Sagada: A Soulful Sanctuary

A single day is not enough to experience the spectacles of Sagada. Sitting on a mountain top, the town offers  an extreme and awesome experience of the Mountain Province. My first visit to Sagada was just for a day, and I had not enough to see what it really has to offer tourists and travellers, so I came back a few weeks later for the second time around. Yet, there are still attractions and natural wonders that drive me craxy to visit it another time.

Simple yet awesomely beautiful natural sanctuary, Sagada is one tourist marvel for the adventurer and the laid back. It is misty in the morning and gets really cold at night. Summertime in the lowland is an open invitation to go up the mountains for that cold and refreshing breeze. Everything in the town provides the elements that rejuvinate the soul – a genuine sanctuary to commune with nature.

It isn’t like Baguio, and it is incomparable to the hustles and bustles of Benguet’s capital. It is Mountain Province’s prime tourist destination. Life is laid back in this farming-dependent town.There are no tricyles or cabs to take you to the must see places. All you have are your feet and your own service vehicle, but in most cases, even if you are on a private car, to see the Sagada attractions, you will still need to do some trekking, going up and down. There are no shopping malls either.

My first visit to Sagada was on a tour with some people a lot older than me. We got the chance to do spelunking in Sumaguing Cave, see some hanging coffins from afar, go down upclose to see traditional cave burials, eat pinikpikan and simply just breath some fresh air. These were the things we could afford to do for day, and at night I had to chance to hangout in bar hidden behind a big boulder of rock.

Generally, the town of Sagada is a peaceful one. I was able to walk down and up the dark South Road to meet a company who took me to the bar. The people are warm and friendly, but haggling in the souvenir shops is really difficult and most stores have uniform prices for their goods. Since I missed to experience the best of Sagada in that one-day visit, I took the liberty to go up to the boondocks again after a few weeks.

On that second visit, I spent a couple of days inside the hotel working on the revisions of my paper. In the free time I had, I would just stroll on the street as far where my feet would take me. Walking is a fun thing to do in Sagada, while you walk you get to be mesmerized by the natural beauty all around you. It is not even tiresome for the cold climate will keep you moving.

I went there on summertime, one day in April and for another five days in May. The monsoon rains of May gave me the chance to experience a little colder climate than with my first visit. However, the rains prevented me to maximize my time in exploring the place. In this second visit, I get the chance to see other places where I have not been. Truly, Sagada is place to thrill the heart with the adventures in its exploration.

Sagada offers many attractions. For tourists to see Sagada’s attractions, SAGGAs  or Sagada Genuine Guide Association is a helpful place to find tourguides at reasonable price. The guides are helpful enough and really friendly to arrange your itenirary for your visit. The association has packages which the tourist can choose from. Its guides are also trained rescuers for any emergency during the tour, so you know you will be safe at any circumstance.

What to see and what to do: There are a dozen of sights to see in Sagada according to the SAGGAs website. As an advice if you are fainthearted, unfit for physical strain, afraid of heights, you can just lie your back and amuse yourself with the natural surroundings of the town or do some leisurely walk outdoors. But, don’t ever miss the Saturday market and its food.

On regular days, not when there are any festivities, several things and places must be in your itinerary. . For sightseeing travellers with their private vehicles, eastward, you can visit 1) St. Mary of the Woods Church (Anglican), 2) Anglican Cemetery and Hanging Coffins in Echo Valley 3) RockView Citrus Garden, 4) Sagada Weaving, 5) Masferre Photograph Museum, and 6) Bokong Falls. On northward route, you can visit 7) Sagada Pottery, and 8) Danum Lake or even head to 9) Besao (another municipality of the mountain province). Southward, you can lavish on the sites of 10) the rice fields of Demang, 11) Dap-ay ritual circles, 12) the hanging coffins near Lumiang, 13) the Burial Cave of Lumiang, 14) the terraces near Sumaguing and 15) the mouth of Sumaguing Cave.

For some real adventure, I have here the things I did and places I’ve been, but be cautioned these include alot of leg work, walking, climbing, trekking and even swimming: 1) visit Danum lake on foot; 2) Assault Mt. Ampacao from Danum lake; 3)  Trek to Bokong Falls via the river from EchoValley; 4) Dive in the cold water of Bokong Falls; 5) Go through the underground river going to Bokong Falls; 6) Do spelunking inside Sumaguing cave and dip in its pools. Other things that should be in your adventure itinerary is to camp in Kiltepan for the Sunset, trek to Pong-as and Bok-Od Falls; conquer Marlboro Mountain and the place where there is what they call blue soil, and fly over the river outlet of Sumaguing cave hanging on a zipline. Aside from these places, the cultural traditions and festivities of Sagada are events to wait for. These would the things I will try next time I visit Sagada.

I was a weary soul, worn out from four years of work. Given the chance to take a long vacation with pay,I welcomed the invitation I got to join a tour to the Mountain Province. And I found myself refreshed in this land-locked natural sanctuary above the mountains. Proof of which is that I ventured to take another trip a few weeks after, where I was able to write what I have to write, plus this memories I have of this soulful sanctuary.

On dining: The food is mostly continental but you can still have a taste of some Filipino dishes, served in the restaurants lining up the South Road or in the market area. Make sure you ask what the restaurant has or available, because in most cases what’s in the menu are not available, especially if it is beef that you want. Best places to dine: St. Jo’s Cafe (service though may be a bit slow, but it has big servings and wide variety of choices); Lemon House (breakfast is really awesome here, and the lemon tea and lemon pie, great); Pinikipikan house (a good choice for lunch, I love their lechon kawali); Youghurt House (delicious salad and chicken, and of course youghurt); Vincent’s (i love thier fried bangus); Masferre Inn (sumptuous lechon kawali, and buttered chicken, but the vegies at night could be cold and just re-heated. Don’t take its lemon tea or shakes. The lemon tea is a but hot water, teabag and a slice of lemon, their shakes tastes more like ice)

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Where to stay: There are lot of lodges and inns in Sagada, you have options. Accomodation is less pricey than the meals. You can find a lodge ranging from 200-1,500. The most expensive lodging in Sagada is RockView which is secluded and really far from the town proper. There are also dormitories for those who can stay with other people or if you will come in groups. There are pension houses and homestays, where you will have to stay with some locals. In some inns, you can actually cook your own food if you are on a tight budget.

How to Get There:  There are two routes tourists take going to Sagada. One is from Baguio City which takes 6 hours via the (GL) Lizardo Trans. The other direct route from Manila is via Bontoc on board the Autobus Lines. This takes 11 hours, and another 45-minute jeepney ride from Bontoc proper takes you up to Sagada. If you want to stop by Banaue, you can commute to Banaue by Ohiyami Bus Lines, then another two hours of jeepney ride to Bontoc and one more jeepney ride to Sagada. Most trips taking the Pan-Philippine Highway via Nueva Viscaya are night trips, buses can get freezing when it hits the mountain roads, so better prepare jackets and blankets to keep you warm on your ride. Remember that most buses from Manila to Banaue and Baguio are airconditioned, and always bring a prayer with you on your trip because the ride is long and winding.

Best Time to Visit: Summertime is said to be the best time to visit, but nowadays summer there could just less warmer than in the lowlands, not as hot as in the cities of the metropolis. Since the place has still alot of trees and it is 2000+ meters above sea level, it still has its cold pine breeze. Make sure that the weather is clement, and the sky will be clear throughout the week when you go up Sagada, because you will be travelling on roads by the mountains and landslides will be the primary risk you will have to face.

September to December are the months when there are several festivities Sagada celebrates, and temperature could be much lower in these months. If you want some chilling experience of the Mountain Province, be there in those months. The coldest months though come now in the months of January and February. Everytime I guess is the best time to visit Sagada where the beauty of nature, the warmth of the people and the wonders of its culture lifts your spirit to be rejuvinated. Its attractions, food and adventures will bring out the youth in you.

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