Sagada: Magic of the Cordillera Mountains, Philippines
Atmosphere is the essential core for each trip, to my mind. The most amazing places and stunning destinations can seem bland with no proper mood or company.
Our trip to Sagada – a small town in the Cordillera Mountains, Philippines – has a special place in my heart, and I guess the unique vibe of this place is the reason for that. It has everything I’m usually craving for: chilly weather, fresh air, cozy morning fog, yummy vegetables and strawberries due to proper combination of sun, rain and cool air. The only drawback I can think of is the length of the trip itself: since Sagada is situated high in the mountains, the road is curvy and a bit bumpy. It takes 12 hours to get to Sagada by bus from Manila, the capital of the Philippines. However, the views are to die for: rice terraces, rivers, amazing cloud formations and lush green mountains.
So there… We left Manila at around 5 am from Dangwa bus terminal and 6 hours later arrived to our half-way destination, the city of Baguio, summer capital of the Philippines. Quick lunch and we rush to the bus station to catch a bus to Sagada. There is no time to lose: 6 more hours on the road ahead. The bus stops every couple of hours so that passengers can have a small stroll, buy snacks and water or visit the rest room. Amazingly, we were not really tired when we finally reached our final destination at around 7 pm (most of the way we were too busy making photos).
There is an alternative way to get to Sagada via the famous rice terraces of Banaue, but the trip will take longer and it seemed less convenient for us. There are enough rice terraces along the road either way!
Accommodation and attractions
We were lucky to get the best room in the best (to my mind) cheap stay in town without booking. My husband even managed to charm the owner enough for a discount. I would highly recommend this lodge to everyone visiting Sagada: Sagada Homestay, South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province. It is also listed on TripAdvisor. We paid PHP 750 (around USD 15) per night with free unlimited coffee in the morning, awesome view, cozy room and bonfires every night where you can meet people all over the world.
In the fresh mountain air you sleep like a log so our first morning in Sagada started a bit later than expected. The weather was sunny so we headed to the Tourist office just at the entrance of the town to enrol for a trekking eco-tour. A group can be as small as two people. Each group gets a guide and the whole tour takes 4 to 5 hours (it took us 3,5 hours because we were only two and we are relatively fit, however, my quads were killing me the next day). The tour is not easy: climbing some cliffs, crossing cold streams, passing some slippery areas. Comfy boots, water and sunscreen are a must! In the end of the tour there gonna be a surprise: a small cold waterfall with a pond where you can chill down and relax the burning muscles. Oh, and of course, the talked-about hanging coffins! According to our guide some super rich and respected local people can still be granted an honour to be buried in this ancient way, in the coffin hanging from the cliff.
Since I’m seriously claustrophobic, we did not go spelunking in the caves and took a side-trip to the town of Bontoc. There is not much to see there but the catch was riding on the roof of the jeepney through a mountain road. It was really exciting and a bit scary, the abyss is right under your feet!
The rest of our trip we enjoyed walking around the town, visiting the local cemetery and St. Mary the Virgin church, buying local souvenirs and, of course, food-tripping.
Food-trips in Sagada
No wonder, with this much moving and walking the appetite really grows momentum. Despite the tiny size of this village-like town, there is no lack of really nice restaurants and bistros which serve hearty and yummy food for super decent prices.
Masferre Country Inn and Resto
Our personal favourite was the restaurant in Masferre Country Inn, just a one-minute walk down the main road from the tourist office, to the left. They serve amazing salads (the portion is definitely to share) with fresh veggies and goat cheese, yummy burgers and potato wedges. Local favourites are also on the menu. Masferre has a decent selection of imported wines (local wines sold in the stores are… well, let’s say they have nothing to do with wine, do not get fooled by the label). The place is very cozy and looks like a log cabin.
The much talked-about Yoghurt House is also not bad, not bad at all. They serve frozen home-made yoghurts with various flavours topped with cookie crumbles or syrups, desserts and their Carbonara is top-notch! The place gets pretty packed during dinner time but we were lucky to get a nice spot on the small balcony outside. Sometimes, they also have theme-buffets with various cuisines: Mexican, Spanish, etc.
It is also very nice have a midnight snack around the bonfire at Sagada Homestay. Technically, the kitchen is already closed, but the staff are really friendly and nice to cook some local appetizers for the guests after hours.
The good thing about eating out in Sagada is that I doubt there is any dish in any restaurant that costs more that PHP 300 (around USD 6.5), and most of them are around PHP 200-250 (USD 4-5) tops.
Go or not go?
Most people heading to the Philippines visit beach destinations and, to my mind, miss a lot. The quiet, pensive vibe of Sagada definitely beats fussy crowds of Boracay and gives an opportunity to really relax and enjoy the company of yourself and your loved ones.