Always do what you are afraid to do.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words have been my guiding principle in life. But this time when I visited Sagada I pushed the envelope a bit more. Being an impulsive traveler who hates micro planning, I had not bothered to check what I was getting into and how prepared was I. All I knew was it has Rice Terraces, Hanging coffins, Whang Od and a cool weather. And these reasons were good enough for me to book a trip to Sagada, Philippines. However, Sagada Sagada Tourist Spots surpassed my expectations.
Come on board and experience the thrill of mountain adventure in a tropical paradise:
Banaue Rice Terraces
On 9th Sep 2016 night, I along with my friend Pari, started our journey to Sagada. Our first pit stop was the stunning 2000-year-old Banaue Rice Terraces, a UNESCO world heritage site. The Rice Terraces are commonly referred to as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". It was the first ever landscape to be included in the cultural landscape category of the UNESCO world heritage site.
Another interesting trivia is, in a country colonized for more than 400 years; this mountain province was never colonized, as the tribes here were too strong for any kind of foreign invasion.
After quick check-in and lunch at Sagada, we started our adventure ride. On the behest of our driver, we opted for Cave Connection, an extreme spelunking adventure. I had no clue what I was in for. My past caving experiences left me with a misconception that caving is pretty easy. Turned out I was foolhardy.
Spelunking the Cave Connection - Sumaguing and Lumiang Caves
We started our Cave Connection Tour from Lumiang Cave, a burial site where hundreds of coffins are stacked as part of the local tradition. These coffins have been there for more than 400 years and in some of the coffins, you could see the bones. A strenuous adventure began with an eerie start.
The only light in the pitch-darkness came from the lamp our guide was carrying. Our guides were experienced and caring. One of the guides had Salman Khan’s ‘Tere naam’ hairdo.
Cave Connection was an awe-inspiring experience that not only amazed us with the magnificent rock formations but also tested our endurance and flexibility. The 5 hours of spelunking had a number of descents and ascents, climbing, and rappelling, swimming and soaking, crawling and scooting, gripping the shoulder of our guide and stepping on his knee, cursing and praying, and more!
The rocks were dangerous, slippery and sharp. Capable of causing bongsho-dhongsho to any guy 😛 (Ask your Bengali friend what it means). One slip could have resulted in a slip-disk. The most frightening part was when we had to pass through the freezing cold waterfall and 10 feet deep pool filled with icy COLD water. Every inch of my body was hurting and I was super cold.
What kept me going was I didn’t want to die in a dark scary cave. So I had no option but to keep walking. However, the Braveheart was my friend, who in spite of not being an adventure junkie finished it successfully. She could be the next model for Fear Factor or Whisper.
One key takeaway from this extreme adventure was - Sometimes the best strategy to get over your fear is to not know the extent of the danger.
After a day of thrilling action, it was time to relax and what better place than Yogurt House, a cozy restaurant with a fireplace, delicious food, and charming staff. All it took to gulp down our tiredness was a hot cup of ginger lemon Tea, Kadhi Chawal (thanks to Haldiram’s RTE) and a veg sub.
A day full of adventure had come to an end. That day after long I slept like a log and woke up fresh.
Trek to Bomod-ok Waterfalls
A one-hour trek through the villages, rice terraces and steps took us to the Bomod-OK waterfalls. The downhill and uphill trek was pretty tiring in the scorching sun but the waterfall was worth the effort and the sun tan.
The Echo Valley and The Hanging Coffins
Sagada is renowned for its hanging coffins. Though I had heard about them I didn’t know about their history. Our guide told us that there are two kinds of funeral processes practiced in Sagada – cemetery coffins placed 6 feet above the ground and hanging coffins on the cliffs.
We hiked for 15-20 minutes from the St. Mary’s Church to the cemetery to eventually make way down to the Echo Valley and Hanging Coffins. It is named echo valley for the obvious reason.
Here is the back-story narrated by my Igorot Tribe guide:
Hanging Coffins is a 2000 year old funeral custom of ours. It is an expensive process and only the person who is considered to be the ‘legitimate elder’ by us has a right to be placed in a hanging coffin. When the person dies, he/she is placed in the coffin in a fetal position because a person should exit the world in the same position that he/she entered.
We wrap the body in blankets and tie with rattan leaves and then carry the corpse to the hanging coffins site. Our tribe members arrive from far away places to participate in the procession. Getting smeared with the blood or sweat of the deceased brings good luck. After reaching the site for the burial, the corpse is placed in the coffin and tied or nailed to the side of the cliff. We believe placing the coffin on the side of a cliff, the deceased would be closer to heaven.” Bewildered by the unique traditions of the locals, we returned to the marketplace.
The evening was spent experimenting with food – some gluttonous some worth forgetting.
Sunrise at Mt. Kiltepan
Next day we woke up at 3 am to catch the glorious sunrise at Mt. Kiltepan. While we were waiting for the break of dawn, the cold gusts of wind made sure we didn’t feel sleepy. The sea of cottony clouds, the crack of sunlight passing through and the shivers we got from the cold breeze made this place heavenly! Although the sun had taken a day off that day still the sight was mesmerizing and magical.
After basking in the glory of the gorgeous sunrise, we started our onward journey to Manila taking pit stops in between for photo-ops, loo breaks, and pet puja. En-route we visited Baguio strawberry farms and Burnham Park.
Sagada tourist spots surpassed my expectations
It is one of those places whose mystique and allure cannot be captured through pictures or words. With its unique culture, rugged beauty, cool weather, pine trees, fresh food and air, the slow pace of life and rich traditions, it felt like I’ve been transported to a different part of the world. A part where I lost my heart to my beloved Himalayas. I never imagined finding love in an archipelago. But as they say, never say never.
So when are you visiting this sleepy beautiful town?
Travel Tips to enjoy Sagada Tourist Spots the most:
BEST TIME TO GO
From November to February. The weather is cool and dry. From November onwards there are local festivals like Begnas di Yabyab (Nov), annual bonfire festival (Dec), and town fiesta (Feb).
The 12-13 hours journey can be done either through a bus or car/vans. There are no direct buses to Sagada so you’ll have to go via Banaue or Baguio. Many tour operators have 3D4N tours to Sagada with vans leaving on Thursday night around 9 PM from Trinoma or from Centris Mall, Quezon Avenue.
Though I could stay there for weeks but for most people 3D4N are enough to explore the key attractions.
There are no swanky hotels in Sagada only basic hotels and homestays. I stayed at an amazing property called the Glasshouse with a great view and good facilities. Other options are Canaway Guesthouse, George’s Guesthouse, Deavey’s inn, Masferre Inn, Rock Inn, Treasure Rock Inn among others.
I took a package tour so my entire trip inclusive of my stay, transportation, guide fees, meals, and some light shopping cost around 6000 pesos (less than 125 USD). If you decide to do on your own than a budget of the 1.5k peso (31 USD) per day should be good.
I couldn’t experiment a lot with the food, thanks to being a vegetarian. Although I tried many restaurants my favourite was Yogurt House. Other options are Salt & Pepper, Masferre, Sagada Brew, Gaia Café and Bana’s. Lemon Pie House, which is highly recommended was a big disappointment. Neither they had variety nor taste. The staff was rude. And please don't try their mountain tea. You will be scarred for life.
If you enjoyed reading this article, do read Why Philippines is the best-kept secret of South East Asia.
PS: Special thanks to my friend my friend Dannish who organised this trip. I detest group tours but this tour was like your personal tour. Dannish is extremely accommodating and took great care of us.