Sagada? There’s more to it than the caves. Here are 10 Sagada travel tips according to a local.
Sagada is undoubtedly one of the most popular Philippine travel destinations up north. It’s commonly known for its adventurous caves and hanging coffins, but for many, its picturesque setting also serves as a perfect getaway from the bustle of the city (and of course the perfect backdrop for that picture-perfect Instagram photoshoot you want to show off).
If you’re a new traveler planning a trip from Manila to Sagada anytime soon, or a ‘veteran’ who thinks you’ve already seen everything the place has to offer but want to go back anyway, this might still be the ultimate travel guide and tips for you!
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Commuting to Sagada
Travel Tip: Check schedules and availability of buses to Sagada for booking online with 12Go Asia.
Don’t forget your winter clothes and your rubber shoes
Here’s a fun trivia: You know those beautiful pine trees you often see in pictures related to Sagada? Well, those trees commonly grow in mountainous regions 3000 feet above sea level, and the logic of altitude is, the more you go up, the colder it gets.
It might be hot during the days under the blazing sun but it really gets unbelievably cold during the evenings and in the morning, especially close to the Christmas season so don’t forget to pack your jackets. Moreover, because of its mountainous terrains, most of Sagada’s tourist spots can be reached through hiking, so reliable, non-slip rubber shoes are a must.
Register at the Municipal Tourism Office
Since the regulations have been implemented last year by local officials to manage the effects of overtourism in Sagada, stricter guidelines were also set in place. To avoid overstepping your boundaries or being unnecessarily fined, register at the Municipal Tourist Information Center before or after you settled your belongings in your choice accommodation.
Upon registering, the personnel will brief you about the do’s and don’ts, travel itineraries, and provide you with a tourist guide. You will also have to pay an environmental fee of 50.00.
You can read a detailed list of all the new rules, regulations, and do’s and don’ts when vacationing in Sagada in Kara Santos’ travel blog.
Discover local homestays
The internet will give you a lot of choices and reviews about the best places to stay in Sagada, from hotels, inns to houses for rent. The prices may vary from each lodging, but don’t expect 5-star hotel treatments from them. After all, native Cordillerans are known for their practicality more than anything else, so that is generally what they offer – practicality.
Basic utilities to look for would be the presence of hot showers, private bathrooms (most lodgings have shared bath and comfort rooms), and of course, free coffee! If you are a coffee lover, there are some inns and hotels that offer free and unlimited coffee at any time of the day to their guests.
Another way to find accommodation, which is not generally known, is through homestays. This is a perfect alternative for someone who enjoys company and does not mind sharing the house with a local family. The locals who offer homestays are usually nice families who can give insider information and insights about the local history of the place.
Have a taste of the local coffee brews
From the type of beans to the roasting process and boiling, Sagadanians have mastered the art of extracting the best aroma and taste from their heritage coffee beans. They are often lumped in a single category of ‘barako’ by most locals and offered in all food establishments in Sagada, but if you are a real coffee ‘aficionados,’ you might want to try the coffee brews at Bana’s Café. The establishment won a Gourmet Medal for its roasted coffees in Paris last 2017.
Probably their most expensive and most famous beverage, the civet coffee is worth Php 200.00/cup. Coffee beans used in this brew are collected from the droppings of wild civet cats on the forest floors surrounding the municipality, which is rare and is strenuous work, contributing to its steep price.
Enjoy the local ‘etag’ delicacy
Some tourists and travel blogs have conveyed a negative misconception about the way we consume our etag, so let’s get the question in your minds out of the way. No. We do not eat maggot-infested etag. That is just a badly interpreted hype meant for tourist consumption who are fascinated by the bizarre.
Etag, which has been a part of our centuries-old tradition of preserving meat, can be prepared in two ways, sun-drying or smoking. Maggot-infestation only happens when an etag is not properly stored or dried. Perhaps one of the best quality etag is the Sagada smoked meat which is famous for its rich flavor and aroma.
Most of the local restaurants offer them on their menu, so when you go out for a meal, don’t forget to request one!
See the Blue Soil in all its grandeur
One of the most popular attractions of the place is the Blue Soil Hills or locally referred to as ‘Kaman-utek’ (like brain) Hills. The trek going there from the community center is far and rough, so do not forget to bring appropriate (preferably non-slip) shoes and drinking water.
The hills are rich in copper sulfate which produces the bluish hue to the soil, transforming it into a magical place. Although it gives-off the ‘otherworldly’ vibe any time of the day, you might prefer seeing it very early in the morning when everything is covered in dewdrops or just after the rain when the sustained dampness brings out a deeper and richer tint of blue to the hills.
What else to do in Marlboro Country? Go in search of the mythical horses
Marlboro Country is popular for its majestic sunrise view at the top amidst a sea of clouds and of course, its refreshing sights of nature, but one thing most tourists do not know of are the wild horses of Sagada. Accordingly, back in the day, the famous Marlboro Country was the playing ground of wild horses who roamed free on the vast expanse of land.
The most famous among them was the exotic white horse which will give you a good fortune if you were able to catch a glimpse of it. Though the wild horses have never been seen on these hills recently, there are still locally owned horses who are allowed to freely graze on the grasses of Marlboro Country.
Experience local wine-tasting
Another product that is in abundance when you visit various souvenir shops in Sagada is the locally produced wine. Since Sagada is not the main municipality that produces wines, most of the products being sold there are actually imported from the various municipalities in Mountain Province.
The most popular would be the Bugnay Wine made from the juice of bugnay, a type of berries typically found in Northern Luzon. The taste of the wine would vary depending on the producers, but if you are not into hard alcoholic drinks, the Montanosa Wine would be a good alternative since it is organic and has a low alcohol content.
Want to enjoy local wines without spending much money? Ask for a sample. Almost all wine sellers have reserves intended for tasting. But don’t do all your wine-sampling in one shop lest you annoy the seller! Visit as many shops as you can and ask for a taste of wine samples as much as you want!
Escape the congestion at the Echo Valley Hanging Coffins and explore the Hidden Burial Caves
The Echo Valley Hanging Coffins are the most popular among the tourists who travel to Sagada, mostly because of its relative proximity to town and its classic effect on the camera. Unfortunately, due also to these reasons, it’s almost always congested at this particular site.
If you would prefer to explore other hanging coffins without the human traffic, you can actually ask your tour guide to bring you to other hidden burial caves. This is where it gets tricky. You would need to hike quite a distance and ask for a blessing from the elders before you can proceed. If you’re interested, a travel vlog posted by Fearless and Far would give you a glimpse of what to expect.
If you are a history buff like me, you might enjoy a stopover at the Ganduyan Museum, which is rich in artifacts and culture. The owner is also very well-versed in the history of Igorot culture and can give you an interesting explanation of each item on display.
Unfortunately, the place is not always open when it is not peak season. But if you are feeling more adventurous, you can go and search for the legacies left behind by two of the most prolific personalities to live in Sagada, the house of the historian William Henry Scott and the Masferre Inn and Restaurant where you can view the extraordinary snapshots of early Igorot life taken by photographer Eduardo Masferre.
Both historical figures dedicated parts of their career in the study of the culture and people of the Cordilleras and have left lasting legacies in Philippine history. You can also look for their graves at St. Mary’s cemetery.
What to Pack for Sagada
- Eco-friendly Reusable Water Bottle
- Light Rain Jacket (especially from June to November)
- T-shirts, a nice top, and a long-sleeved shirt
- Waterproof Dry Bag
- Aqua Shoes
- Day Bag
- Power Adapter
- Universal Waterproof Phone Case
- Packing Cubes
- Microfiber Towel
- Travel Insurance
- Money Belt
- sneakers, hiking shoes (if you’re planning to hike) and some flats
- reusable straw and reusable bag (no to single-use plastic!)
Related Article: The Only Travel Packing List You’ll Ever Need (Trust Me)
Our Camera Gear
- Mirrorless Camera: Fujifilm XT3
- Lenses: Fujifilm Fujinon kit lens (18-55mm) | Fujinon 35mm f2 | Fujinon 50mm f2
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro 2
- GoPro: GoPro Hero Black 7
- Power Bank: Romoss Powerbank
- Camera Backpack: Case Logic Camera and Laptop Backpack
- Monopod: Ifootage Cobra 2 a180
- Mic: Rode VideoMicro
- Gimbal: Zhiyun Weebill-S
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