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24 hours in Sagada, Philippines: Discover Mystery, Beauty and Adventure

24 hours in Sagada, Philippines: Discover Mystery, Beauty and Adventure
Angela
Angela
Published

Made up of thousands of individual islands, the Philippines is an incredibly diverse country. Beyond the sugar-sand beaches, and even further north than the bustling city centers, lies the stunningly beautiful and peaceful town of Sagada, nestled high in the beautiful mountain province. With a population of only about 12,000, this sleepy village with its majestic, misty natural surroundings will make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Untouched by high-rise resort investors or carousing backpackers, Sagada provides a quiet escape to nature, where visitors will find it easy to get in touch with the scenic landscape as well as the mysterious spiritual history of the area.

As the journey to this small town is somewhat time-consuming and a bit complicated, some guests will only have a single full day to see the best of what Sagada has to offer. So if you find yourself with only 24 hours to spend in Sagada, here are the most important things to take note of and take part in for an enjoyable and fun trip to this unique mountain village!

The journey to the tiny town of Sagada is a scenic marvel

The breathtaking scenery along the winding mountain road to Sagada

Though outdoorsy travelers could find themselves happily enjoying this mountain respite for weeks, one day is enough for go-getter travelers and backpackers to make the most of the marvels of this scenic town. Of course, first things first: getting to Sagada takes a certain amount of planning. Because of its small size and northern location, Sagada has precious few transport links. The most common way to reach this hidden gem is to take a combination of buses and jeepneys from more southern destinations. An overnight bus from Manila will take you to Baguio, Bontoc or Banaue, each of which are then a few hours’ jeepney ride on winding mountain roads with stunningly beautiful views (pictured above).

All in all, a journey to Sagada from Manila will take about 12-14 hours, depending on which routes you choose. Baguio has some well-rated museums, cathedrals, and other historic sites to visit, Bontoc has lovely views, and Banaue is home to the famous Batad Rice Terraces, so a route to Sagada from Manila should include a stopover in at least one of these other charming towns to break up your journey and to make the most of the interesting places you pass by.

Beginning your Sagada exploration: a visit to the town’s unusual and most iconic cultural feature

The haunting and mysterious beauty of the iconic hanging coffins

The first order of business for any visitor arriving in Sagada is to register at the tourism office, where you will be asked to pay an environmental fee. However, Sagada is a very inexpensive town to visit in terms of everything from food and lodging to activities: the environmental fee is only 35 PHP (~0.73 USD). The tourism office is also the best place to plan your Sagada activities: they offer maps and useful advice, and it’s also the best place in the town to hire tour guides for reasonable prices.

The first Sagada must-see can be reached without a guide, but it involves a 15-20-minute trek through, at times, very thick brush, so a guide is recommended to direct you to the least arduous path and to eliminate the danger of getting lost. Plus, a guide can explain the history behind the unique sight: a craggy mountain face to which colorfully painted ‘hanging coffins’ are affixed. This first must-see is a great place to start, because the story behind this unusual burial method combined with the misty jungle and cave surroundings will give guests the mysterious thrill that accompanies any traveler’s visit to beautiful Sagada.

No matter the itinerary, guests will be hard-pressed to not be dazzled by Sagada’s surrounding landscapes

Misty, mysterious beauty like this captures the essence of Sagada

Tour guides are recommended for most Sagada exploration. Packages vary in price and length according to what you would like to see. Luckily, the tourism office employees are typically very helpful and can assist you in choosing the best itinerary for you. Most tours will include a fair amount of hiking, so guests are advised to wear non-slip hiking boots or sneakers, and to bring plenty of water and insect repellent. If you’re visiting between May and October, rain can also be expected, so a rain jacket is never a bad idea. Bringing a camera is a must, but a secure neck or wrist strap is also essential, because some hikes involve climbing.

Each guide is different and may take slightly different routes to some destinations, so hiking tours may vary from group to group, but all will include gorgeous scenery scattered with beautiful foliage, rivers, caves, waterfalls and rice fields. A good one-day itinerary with a guide would include a trip to the hanging coffins, hiking through the jungle and in small caves to various waterfalls and lookout points, and a trip deep into the Sumaguing cave system. A full-day itinerary like this would cost around 1000 PHP (20.94 USD). Packing Sagada into one day is not for the faint-hearted. It makes for a tiring day, but for those who are short on time, it’s the most efficient way to see the best that Sagada has to offer. Guests with more time can break up these sights and inquire at the tourism office for other activities and points of interest.

Sagada’s crown jewel: the Sumaguing Cave System

The unusual cave formations will have visitors in awe

The iconic hanging coffins with their mysterious history, and the awe-inspiring surroundings around every corner are absolutely not to be missed. However, perhaps the most spectacular as well as the most popular adventure in Sagada takes place in the dark: spelunking in the Sumaguing Cave system. A guide is a necessity for this adventure because the caves can be very dangerous without an experienced local. Guides can be hired at the tourism office for a group of up to 4 at a time for around 500 PHP (10.47 USD).

Guests embarking on the standard two-hour cave journey should be physically fit and have good balance, as it involves lots of rock-climbing, wading through water, and navigating slippery surfaces. Flip flops are preferred by some for this trip, tennis sneakers or hiking boots by others, but all guests should bring a secure backpack to store their shoes for the sections where the guides recommend that going barefoot is the best choice. Personal headlamps are also suggested, as the guide only brings one lantern for the whole group into the completely pitch-dark cave. The journey deep into the cave is strenuous, but the sights along the way are enormously rewarding. Bizarre, perfectly smooth rock formations have been hewn by the crystal-clear, drinkable water that flows through the cave; as you progress deeper into the cave, your surroundings will make you feel as if you’ve set foot onto another planet!

Sagada offers mystery, beauty and adventure around every corner

If you tell someone who has been to Sagada that you also visited this little mountain town, they will ask you if you saw three things. So although the beautiful natural surroundings of Sagada could entertain any nature-lover indefinitely, visitors who only have one day can plan their trip around taking in the wonders of the scenery, the haunting curiosity of the cultural history at the coffins, and the astounding beauty of the natural cave formations at Sumaguing. Visitors who explore these areas will see the best of Sagada. However, additional exploration of the area is definitely in order for visitors with the luxury of a longer stay, because they will be sure to find more magic and majesty around every corner of this mysterious, mountainous jungle town.

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Angela is a solo traveler, avid reader and travel blogger based in San Diego who aspires to always keep her country count higher than her age. To date, she has visited twenty-six countries in five...Read more

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