Sagada, Mountain Province: The Backpacking Mecca of the North

by - 7:06 PM

Sagada. A word shrouded with mystery. A place not everyone knows. A name whispered and revered among travellers. That’s how I’d probably describe Sagada when I visited the place in 2014 and I bet most of the other backpackers who went there in the years past would say the same things too. 

Surrounded by mountains and oftentimes covered with fog, the remoteness of the place added to its sense of mystery of which not a lot of people dared to conquer; well, not until recently when Sagada had a huge influx of tourists thanks to that indie movie (insert hugot line here).

But let me introduce to you Sagada, the virgin and tranquil Sagada, that I had known and loved. 

Where is SAGADA?

Sagada is a tiny town nestled in the Cordillera mountain range about 275 kilometers north of Manila, particularly in Mountain Province, which is sitting right next to the province of Benguet where Baguio City is. 

There are various ways to reach the place and the route you choose depends on the time and budget you have and what you intend to do.

Guess where I sat during our Baguio-Sagada bus trip? Well.. I actually sat in front, right on that booster seat beside the driver. I personally think this is the best seat in the bus as you get to see everything on both sides. 

Manila to Sagada via Banaue
This route is for those travellers who want to take a quick glimpse of the beautiful world-renowned Banaue Rice Terraces. Often dubbed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, this work of wonder is a marvel to agricultural engineering because it is believed to be made from hands or simple equipments. In Manila, there are bus companies offering night bus trips to Banaue and you’ll reach the place early morning. From Banaue you can take a quick tour to several of the  rice terraces viewing points before heading to Bontoc/Sagada via bus or van. People who choose this route often has an extra day to spare and would leave Sagada for Manila via Baguio City.

Quick Tip: Itinerary may be Banaue-Sagada-Baguio if you have at least 6 days or more to touch base with these towns.

Manila to Sagada via Baguio
If you’ve seen the Banaue Rice Terraces up close or if you’re pressed with time and are arriving in Manila at night time like us, then I think it’s best that you go to Sagada via Baguio City. There are numerous bus companies servicing the Manila-Baguio route like the reliable Victory Liner which has a bus station in Pasay City near NAIA. This is the most convenient among all the routes to Sagada as there are hourly trips from Manila to Baguio. From Baguio, the earliest bus to Sagada leaves at 5 AM and the latest one is at 1 PM. If you can’t catch the last bus to Sagada, you may tour Baguio first instead then leave for Sagada first thing the next day.

Quick Tip: Best itinerary would be Baguio-Sagada-Baguio for travel time convenience and flexibility.

From Baguio to Bontoc, you get to traverse the Philippines' highest and most dangerous highway system - The Halsema Highway. Its highest point is at the municipality of Atok at 7,400 ft above sea level and you get to pass by deep ravines and picturesque rice terraces. Pictured is the Halsema Half Tunnel.

Manila to Sagada via Bontoc
Though not that popular as with the other two, this route is for those who want to drop by Bontoc, the capital of Mountain Province. There is a bus that leaves Manila at night and arrives in Bontoc at 7 AM. From Bontoc, jeepneys are available bound for Sagada. 

Manila to Sagada (Direct route)
Just recently (2015) Coda Lines made available a night bus that service the Manila to Sagada route. This is definitely great news because it cuts the number of transfers you’d have to make and it saves you a significant amount of time and stress too from waiting and possible delays. Travel time is around 12 hours, fare is about Php 700 or more. 

What to Do in Sagada?

Sagada is otherwise spelled as A-D-V-E-N-T-U-R-E. Well not literally but Sagada is definitely not for the fainthearted! Here’s a quick sneak peak of the top things you can do in Sagada:

Sunrise at Kiltepan Peak
Nothing beats the quiet anticipation for the glorious sun to rise amidst a sea of rolling clouds. Getting to witness this even just for a day makes you want to thank God more and to be appreciative of the life we have now. 

A sea of clouds at Kiltepan Peak.

Spelunking at Lumiang-Sumaguing Cave Connection
If you think spelunking is cool and easy, well, think again for this is something you gotta prepare for somehow. I am not an athlete and it sure did tested the limits of my physical and mental capacity. Be prepared to crawl, to climb, to rappel with minimal equipment in the dark.

Posing by the great curtain at Sumaguing Cave.

Trek and Splash at Bomod-ok Falls
Another must-do activity in Sagada is going to Bomod-ok Falls. The majestic view of the big falls, as what Bomod-ok is otherwise called, sure is worth the long and tiresome trek through the rice terraces.

Marvel over the Hanging Coffins of Sagada at Echo Valley
The hanging coffins probably made Sagada famous among adventure-seekers and tourists alike. This ancient burial technique is a living proof of how rich the Igorot culture is and how much they value their departed loved ones. It is believed that the higher the coffin is suspended, the closer they are to heaven and the better it is as they watch over their families. 

You'll pass by the Sagada public cemetery where they celebrate the Panag-apoy Festival on your way to the hanging coffins.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Sitting right on top of a hill just a few meters from the town center is this lovely little Episcopalian Church of St. Mary the Virgin. With its stone walls and rose petal stained glass, the church is as beautiful as its town, Sagada.

The beautiful Episcopalian church of St. Mary the Virgin.

Food Trip on Fresh Food
One of the best things you can do in Sagada is go on a food trip. You could never go wrong with the dishes they serve because you are guaranteed that they are fresh and tasty at a very affordable price. Don’t forget to try the pinikpikan, a flavorful chicken dish, and drink their world-famous Sagada coffee.

The famous Pinikpikan dish of the Cordilleras.

Php 220/pax = Bus trip from Baguio to Sagada
Php 400/pax = Cave Connection
Php 500/jeep = Sunrise at Kiltepan Peak
Php 600/group = Walking Tour
Php 300/pax = Kanip-aw Lodge accommodation

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