Sagada: The Long-Awaited Cordilleran Adventure

Sagada: The Long-Awaited Cordilleran Adventure

I have long wanted to visit Sagada, Mountain Province in the Cordillera region of the Philippines, but somehow never did. Every time hubby and I would visit the country, I always asked my younger sister if it was a good time to go to Sagada, but time, distance and weather were always against us.

Why Sagada?

Sagada has piqued my interest since the 1990s because of their hanging coffins. What’s more, I love mountains and cool/cold weather, so that made the place even more enticing.

I left the Philippines back in 1998, then went back in 1999. I wanted to go to Sagada then, but we were pressed for time. Fast-forward to 2009 (I didn’t go home for 10 years), we went back to bury my father-in-law, so a Sagada trip was not in the cards. Succeeding visits happened, but a trip to Sagada went unrealized until 2018.

For last year’s Thanksgiving long weekend, hubby and I decided – very spur of the moment – to head up north to Sagada. How spur of the moment, you may ask? We checked bus tickets and accommodation on Monday, heard back from them on Tuesday, booked everything on the same day, then left on Thursday night. We returned to Manila early morning on Monday.

Why am I only posting about it now? Life got pretty busy, especially when the holidays rolled around. I wrote the draft of this post immediately after we got back, but it stayed as a draft until now. After posting about our recent Bicol trip (you can find it here), I realized that this Sagada story should be shared.

How we got there

It was the first time that we traveled within the Philippines by bus, thanks to Coda Lines. The one-way trip took 12 tiring hours with two stops. We took the 10:00 PM 35-seater Super Deluxe bus with A/C and toilet on the way to Sagada; then the Semi Deluxe (no CR) on the way back to Quezon City. The bus left from HM Transport Terminal in Cubao, Quezon City. We stopped in Pura, Tarlac with the next break in Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya.

Before we arrived in Sagada, we had a very brief stop at Banaue Rice Terraces. Whoa!

Banaue Rice Terraces | 📷: SnapHappy Foodie

Thankfully, the bus driver allowed us to get off the bus quickly to take pictures. Even if it was a foggy day with a slight drizzle, the rice terraces still looked pretty good.

Banaue Rice Terraces

Then it was on to Bontoc, Mountain Province, and finally, Sagada. We registered at the Sagada Tourist Information Center upon arrival.

What we did
  • Echo Valley and Hanging Coffins – The hanging coffins were the reason behind my long-standing curiosity about Sagada. It was quite a hike just to see those hanging coffins, and we passed by the public cemetery first.
Public Cemetery

Then it was off to Echo Valley. The hanging coffins were camouflaged so well; you wouldn’t even know the hanging coffins were there (unless you’re eagle-eyed, I think).

Echo Valley

Our tour guide made the hike to and fro the Valley pretty interesting. Did you know that only old people who died of natural causes can be buried in the Echo Valley area? What’s more, the whole community participates in the burial. Everyone lines up from the top to the bottom of Echo Valley. The deceased body is passed from one person to another until it reaches the last person near the coffin. If you get dripped on by some bodily fluid, it is considered lucky and a blessing. I thought it wasn’t an active burial site anymore, but the day after we went there, it was closed to the public for a burial.

I knew that outsiders cannot buy real estate properties in Sagada. I assumed that it was out of a deep sense of exclusivity and community, but our guide told us that people in Sagada can be buried in three places – the valley, the public cemetery, and to my surprise, within their own property. Suddenly it made sense to me why they didn’t want to sell their land to outsiders. Community members will be more respectful of their resting place if they’re buried in their own land, more so than people who didn’t believe in such practices.

After seeing the views, I understand why people would want to be buried in the Echo Valley. It’s such a serene final resting place.

Echo Valley | 📷: SnapHappy Foodie

I confess that I huffed and puffed on our way to Echo Valley, but I made it. I left my inhaler at SHV, but I still managed to smile for this picture. Anything for the camera. . .haha.

Echo Valley
  • Sunrise at Marlboro Country – Waiting for the sunrise that never was 😆 We woke up at 4:00 AM and hiked all the way up Marlboro Country where it was too foggy and cold. People came out in droves to see the sunrise, but the fog didn’t even lift. We did plan to see the sunrise at Kiltepan Peak, but it was closed when we were there.
  • Sunset at Lake Danum – Waiting for the sunset that never was. 😆 Much like our sunrise experience, it was too cloudy.
Sunset at Lake Danum

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. In our case, when nature gave us clouds, we took silhouette shots! Just look at the picture on the left.

Our guide was kinda apologetic for both the sunrise and sunset experiences because the sun was a no-show. What can we do? Nature can’t be controlled. He said other people would complain and then post negative stuff online. Thankfully, we’re reasonable people.

  • Church of Saint Mary the Virgin – This is an Anglican church in Sagada and the oldest church in the Cordillera region outside Baguio City. Sagada is predominantly Episcopalian. This is a beautiful church, but our experience was slightly marred by fellow tourists from Manila who were posing rather inappropriately inside the church. Okay, just because you’re not Episcopalian, it doesn’t give you the right to disrespect to other people’s places of worship. Why isn’t this common sense? Good thing they left before I took pictures.
Facing the altar inside the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin
Church of Saint Mary the Virgin
Church of Saint Mary the Virgin
  • Sagada Pottery – We watched a demo of how to make Sagada pottery, and ended up making pottery ourselves! We hung out at the pottery place quite a bit, and chatted with the ladies running the place. They asked us if we thought Sagada was okay, or if we’re getting bored because it’s too quiet. We told them that’s why we went there – for some peace, quiet and a breath of fresh air. We didn’t go there to party. That’s not what Sagada is about.
  • Sagada Weaving – We didn’t try weaving, but we did buy their stuff! 😆

  • Ganduyan Museum – This was a pretty small museum, but there are enough artifacts to keep you busy.
Ganduyan Museum
What we ate

We went to five restaurants while in Sagada. I’m still undecided if I’ll blog about since it’s been months since we ate there. We’ll see.

Log Cabin
  • Sagada Brew – Here’s my Bacon, Beans, Egg and Toast.
Bacon, Beans, Egg and Toast courtesy of Sagada Brew
Sagada Brew
  • Yoghurt House – Hubby ate this Banana Granola and Strawberry Preserves with Yoghurt.
Banana Granola and Strawberry Preserves with Yoghurt
  • Gaia Cafe and Crafts – This cafe was pretty close to where we stayed. I had Pancakes with 3 spreads (butter, honey and jam).
Gaia Cafe and Crafts – Pancakes with 3 spreads (butter, honey and jam)
Inside Gaia Cafe and Crafts
View of Ambasing Valley from Gaia Cafe and Crafts | 📷: SnapHappy Foodie
Waiting for our food while having rice coffee and regular coffee at Gaia Cafe and Crafts
Where we stayed

We stayed at Sagada Heritage Village, an unusual pet-friendly lodging away from the city center, a perfect quiet retreat from the modern world. There were two dogs on site – Corky and Gumi. It’s not a fancy place, so don’t expect hotel amenities, but the people there are friendly, hardworking and hospitable. That was good enough for us.

That’s our hut behind us | Sagada Heritage Village

This is how it looks like inside our hut. We booked a Family Room with three single beds and one double bed. They provided towels and linens.

Sagada Heritage Village

With its thatched roof, I didn’t even hear when it rained heavily.

What I found slightly off-putting was having to climb up and down the ladder in the middle of the night when I need to go to the bathroom. The bath was located outside, and oddly enough, it had no sink.

Anyway, you can see the seating area below the hut in the picture below. There was also fire pit near the hut, giving a campfire-like vibe while you’re enjoying the lovely mountain views.

Sagada Heritage Village
Is sagada for you?
  1. There are no chain hotels and restaurants. You won’t find Jollibee, Max’s, McDonald’s, etc. What you’ll find are locally-owned businesses. If you’re into supporting the local economy and not the big business behemoths, you’re in luck.
  2. There is actually a curfew in Sagada (9/9:30 PM, I think). The stores and restaurants close early. If you’ve been busy hiking and spelunking during the day, then you get to turn in and sleep early.
  3. The locals appreciate the tourists coming to visit them, but they’re also concerned about keeping Sagada the way it is, especially since they have such a very rich and vibrant culture.
  4. Respect the people, the place and the culture. We noticed some folks from Manila (we were on the same bus, after all) acting all prima donna, expecting city amenities, and whining about the lack of a nightlife in Sagada. Go to Baguio instead.
  5. Some attractions close down when there’s a community event going on that’s not open to the public. Make sure that you read the notices posted at the Tourist Information Center.
  6. Most of the public toilets do not have proper flushing capabilities. Dapat buhusan. Imagine my chagrin. 😆 You pay P5 and P10 if you’re doing #1 or #2. Just remember, travel is about experiencing things you don’t normally experience back home, so you just gotta go with the flow (pardon the pun).
  7. When shopping, we didn’t haggle with their prices because it’s obviously not a rich community. Paying what they ask for seems like a minor contribution to the local economy. Let’s face it, when you buy stuff in shopping malls, you don’t haggle, and you pay full price. You end up contributing to the hefty cash registers of big businesses. So why not help small businesses the same way?
  8. Leave nature alone. We noticed people who kept snipping off local flora just to put in their hair. Why not take a picture if you admire it so much?
In conclusion

We know that there are still many attractions in Sagada that we missed. We didn’t spelunk at Lumiang and Sumaguing Caves. We didn’t see Bomod-ok, Tape-ew and Pongas Falls. We didn’t see the sunrise at Kiltepan or the sunset at Lake Danum. We didn’t go mountain biking, rock climbing or whitewater rafting. I was feeling under the weather, but I didn’t want to cancel the trip, especially since I’ve waited for it so long. The one-way 12-hour bus ride wore me out, and if we did all the spelunking and hiking, I would’ve overexerted myself. Luckily, there were some sedentary activities to do, including walking around the town, learning about pottery and eating at the restaurants.

City life can be really stressful, and I understand the desire to get away. But when you travel, don’t expect to find the same things you see in the city. Leave that crap behind. Travel to be somewhere else and to live differently even for a short time. It wouldn’t hurt you.

Sagada is not for everyone, but it’s definitely for those who can appreciate what it has to offer. It wasn’t what I expected it to be, but it turned out better that way.


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