Sagada is an exciting place to visit, with opportunities to go spelunking and hiking in the midst of incredible natural beauty.
But there are more ways to experience the thrill of the place. Kara Santos explores the more unique things to do in Sagada.
Written and Photographed by Kara Santos
Additional photos courtesy of Art Fuentes
With its refreshing climate, beautiful pine-clad mountain slopes, relaxed vibe, and vibrant culture, Sagada is a popular destination for backpackers and adventure-seekers alike. Located about 275 kilometers north of Manila (and 100 kilometers from Baguio), this quaint town in the Mountain Province has plenty to offer in terms of outdoor adventures.
First-timers to Sagada can enjoy spelunking over slippery rocks in spectacular caves, hiking through rice fields to take a dip at the foot of mighty falls, and catching the sunrise at Kiltepan Peak. Since I had already tried these activities during my first trip to Sagada several years ago, I tried more “off-the-beaten path” adventures during my second visit:
Go mountain biking
With Sagada’s high elevation and sloping terrain, the town is ideal for mountain biking, especially for those who are experts in technical riding. Bringing your own bike can be a hassle because of the long drive (especially if you are taking public transport); you can rent decent mountain bikes for P100 per hour at Sagada Mountain Bikes. At the time of our visit, the operators had six units available (five mountain bikes and one BMX). It’s best to reserve the day before you plan to bike to ensure that units are available.
The steep slopes on the road and the rock-riddled dirt trails left me out of breath pretty quickly, but the view of the pine-covered slopes and mountains beyond the cliffs while biking was pretty spectacular. Biking can also be an alternative way to get around Sagada, especially if you’re staying in an inn or hostel far from the town center.
Scale some cliff walls
Sagada’s cliffs aren’t just picturesque. The rock walls and cliffs in this quaint town are great for rock climbing too. After inquiring at the Sagada Tourist Information Center for a guide and the rates (rock climbing costs P800 for one to two persons), we made our way to Echo Valley. The trail going to the cliff walls was a brisk 10-minute hike from the town center, passing through the cemetery behind the church and through another trail that leads to the famed Hanging Coffins.
Our trusty climbing guide Lino told us to hike down to the foot of the climbing wall, while he set up a rope for us at the top. He rappelled down, carrying a backpack of all the equipment we needed including safety helmets, extra climbing shoes, and chalkbags. The route could be easy or difficult, depending on which section of the wall you choose to climb. The easy route had larger crevices in the surface that were easy to grip and step on, while the more difficult route required more complex maneuvering to scale.
While the natural crags were definitely more challenging to climb compared to any indoor wall at the gym, the refreshing climate and the view from the top was rewarding.
Go on a motorcycle tour
Tourists can now rent motorbikes to ride around Sagada and even farther. The motorbikes available for rent (for P800 a day excluding gas) are mostly XRM 125 Underbones, which are suited for the mountainous terrain.
My husband Art and I decided to rent a couple of motorbikes and ride all the way from the Sagada town proper to the Banaue Rice Terraces and back via Bontoc. Like riding the bicycle, renting a motorcycle is a great way to tour much of Sagada and even neighboring provinces in the shortest time possible, and at your own pace.
I finally visited the 2000-year-old Banaue Rice Terraces, carved into the mountains by ancestors of the indigenous people. The winding route took us up close to several rice terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, including Kadchog Rice Terraces (found right by a roadside sign welcoming us to Bontoc, Mountain Province and Bay-yo RiceTerraces) in Bay-yo, one of the villages in Bontoc.
Witness a Festival of Fire
Our visit to Sagada coincided with All Saints’ Day, and while most people just light candles, locals practice the panag-apoy, a ritual where people burn kaeng to warm the souls of their dead loved ones.
In recent years, the practice has drawn wide media coverage and interest from local and foreign tourists, who flock to Sagada to witness the festival. The transformation of the cemetery into a smoky valley with bonfires illuminating the gravestones was really quite a sight.
Take a Food Trip
Over the past few years, Sagada has gained a reputation for having lots of great places to eat. All that walking around works up the appetite, so foodtripping will inevitably be part of your itinerary.
On the average, meals cost P150 to P200 per dish in most restaurants in Sagada. Meals are prepared fresh with ingredients depending on what is available in the market, so not all of the dishes listed in the menu are always available especially during peak season.
Old-time favorites include Log Cabin, best known for their Saturday night buffet and fusion of French-native cuisine, and Masferre Country Inn & Restaurant, which serves a range of local and international dishes.
Another newer establishment which I highly recommend is Misty Lodge and Café, which has good food choices and great service. They specialize in pizzas, burgers, platter meals, breakfast meals, crepes and really refreshing Yoghurt Shakes. Unlike most of the other restaurants located on the main road, Misty Lodge is about a 10- to15-minute hike away from the town center, but the delicious food and pleasant ambiance is really worth the hike.
If you’re looking for a more secluded and relaxing spot to eat, Rock Inn’s Cafe Bodega is a good choice. The restaurant is shrouded in blooming vines, but reveals to a beautifully landscaped garden with a gazebo and a fire pit. The restaurant is large enough to accommodate big groups and families and they also have a souvenir shop.
Meanwhile, the cozy Salt & Pepper Diner, right in the town center, serves savory and filling rice meals including Dinakiw (grilled pork belly), pepper steak, and inutom (baked chicken) dishes. The generous portions (not to mention the free extra rice) makes this a great place to eat after a day of adventuring around in Sagada. For dessert, head to Yoghurt House for a bowl of fresh yoghurt topped with fruits or a slice of pie from Lemon Pie House. Then, chill with a bottle or two of Red Horse Beer and chat with fellow adventurers at Sagada Pine Café.