With rice terraces shrouded in mist, beautiful green valleys and some of the highest mountains in the Philippines, Sagada is a remote getaway in a scenic part of the country. Here is our guide to getting the most out of Sagada.
Only accessible by a series of steep hairpin turns, Sagada is a remote village, high up in the Cordillera Mountains. With mist-shrouded farming terraces rising above verdant valleys, it’s a scenic destination for outdoor activities and cultural excursions in the Philippines.
Isolated enough to be untouched by Spanish invaders, indigenous Filipino tribes have thrived in the region. Collectively known as the Igorot, much of life in Sagada is still based around tribal influences and traditional customs.
See the mysterious hanging coffins of Sagada, watch loom weavers spin traditional tribal patterns, and witness the pace of mountain life as farmers tend to their neatly organised vegetable crops.
Hike forested trails through verdant valleys, wade through Sagada’s underground cave network and soak up the beauty of the lush mountainous rice terraces.
The cool mountain air and slow pace of life makes Sagada a relaxing break from the heat of the cities and an alternative to the palm-fringed beaches of the islands.
With minimal infrastructure and a remote location, Sagada is not the easiest place to visit. But it’s well worth making the effort.
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HOW TO GET TO SAGADA
Sagada is a small village located in the Cordillera Mountains. Surrounded by remote terraced farmland, the highest mountains in the Philippines and an extensive underground cave network, it’s an adventure destination and a unique cultural experience.
Located in the centre of Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines, with no rail connections, Sagada is a slow and twisty bus ride from Manilla.
DIRECT BUS ROUTE
The direct bus from Manilla to Sagada is run by Coda Bus Lines. Buses leave between 9pm and 10pm arriving at Sagada between 8am and 9am. Expect to pay around $20USD for a one-way ticket.
Victory Liner runs a bus service from Manilla to Baguio. The trip takes around 6 hours and 30 minutes, and departures run between 10am through to 3pm, arriving at Baguio between 4:30pm and 9:30pm. Once in Baguio, take a taxi to Dangwa Station to get the GL Trains Bus to Sagada, which will take between 5 to 6 hours.
THE INDIGENOUS TRIBES OF SAGADA
The indigenous people of the Cordillera Mountains are referred to as the Igorot, however there are 11 different ethnolinguistic groups making up a population of around 1.5 million.
After the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, they sent missionaries to convert the indigenous population to Christianity. However, due to the diverse array of ethnic tribes in the highlands and the remote location, Spanish colonialism was not able to fully take hold.
Nonetheless, each of the colonial eras, the Spanish, American and Japanese have shaped the culture in the area in many ways.
Since Christian missionaries began converting the indigenous population at the turn of the 20th century, most people in Sagada are now Christian. However, the distinctive native religions of the area still shape many of the customs practised today; the most notable of which is the hanging coffins of Sagada.
THINGS TO DO IN SAGADA
01. VISIT THE MYSTERIOUS HANGING COFFINS IN ECHO VALLEY
The hanging coffins of Sagada are attached high up on the limestone cliffs of Echo Valley by locals who practise a blend of native religious and Christian beliefs. You will also notice a chair hanging on the cliff near each group of coffins.
In accordance with local custom, the dead are initially placed in the foetal position on the chair to symbolise the fact that we leave the world the way we entered it.
Traditional beliefs say that the higher up the coffin the closer the soul is to God. However, practically, it’s believed the custom started to avoid bodies being exhumed by wild animals.
The hanging coffins are just a 15-minute walk from St Mary’s church, but you need to join a walking tour to see them. Walking tours can be organised from your accommodation or from the Tourist Office in Sagada.
02. HIKE TO THE ECHO VALLEY LOOKOUT
For a longer hike through the wonderful scenery that surrounds Sagada, join the 3-hour guided walk to the Echo Valley Lookout. Leaving from St Mary’s Church, the tour passes the hanging coffins; Matangkib, a large cavern with an underground river that flows through Sagada’s extensive cave system; across to the Bokong Waterfalls; and finally, up to the Echo Point lookout.
The forested valley is abundant with banana trees, coffee plantations, local wildlife, and small farming communities.
On the return the tour stops at a small workshop selling weaving merchandise and civet coffee. We were told that the civets are wild and the farmers know where to find the droppings that are eventually processed into coffee beans. This may well be the case, however cage civets are kept in appalling conditions and this article has sourced evidence where caged civet coffee was labelled as wild.
Additionally, coffee experts would say the digestive process of the civet strips the coffee of natural acids which is essential for a good quality coffee. In our opinion civet coffee should be avoided.
03. EXPLORE THE EERIE LUMIANG BURIAL CAVE
The Lumaing Burial Cave contains around 100 coffins stacked on top of each other near the entrance to the cave that extends around 9 stories deep.
Some of the coffins are thought to be up to 500 years old. Most are made out of hollowed sections of tree trunks; some are very rudimentary wooden planks nailed together. The coffins are quite small as the bodies were placed in the foetal position so the dead would exit life the way they arrived in it, as with the chairs at the hanging coffins.
The coffins are at the entrance to the cave to protect against the elements, but also get some sunlight which was thought to protect against evil spirits.
The caves are a 15-minute walk from the centre of the main village towards Ambasing. There are steep steps down to the entrance of the cave which is also where the challenging Cave Connection tour starts.
04. BRAVE THE CAVE CONNECTION TOUR THROUGH SUMAGUING CAVE
Sagada has the deepest cave network in the Philippines, sinking to depths of up to 500 feet. One of the most popular ways to experience them is on the Cave Connection tour, an energetic adventure for anyone reasonably fit.
The Cave Connection tour traverses the underground network that links the Lumaing Cave with the Sumaging Cave. Tours will take 3 to 4 hours and involve walking through beautiful rock formations, wading through waist deep water, rappelling down waterfalls, dangling off ledges and squeezing through tiny openings.
During rainy season (May to October) there is a risk of flash flooding and the caves can be extremely dangerous.
Private tours can be organised from the Tourist Office in Sagada.
05. SEE THE SAGADA RICE TERRACES
Although the most picturesque terraces are best explored from nearby Banaue, Sagada has its own beautiful giant stairways handcrafted into the mountains.
Made up of rocks piled on top of each other, rather than carved ledges, many of the terraces around Sagada are used to grow vegetables which you’ll often see neatly stacked on trucks making their way up winding mountain tracks.
The best viewpoint is at Kiltepan Viewing Deck just east of Sagada. It’s perfectly positioned for a spectacular sunrise over the terraces.
Transportation can be arranged from the Tourist Office in Sagada and should cost around PHP500 for the 15-minute jeep ride. There are a few cafes to get snacks and coffee at the viewing deck.
06. WITNESS THE SKILL AT SAGADA WEAVING
Weaving in the Philippines dates to the 13th century when the rhythmic motion of the handloom was thought to create a connection to spirits who would attract good health and protection.
Today, Sagada Weaving is one of the biggest employers in the area with colourful textiles, wallets, bags and clothing spinning off the looms in an activity that blends work with social interaction.
Weaving is an artistic expression in the Philippines where different colours are associated with different cultural events, and each tribe has a specific pattern.
With traditional weaving struggling against more affordable factory-produced textiles, a visit to Sagada Weaving is a great way to support local business. Although there are signs saying “no photos” if you ask nicely and don’t bother the weavers as they work, they’ll be happy for you to snap a few shots.
You can support them by purchasing something at the shop next door.
07. LEARN FROM THE MASTERS AT SAGADA POTTERY STUDIO
Sagada Pottery Studio is the creation of two potters, Siegrid Bangyay and Tessie Baldo, who set up the studio in 2001. Unlike most other pottery studios who buy in the clay, Siegrid and Tessie, still collect the clay from around Sagada and process it from start to finish.
This involves checking the clay at high temperatures, soaking and draining 4 times a day, then aging it for up to 3 months before it can be used.
The clay is then crafted into cups, jugs and bowls before being left to air dry for a month before firing.
Inside the slightly dilapidated studio, see the pieces resting at different stages of the process and watch a demonstration by Siegrid or Tessie who will spin up a jug before your eyes. For a small fee, you can try your hand at making something yourself.
08. LEARN FROM THE EVOCATIVE TRIBAL PHOTOGRAPHY AT MASFERRÉ GALLERY
Eduardo Masferré was a Filipino-Catalan photographer who documented the life of the native tribes around the Cordillera region in the middle of the 20th century.
His work is on display in a small unassuming gallery in Sagada which is a snapshot of the culture of the Igorot people. Most of the photographs are portraits of two tribes, the Bontok and Kalinga, representing ceremonies, rituals and everyday life.
Taken from the point of view of someone living in the tribe, the images capture behaviour, candid moments, and important tools for daily life, most notably long, elaborate smoking pipes.
The Masferré Gallery is a wonderful thing to do in Sagada for an insight into the culture of the local tribes.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAGADA
Sagada is small community with a very independent feel. There are not big hotels, just several small, family-run guesthouses. Here are some recommendations from us.
GARDEN GUEST HOUSE
Spacious accommodation in a friendly guest house with a large garden on the outskirts of the village. The hearty breakfast will set you up for the day.
GREAT BUDGET OPTION
This lovely guesthouse in a leafy location is like staying with long lost friends. Their home-cooked pizza in the communal living area is a great way to finish a long day of sightseeing.
While the rooms are extremely basic, the excellent location and friendly atmosphere make this a great choice in Sagada. Their food was some of the best vegetarian food we had in the Philippines.
MAP OF THINGS TO DO IN SAGADA
Sagada is a small community in the Cordillera Mountains in the Philippines. It’s very easy to walk to most of the attractions listed in this guide. If you need transport, your hotel or the Tourist Office will be able to organise it for you.
WHEN TO VISIT SAGADA?
Sagada Mountain province enjoys temperatures much cooler than most other parts of the Philippines, so it’s the perfect location to cool off in remote mountain scenery.
The best time to visit Sagada is during the dry season from November to April. Over this period the average temperatures range between 15 – 17 degrees and the rice terraces are glowing a luminous green.
There are several festivals over this period including the harvest season festival, a thanksgiving festival and Panag-eta, where tourists are encouraged to participate in cultural activities.
This is also the busy period with Filipinos looking for an escape from the heat.
The rainy season, between May and October brings warmer wetter days. Typhoon season is July and August so this is not the best time to visit Sagada with many of the hikes and cave activities not available.
WHERE TO EAT IN SAGADA
Bana’s Coffee has a great location with views overlooking a leafy valley beside the town where they serve up pretty good Filippino food, particularly for breakfast. They have developed a bit of a reputation for their banana pancakes.
Yoghurt House is a restaurant in the centre of town with a terrace overlooking the sleepy main street of the village. Their pink rice and chargrilled veggies were delicious as were the yoghurt-inspired deserts.
Misty Lodge is a guesthouse on the outskirts of Sagada which also has an on-site café. If you’re looking for an alternative to local Filipino food, their pizza could be just the ticket.
Masferré Country Inn is run by the daughter of Eduardo Masferré (from the photography collection). The restaurant at the Inn is open to the public and serves excellent local dishes. On our visit they whipped up amazing coconut blossom spring rolls.
TIPS FOR VISITING SAGADA
1 – To enter Sagada you need to pay a PHP50 (US$1) environmental fee at the checkpoints at the entrance to the village. Hold on to the receipt as you’ll need it to enter most tourist attractions in the village.
2 – There’s limited Wifi in Sagada, so if you want to stay online it’s a good idea to get a local sim card or Wifi device. Both can be purchased at the airport in Manilla when you arrive.
3 – As part of the current Covid requirements, travel insurance specifically covering Covid medical care up to $35,000 is required to enter the Philippines.
4 – Private guides, bus trips and taxis can all be organised via the Tourist Information Centre in Sagada. It’s open from 8:30am to 5pm every day.
5 – Cash is required in many places in Sagada so make sure you carry some at all times. There’s a cash machine in the Tourist Information Centre.
6 – In the dry season, water is scarce so be careful about how much you use.
7 – Filtered water is readily available for free in Sagada so bring a water bottle with you.
This guide was produced in partnership with the Philippines Department of Tourism.
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