475 Pesos
Tours: 390 Pesos