Sagada Travel Guide for First-Time Visitors
Sagada in the Philippines is a must-visit destination on your itinerary. Sagada is one of the top eco places known for wonderful nature and tasty coffee, but also for caves, waterfalls, adrenaline adventures, and last but not least hanging coffins. Read our travel guide for first-time visitors on the best things to do in Sagada and tips on where to stay and what to pack.
If you want to escape Manila's heavy, polluted air, don't have mood for lazing on the beach, and rather think of spending your time in a place where it is possible to enjoy the mountain breeze, amazing views, and many outdoor activities, you should put Sagada, a small and until recently isolated town, firmly on your Philippines travel itinerary.
Sagada offers a wide range of the best things to do, and there is a reason why many first-time travelers often turn into regular visitors returning to the destination every year or whenever they can.
It is true, Sagada has been changing though. Once a remote town nestled in the valley in the Cordilleras in Mountain Province, has become a popular destination where travelers, both local and international, seek for a laidback atmosphere, great coffee, tasty cuisine (in case until now you were not somehow stunned by Filipino dishes, head to this town), adventure activities, indigenous culture, traditions of Igorot people, picturesque limestone cliffs or photogenic rice fields. That all can be found in Sagada, and we could go on and on with words of praise.
But what has not changed is the character of the mountain village. The main source of economy is still agriculture, and although tourism is becoming a more and more important part of everyday lives, the quaint little town in the North Luzon region will steal your heart by its authenticity and slow rhythm.
Sagada has so many things to offer, that you would need months to explore both the best places and try the top activities, but in case you are just passing by, make sure you will stay in the town at least for two days.
During this time, you will have a chance to do more than scratch the surface.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN SAGADA
For backpackers like us, Sagada was heaven on earth.
Every must-see place was easily accessible, we did not have to pay for activities unless we did not want to, accommodation was cheap and decent (we even stayed nearby local market) and food was better than in other parts of the Philippines.
Here's our list of the highlights and the best things to do in Sagada every first-time visitor should not miss.
When you arrive in Sagada, remember to stop by in the tourist office, where you must pay 50 PHP environmental fee, which is a really small contribution when you consider how attractive the area is.
Spelunking in the Caves | Sagada is famous for the underground cave systems, so one of the most popular things you can do when in the town is to reserve a spelunking tour which will safely take to the cave maze. Most of the visitors usually head to Sumaguing Cave which is also nicknamed Big Cave and offers amazing views of variously shaped stalagmites and stalactites. For your safety, you should always hire a guide (500 PHP up to four people), and never go inside the cave when it rains or shortly after rain as the cave system can get flooded (guide should always evaluate the situation). For more adventurous travelers seeking adrenaline and more challenging activities, there is a possibility to do a four-hour-long cave connection hike during which a guide will take you from Sumaguing Cave to Lumiang Cave. This is an ultimate experience not for faint of heart travelers - be ready for harsh conditions and walking on a slippery surface.
Explore Rice Terraces | No, Sagada cannot match with absolutely wonderful rice terraces in Banaue and Batad, but as we had visited this place before we headed to Ifugao province, we were very happy with what we saw. The area has naturally many rice terraces and rice fields because locals still work in agriculture, and you will for sure see many real rural photography opportunities when walking around Sagada. Always make sure it is possible to walk across the rice terraces (it usually is), but we had to take a detour several times to avoid water bulls. In case you want to explore rice fields more thoroughly, hire a local guide who grew up in Sagada.
Orange Picking | A seasonal activity in Sagada available from December to February is orange picking. A small accommodation connected with a restaurant Rock Inn & Cafe has an orange plantation on their premises, and it became one of the best fun and budget activities to do in Sagada during the three months mentioned above. Orange picking is also a great thing to do for families with kids or elderly, who cannot participate in more challenging actions, and we must admit it is also a great marketing idea how to bring more people to the restaurant which almost everyone visits after picking. The picking costs 50 PHP per thirty minutes, and during this time you can eat as many oranges as you can, in case you want to take some home, you must pay additional 60 PHP per a kilogram.
Hanging Coffins | Before you decide to skip Sagada as you can think there are many other places around the world where it is possible to do for example caving or water rafting, you should learn about Sagada's highlight and the main reason why travelers from all around the world want to visit this area. The reason is hanging coffins. The attraction is close to the town in Echo Valley (you can walk there easily on own in twenty minutes, walk past the town's cemetery), and you can visit it either on own or with a guide if you wish (200 PHP up to ten people). How it happened that we can until now find coffins hanging on limestone cliffs in Sagada? The native Igorot people started the tradition a long time ago as they believed, this way of burying provide dead's spirits easier path to the great beyond. Although nowadays, most of the people bury their family members regularly in the cemetery, some of them still hold the tradition, and it can happen that if you'll visit Sagada again in the future, you might find here brand new hanging coffins.
Trek to Echo Valley | Hanging coffins are easy to spot in the mouth of Echo Valley, but in case you want to do a half-day trek in the valley which got its name because every sound is echoing loudly there, hire a guide to enjoy a hike through gorgeous scenery, and you will even have a chance to see more coffins every now and then.
Waterfalls | There are several worthwhile waterfalls near Sagada, but the most awe-inspiring one is Bomod-ok waterfall (alias Big Falls) which is 200 meters high. It is not possible to get to the falls on own as it is required to take a guide (600 PHP for group up to ten people and 10 PHP tourist fee), but on the other hand, you will have a chance to explore more thoroughly Filipino rural landscape as the trail leads via rice paddies, small villages and you will even cross a swing bridge. The trek should take you 1 or 1.5 hours one way, depending on the pace of your group. It is possible to swim in the pool created by the waterfall, but note that the water is freezing cold. If you want to get away from crowds but still want to enjoy waterfalls, head to Pongas Falls or Bokong Falls, another impressive, but not that heavily visited natural sights.
Sagada Weaving | In case you are looking for an authentic souvenir, visit one of many Sagada weaving shops, where you can find many woven original products in a good quality such as wallets or backpacks.
Go inside Burial Cave | Lumiang Cave, the one which is connected with Sumaguing Cave is also known as Burial Cave, for one simple reason. You will find here many coffins inside the cave, either simply standing alone on the ground, or there are also many of them piled up on each other. The cave and coffins are centuries old, and you will find it on the southern end of the town when a series of steep steps will take you to the cave. It is possible to explore the cave as long as you can (it is a good idea to bring headtorch), but do not wander too far.
Taste Freshly Brewed Coffee | Sagada is a coffee region. Although you probably do not have the country of the Philippines connected with this article, coffee does exceptionally well in the area thanks to a higher altitude and milder weather. Some of the coffee houses in Sagada own coffee plantations and they even brew their beans, so hanging in coffee shops is a must-do activity in case you fancy a cup.
Saturday Market | One of the things we love the most when traveling around the world and South East Asia, in particular, are local markets and Sagada is no exception. Merchants set up they stalls every Saturday on the main street selling fresh vegetables, meat, clothes, souvenirs, handicrafts, and other commodities. If you happen to visit Sagada on this day, don't skip it. Also buying stuff from the vendors is good for the local economy.
Enjoy Filipino Cuisine | We love Southeast Asian cuisine, but we must say it aloud, that we found Filipino dishes the least tasty, and at the end of our month-long trip we had a feeling we won't make it if we will eat one more chicken adobo. You can disagree with us, but Filipino cuisine was somehow plain, in comparison with super-tasty food we could sample in other countries in the region. That all is true for one exception, and that was Sagada, where the food was miraculously much better. One of the reasons could be that we were always hungry after actively spent days, so we were more forgiving, but we know that other travelers we met on the road confirmed our suspicion that Sagada's cuisine is really better, despite the fact supply is a bit limited because of its remote location. There are several restaurants and bars worth noticing, some of the best places to eat are Yoghurt House or Salt & Pepper.
Climb Up Kiltepan Peak | Those of you who like to start the day early can head to Kiltepan Peak, the highest mountain in the area, to watch the spectacular sunrise over the clouds. The viewpoint was featured in a local popular film, so the place became fairly crowded, so do not expect to be there alone and avoid disappointment. The viewpoint was temporarily closed in 2018 because of extensive fires, but when researching for this post, we could read online that some travelers visited the peak already this year (2019). Either way, it is for sure better to ask in the tourism office in Sagada how's the current situation. It is possible to arrange a van one day before (500 PHP) you want to get to Kiltepan Peak, but you can also walk uphill with a guide since the top of the mountain is only four kilometers from the town. If you are looking for more hiking inspiration in the region and heading to Banaue, check out our favorite Batad to Pula to Banaue trek.
Mountain Biking | The terrain around Sagada must tempt every experienced biker to rent a bike and cycle uphill on dirt paths, and then enjoy a thrilling ride down. Sagada Mountain Bikes rent bikes for 100 PHP per hour, and as this activity is still not that popular as hiking because it requires a higher level of fitness and some skills, come early in the morning because the number of rental bikes is limited.
Rock Climbing | Limestone cliffs in Sagada's Echo Valley are very photogenic, but in case you are seeking action, it is possible to sign up in the tourist office for rock climbing. Although it is always better to have some experience, on the other hand, you will hardly find a place with cheaper rates which makes Sagada a great destination where to start with your rock climbing lessons. The guide usually costs 800 PHP, and the rate also includes equipment.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAGADA
Sagada is a place where you can easily spend several days doing many activities, so choose wisely when booking your accommodation.
You can find several cheap or mid-range priced hotels and hostels in Sagada, but do not expect anything fancy.
We've handpicked three hotels where you will get the best value for your money.
Budget | Agape Log Cabin and Restaurant - As the name suggests, the hotel is made of wood, and you will find here clean and comfortable rooms in a very convenient location.
Mid-range | Coffee Heritage House and Hostel - Well-rated hotel is the best value for money you can get in Sagada. This hotel is a perfect place to disconnect from the outside world, and enjoy cozy rooms.
Mid-range | Banga-an BnB and Coffee House - This hotel is a bit farther from the center but is for everyone seeking a quiet environment. All coffee lovers should stay here as you can taste a coffee which grows in the backyard.
Alternatively, search for your accommodation via Hostelworld.
HOW TO GET TO SAGADA
Despite the fact Sagada once has been a remote village, nowadays, it is not that hard to get there, even when traveling independently without a tour.
It is possible to get to Sagada with a direct overnight bus from Manila, the capital of the Philippines quite easily. When traveling from other destinations, you will most likely have to switch buses in Baguio, an unappealing city which serves for many travelers as a transportation hub.
We traveled to Sagada from colonial town Vigan, and there was no other option on how to get there than via Baguio.
Although Vigan is not that far from Baguio, the roads are winding and not in best conditions, so it took us more than six hours to get to Baguio, and we decided to stay in the city one night and continue the next day.
If you are traveling the same direction, try to take a morning bus from Baguio to Sagada, as the mountain views are beautiful (sit on the right side), and also, the last bus usually leave around 11:30 AM.
Also, pack warm clothes, as it was pretty cold on board.
From Sagada, we continued to Banaue, we only had to take another bus in Bontoc, but overall it was very easy to arrange it.
WHAT TO PACK FOR VISITING SAGADA
Most of the travelers including us arrive in Sagada to spend most of the time outside, and you should pack according to it.
Sagada has pleasant mountainous weather with mild temperatures all year round.
The rainy season lasts from May to October, with precipitation in their highest between July and September. If traveling between this period, remember to pack water-resistant clothes and equipment, and be more cautious as landslides and cave floodings can occur.
Here are five essential things you should pack with you when visiting Sagada.
Rain Poncho | It can rain from time to time even during dry season.
GoPro | For all outdoor activities it is always better to have an adventure camera.
Ultralight Packable Daypack | Recently, we've found very useful light packable daypacks for an easy short hikes or time spent outside.
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