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2019 Travel Guide To Sagada: Underground Action in the Highlands Edit

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Gawani Gaongen  • Contributor
Opinions expressed by Explora.ph Contributors are their own.

Cover photo by Anton Carranza 

At a Glance

A long, long time ago, Sagada lay underwater. No human memory recorded this. The limestones speak. Made from remains of marine organisms, limestones form Sagada’s main attraction – the numerous cave networks. But there’s more to just spelunking in this mountain town. Nature spots and heritage sites jazz up the journey.

Overview

Sagada is cool, with an elevation of 1522 meters above sea level. Temperatures drop, enough that breath becomes visible, like fog, on cold days. Mountains rise beyond the clouds. Waterfalls leap from bold heights, or slide down massive boulders. Limestone cliffs jut out of the scenery. Pine trees line the roads and swathe the landscape. Patches of mossy oak forests share the fringes with neighboring towns.

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Photo by Anton Carranza

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Photo by Anton Carranza

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Photo by Anton Carranza

Underneath the ground is cooler, inside the caves. Few of these have been named, mapped and opened to the public. The easiest and most popular Sumaguing Cave. The challenging Cave Connection. The expensive Crystal Cave. The tricky Victoria Cave. The less famous Balangagan Cave. There’s a cave to suit varied abilities and preferences.

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Photo by Anton Carranza

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Photo by Anton Carranza

The coolest part of this town is its people. They belong to a region that resisted over 300 years of Spanish rule. The Kankanaey Igorots of Sagada held on to their names, stories, prayers, songs, dances, values and territory – their indigenous way of life. 

Up to this day, traditional practices endure. Mountain slopes carved into rice terraces come alive with water engineering to adequately irrigate each field. The agricultural cycle revolves with a set of community rituals (that are strictly off limits to tourists). Human milestones from birth to death proceed with customary celebrations, usually alongside Christian rites.

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Photo by Anton Carranza

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Photo by Anton Carranza

Towering limestone cliffs function as sacred places for traditional interment of the dead, as in Echo Valley and Sugong Hanging Coffins. Mountain openings also serve the same purpose, like the burial site at Lumiang Cave.

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Photo by Anton Carranza

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Photo by Anton Carranza

Know more about the unique culture by befriending a local, your accredited tour guide to begin with. Join the town fiesta (1st week February) now named Etag Festival, after the local smoked meat.

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The intersection of nature and culture brings about a travel experience that is uniquely Sagada.

8 Famous Sites and Anonymous Sightings in the Land of Cool

Photos by Anton Carranza 

Sumaguing Cave

Know stalactite from stalagmite in this Spelunking 101 experience. Walk and crawl your way along limestone formations and more limestone. Swim in the deep, ice-cold pool. Keep your eyes open for the cave wall with fossilized marine shells. Be baffled at how high this sea bed rose. 

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Photo by Anton Carranza

Echo Valley Hanging Coffins

Walk past the Christian cemetery to the cliff wall where coffins hang. It is believed that souls of those interred this way move around freely, in a culture that keeps close links with the spirit world. Walk back or walk further to the underground river for the Adventure Trail.

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Photo by Anton Carranza

Ganduyan Museum

Delve into the local culture and history through this family-owned collection. Coast through the indigenous material culture. Ask how the shape of the wooden shield relates to warfare and head-taking. Marvel at how household items in the past were all natural, locally-sourced, hand-made and biodegradable.

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Kiltepan Peak

Witness the sunrise over a sea of clouds. The road reaches this summit. Sip tea or coffee in reverie (and manage your disposables or bring your reusable cups). The clouds lift to reveal rice terraces below. Hike three kilometers for the alternate Marlboro Mountain to enjoy a wider peak.

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Kiltepan Sunrise

Tip: About 15-20 minutes drive from the town center. Usually starts at 4:30 am. Fee is around P400 to P500 for transport (back and forth). You can also walk for an hour or camp out in the area the night before.

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Pongas Falls

Choose this over the grander Bomod-ok Falls, only if the latter is closed for ubaya(traditional rest day). Spot the rare Luzon water redstart that nests around here. Go extreme and try canyoneering. This whole-day course chases a dozen waterfalls, descended by rappelling or diving, and ends at Pongas.

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Mount Ampacao

Hike an hour and a half to this sunset viewpoint. The first summit suits camping. Traverse to Lake Danum. Usually around the third quarter of each year, a variety of birds pass through this sanctuary. Common sightings include balisoso (ruddy king fisher), pukaw(egret), kalapati(dove) and nayiwew (pitta).

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Mount Sisipitan

Summit the area’s highest peak at the shared boundary of Sagada and Besao. Camp overnight at Buasaw watershed. At 2,289 meters above sea level, this six-hour hike leads to mossy oak forest with an unrivalled sunrise. Check out the different kinds of wild orchids. Forest bathe. Breathe the cleanest air.

How to get to Sagada

1. From Manila, CODA lines travels straight to Sagada, via Banaue. Their daily trip schedule and rates are available at codalinesph.com. The trips are conveniently slated at night. The ten or so hours travelling can be spent sleeping. 


2. Going to Sagada via Baguio is also possible. Take any of the numerous bus lines that travel from Manila to Baguio. From Baguio, ride the GL Trans at the Dangwa Station. There are trips from 6am to 1pm. There are also two bus trips with Lizardo Trans at the Slaughter House: one at 3am and another at 5pm. Current road conditions make the travel time seven hours, instead of the regular six hours.


3. Sagada is a walking town. The locals usually walk to get around, especially because public utility vehicles are available by chance. If pressed for time or if unable to walk at length, local vans or jeepneys (for big groups) for hire are offered at the Tourism Office. Your rented transportation is also recommended for destinations outside central Sagada.


4. All tourists must register and pay 50 pesos environmental fee at the Tourism Office. The receipt serves as pass for the tour sites. Get an accredited tour guide from any of the tour associations. SEGA and SAGGAS are guide associations that offer to arrange and customize tours for free, if you get a guide from their respective offices.

Top 5 Hotels and Homes to Stay in Sagada


Agape Log Cabin and Restaurant

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Sagada Heritage Village

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Shamrock Tavern Extension

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Pinewood Lodge

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The Rusty Nail Inn and Cafe

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