Sagada is a mountain town in Mountain Province, about 275 km north of Manila and stands 1500 meters above sea level, hence the beautiful chilly climate which is one of the town’s main allure. Add to that the abundance of natural wonders such as caves, waterfalls and mountains, the limitless outdoor activities which include caving, trekking, spelunking and rappelling and delectable food! That the town has managed to retain its serenity despite the boom in tourism is just admirable. Four days of pure bliss!
Manila to Baguio: Against all odds
Yeah, this might as well be our theme song for our dramatic transit from Manila to Baguio. We had a booking for a 12 midnight trip in Victory Liner (Pasay) but realizing that this might compromise our chance of making it to the 5 am bus to Sagada, we decided to take the 11 pm bus instead, even if it meant we would have to sit on the aisle for the entire five hours! Talk about desperation. We were given foot stools from where we could sleep, or at least attempt to. Imagine how much we had to endure –the discomfort, back and butt aches, all for Sagada’s sake hehehe. Hmmn.. Better be worth it hehe.
We reached Baguio a few minutes after 4:00 am. It was exaggeratedly cold that February morning. From the terminal we hailed a cab that would take us to Dangwa station where the bus going to Sagada would be waiting. GL Trans/Lizardo buses leave Sagada every hour, the earliest leaves at 5 AM, the last leaves 1PM. As we were ahead of our sked we had time for some mediocre breakfast at the terminal. After 5 am, we were off to Sagada.
Baguio to Sagada: Snooooooozzzzzze
Making up for our sleep deprivation we were all caught sleeping like logs during the entire trip hence we were oblivious to all the talk about the endless zigzag roads, scary cliffs and rough pavements. Or was it just me? I was pretty much unaware that our bus did pass by the cliff’s edge. Oh well, “what you don’t see won’t scare you” is sometimes true.
It took us another 6 hours before we reached the center of Sagada. After a total of 12 hours on the road, we were greeted by an idyllic paradise. Rustic. Green. Laid-back. Fresh. Serene. Great combo. I loved the smell of pine trees! It’s quite a small town center with just enough restos and cafes and inns to cater to a growing number of tourists.
We stopped by the Tourist Center to register before we checked into our crib. It was actually a 3-bedroom, 2-storey house made of pinewood, not very grand but clean and homey and was simply a walking distance from the center. We had the entire house to ourselves for a very cheap price (Alzheimer’s!!!) It comes with a kitchen and a bathroom which were okay except that it had no heater!!! Oh wait there was, but it was like one of those metal rods you stick into a basin of water and wait until the water’s warm enough. We managed somehow..The only thing I didn’t like was that before you can reach the house, you’d need to pass by a short footpath where there was a barking little dog that really scared me big time hehe.
Cafe Saint Joe
We had brunch at Cafe Saint Joe, just within the compound of the St. Joseph Rest House, the largest guest house in Sagada. Construction works in the main resto were underway so it wasn’t nice at all but the ambiance at the garden was really invigorating. Great al fresco brunch. Lovely landscape, with pine trees that make you think you’re in another country. The food wasn’t bad either. Very huge serving! The food really tasted fresh, like straight from the garden fresh. I ordered daing na bangus with a mountain pile of fresh stir-fry veggies.
After brunch we took a walk to the direction of the Echo Valley — always a good first stop as it is very close to the town center, just a few minutes from the tourist center. First attraction was the century-old Episcopal church called St. Mary’s Church with the ancient bell (since 1921), then a cemetery where graves of WWII veterans can be found. Further up is the way to the Echo Valley (named as such because of the echoes one hears when one shouts at a distance). It’s popular for the hanging coffins of deceased pagan ancestors (which we only saw from afar) and the limestone rocks. I didn’t get to take a photo of the coffins. Sorry, no telephoto lens.
Masferre Inn and Restaurant
For dinner we tried Masferre Inn and Restaurant, named after Eduardo Masferre himself, regarded as the Father of Philippine Photography. His works are displayed in the restaurant. I think I had omelette which wasn’t such a bang but the hot choco was divine. This is also where we had a Pinoy lunch on our last day. Food was generally okay but service wasn’t really praise-worthy.
So much for our first day. The next days I must admit I completely got mixed up — can’t remember which ones where on which day so I’m just gonna give a list of the rest of our itinerary:
In Sagada, Saturday is market day. Sagadans from the mountains descend with all their produce (fresh veggies, fruits, poultry, etc!) to sell them in the town centre. There’s just a wild assortment of things you can get here!
This is known to offer one of the best views of the Sagada rice terraces. When we got there we were greeted by a thick mass of fog and we were a bit worried that our little trek up would have been in vain. By some interesting twist though the sky started to clear up, as if some curtains opening up for a gala performance. It was like an apparition hehe. Great view, though I thought it would have been a much vivid sight if the rice fields were all in bloom.
Small Falls (Bokong Falls)
It was quite a walk, a challenging descent and I so needed a kidney break. The small falls wasn’t anything amazing, just literally a small falls that serves as irrigation for the rice fields. I guess the real catch was the view of the mini- rice terraces which were all yellow-green from afar. Guess where I had my little break? =)
Sagada Weaving Center
Sagada is known for its locally woven cloth which is turned into bags, purses, wallets etc. It was impressive how the locals are able to produce such fabrics from scratch! It’s quite laborious but the tribal designs were really cool.
This cave contains coffins with mummified bodies piled (yes, piled, as opposed to the famous hanging coffins) at the mouth of the cave. It is said to be a tradition to put the coffins outside a cave opening, as they believe that the dead should be exposed. This cave connects to the popular Sumaging Cave, a 3-hour spelunking called “Cave Connection” is ideal for the brave ones (that would exclude me hehe).
Now this is where the adventure heats up. I was pretty proud of myself after conquering the Sumaging Cave expedition. I swear it’s the toughest one I’ve done in my entire life! Not that I do caves regularly: I’ve been to a few but they didn’t give me quite a scare as this one did, especially when we had to go through like “butas ng karayom” holes and rappel through steep and slipperly rocks because the water level was beyond head-deep! Then we had to wade through chest-deep, frigid water to get to the amazing limestone formations!
This is probably the most popular cave in Sagada which tourists trail down for its awesome stalactites & stalagmites. It is said to have served as burial grounds of ancestors and also a hiding place of the Guerillas during the Second World War. It’s quite a complex cave system, pitch-black, jagged, slippery, steep which requires a lot of vertical descents without ropes which I found quite risky hence getting a guide is a MUST! Also be prepared to get really wet, so wear swimming gears.
Amy ended up in the arms of the cutie nurse at the local clinic. She slipped and got pricked by a sharp rock. I imagine it would be painful but hey, look at that smile!
Sagada Rice Terraces
Awe-inspiring. That’s how I’d describe the unbelievable work of hands of our ancestors who laboriously put together mud and stone to build the rice terraces to be able to provide food for the community. Can you imagine that the rocks used to be in the river bed?
We had to take about an hour and a half downhill trek, between rice paddies, which required some balancing skills and a lot of caution as it could get slippery and accident-prone. It was cloudy, with a bit of rain showers when we began our trek (we started at around 7 am) so we didn’t need any sunblock, otherwise we would have been roasted pretty badly as the whole trail was pretty much “shade-less”. We stopped by a village to register in their tourism center and were fascinated with the kids who had the biggest smiles in the world!
Big Falls (Bomod-ok)
After what seemed like forever we finally made it to the famous Big Falls. It stood glorious at about 200 ft. Such a refreshing view! Some guests where really bold to jump off the twenty-storey high cliff to the ice-cold, rocky pool below. We dared not to! Camwhoring instead!
Best breakfast in Sagada according to many travel sites and I couldn’t agree more. Yoghurt dishes are served with fresh fruits and pancakes. The crepe with yoghurt, banana & strawberry was kick-ass. Boo me, I ordered chicken sandwich. My distinct recollection of this place was having Mr. Jaime Zobel de Ayala (parang si Papa P. lang!) in the same room for breakfast! What a great way to start the day!
This charming little resto offers a buffet every Saturday night for P350 prepared by a local French chef. It’s very popular among tourists hence booking early is a must. A P100 deposit per person booking fee is required. We missed the buffet and just ordered like a set dinner and we enjoyed it; I especially liked the fresh tomatoes side dish. We also adored the ambiance and had a blast having our photos taken by the fireplace!
This has become famous for Juday and Piolo’s “Don’t Give up on Us”, where they shot one of their kilig scenes. Frankly not as flattering as it was in the movie. Must be the gloomy skies. It’s an okay place to have picnics and is often used as a jump off point for people who wants to hike Mt. Ampacao.
On our way home from the lake, we made a quick stop in this pottery house. It’s strange that there’s nobody home and yet the shop was just wide open. Amazing what beautiful masterpieces one’s hands can do. Cheers to Filipino craftsmanship. Cheers to a great Sagada adventure. Kampay!!!!