What to do in Sagada, Philippines

A city guide full of adventure & discovery


Why is Sagada famous?

Sagada is celebrated for its enchanting limestone caves, picturesque waterfalls, awe-inspiring and peaceful mountain valleys, vast rice fields, and dramatic cliffs.

When I bought my flights to an island that houses one of the world’s top 10 largest cities, I had no idea I would be visiting a town so isolated it was one of the longest standing tribal strongholds against the Spanish conquistadors! Sagada, Philippines is culturally unique, geographically beautiful, historically quite important – and a total contrast to the bustle of Manila.

They often say it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. Located 400 kilometres north of the hectic mega-city of Manila, passed winding highway roads, high in the mountains and jungle, surrounded by rice terraces, Sagada certainly takes a journey and a half to get to. It’s no wonder the Spanish Missionaries left it off their list for several centuries. In fact, it was almost completely unvisited until the 1800s when the first catholic mission was set up. This is in contrast to much of the rest of the Philippines where this was happening as early as the late 1500s.

Because of it’s isolation, it was able to hold on to much of the original tribal practices and beliefs. Even headhunting was happening in this region until only a couple centuries ago. The ancient tribal differences still linger in modern Sagada, some of which being the main attraction to those wanting to visit.

My first impressions upon arriving was that it was a beautiful village up in the mountains. A few guesthouses and restaurants lined one of the main narrow streets, along with some tourist shops filled with hiking gear and handicrafts. Shops all typical of a town with a tourist driven economy – though the tourist population seemed quite low. There was still a strong sense of novelty in being here. Most of the shops were still located as street side markets selling local produce, of which there are many. The streets were stained with red Filipino moma spittle, often the signs of a rural culture not yet attuned with ‘modern city standards’.

The air was fresh, and you could tell instantly that the main attractions to Sagada lay outside the town’s limits. A self guided Sagada tour could easily be accomplished in a few hours. The wonders that await you outside the township could quickly fill up several days to get a full encompassing Sagada itinerary of sites.

Some of our highlights were the legendary and curious ‘Hanging Coffins of Sagada’, which are an absolute must, Echo Valley (in which the coffins were found), and spelunking in several of the caves around Sagada.

After spending a few days there, we had done the rounds and seen some of the main attractions (see the “Do” tab for a list of options), though we could have easily stayed longer, and hiked further, and cave-dived deeper. Sagada is a nature & history lovers paradise. 

Sagada is truly a beautiful site with so much to offer. I’m surprised it has not gained more popularity as of yet, though I’m sure this will eventually happen as soon as visitors discover that the Philippines is so much more than just Manila and Borocay.

Remember, “It’s more fun in the Philippines!“

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SEE – Photos & Videos

Jeepney transportation – a great way for getting around in Sagada Philippines!
Jeepney transportation – a great way for getting around in Sagada!
This was the nice view of Sagada Philippines from our Hotel Balcony!
This was the nice view of Sagada from our Hotel Balcony!
Rice Terraces surrounding the town of Sagada Philippines
Rice Terraces surrounding the town
Nice view of the town of Sagada Philippines from Echo Valley
Nice view of the town from Echo Valley
Steep pathways leading in to Echo Valley from Sagada Philippines
Steep pathways leading in to Echo Valley
Hanging Coffins – one of several locations they can be seen around Sagada Philippines
Hanging Coffins – one of several locations they can be seen around Sagada
Hanging Coffins – nice view over Echo Valley near Sagada Philippines
Hanging Coffins – nice view over Echo Valley
Sumaguing Cave – Dark tunnels near Sagada Philippines
Sumaguing Cave – Dark tunnels
Sumaguing Cave near Sagada Philippines – Rope Ladders
Sumaguing Cave – Rope Ladders
Sumaguing Cave near Sagada Philippines – Shadow Puppets
Sumaguing Cave – Shadow Puppets
Sumaguing Cave near Sagada Philippines – Waterfalls and streams
Sumaguing Cave – Waterfalls and streams
Sumaguing Cave near Sagada Philippines – tight squeezes
Sumaguing Cave – tight squeezes
Sumaguing Cave near Sagada Philippines – Steep climb down
Sumaguing Cave – Steep climb down
Sumaguing Cave near Sagada Philippines – Slippery transitions
Sumaguing Cave – Slippery transitions
Sagada’s Yoghurt House
Sagada’s Yoghurt House
Gaia cafe and crafts in Sagada Philippines – yes, that’s a zip-line next to their cafe!
Gaia cafe and crafts – yes, that’s a zip-line next to their cafe!

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GO – Getting There

Getting to Sagada is not overly difficult, though many buses coming and leaving prefer to start very early in the morning (what most still would consider middle of the night) as it’s roads go pretty off the beaten path, and the drivers would rather have full sunlight for the drives through some harrowing passes in the mountains.

We opted to take a bus from Baguio City, which is only a few hours away from Sagada, cutting down our travel times, and still making for a very scenic drive. This is definitely the quickest and most frequent way of getting to Sagada from Manila. Buses leave Manila for Baguio almost 50 times a day. Much more than any of the other destinations or methods.

If you are coming from Benaue, you have several options. The fastest would be hopping in a bus to Bontoc, and then transferring into the back one of the Philippines legendary transports, the “Jeepney”.  The journey from Manila to Benaue is about 12 hours by bus, then another 2 hours to Bontoc, and another hour  or so to Sagada. If you go this route, you may also want to plan a day or two of recovery!

Sagada, Philippines – Map

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Do – Activities & Attractions

There’s a number of things to do in Sagada which will quickly fill any adventure lovers itinerary!

Map of Sagada, Philippines
Tourist map of Sagada

Here is a rundown of some of our favourite experiences of the numerous Sagada tourist spots:

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Stay – Accommodation

Sagada has been dealing with tourism for long enough now to have built up a good assortment of guesthouses, lodges and bed & breakfasts to stay in. I wouldn’t put any of them in the exceptionally high end scale, as there’s no 5 star resorts in the area, but most of the options there are comfortable with a sense of home and very accustomed to true filipino hospitality and welcomeness. Depending on the time of year, it’s often best to hunt around online and reserve in advance, as some places can fill up quick during peak seasons or holidays.

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Eat – Restaurants

Many fresh produce are grown in the area around Sagada, so many of the dishes you’ll be able to try around town are fresh and delicious. Much like the rest of the Philippines, the best Filipino food you can ever eat is in the homes of a filipino family (make friends fast!), and often the choices for tourists will be limited more to western influenced dishes (and prices). That being said, there was no shortage of wonderful options around Sagada. These options may come and go like the seasons, though some which have been there a few years already and have a long standing reputation would be:
Gaia Cafe & Crafts – a wonderful vegan restaurant with an incredible view over a valley and a fantastic example of genuine filipino hospitality amongst the staff
Yoghurt House – a long standing staple in Sagada that’s lasted the test of time. Homemade tart yoghurt mixed with fruit and granola – a great recovery food from a day of trekking and caving!
The Sagada Lemon Pie House – kind of a funny thing to find in a village such as Sagada, but it’s been here a while and has developed a bit of a reputation. Be aware, their pies do tend to sell out almost every day, so arrive early or preorder to avoid disappointment. If you’re a big lemon pie fan, this may be the spot you’ve been looking for.

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Time – Seasonality & Schedules

As with most of the Philippines, the best time to go is during the dry season between the months of November to May, the most ideal time being in January/February. Keep in mind, this also peak season, so that could mean higher prices and fewer last-minute accommodations or transportation. We went in April, and it was great!

Typhoon season is between June to the end of October, and the northern islands, including Luzon, have a higher chance of being hit by a passing storm.

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Safety – Possible risks

Sagada is likely one of the most safest cities in all of the Philippines, with regards to theft. Not that many of the others are overly dangerous mind you, but there is a certain feeling of security being here. It is likely due to the high percentage of tourists to locals, mixed with the kind and gentle demeanour of the mountain people that makes this place safer than most.

Physical danger certainly exists, especially to those hiking on steep hills or cliffs, or spelunking down dark caves. If at all you don’t feel confident with your own abilities, be sure to hire a guide and/or bring a friend along. It is best to always let family or friends know of your movements when you travel in case you go ‘off the map’ – and it is no exception in Sagada.

Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).

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Pay – How much does it cost?

It is currently free to enter most of the natural attractions, except for a few sites which require guides or drivers. Being a tourist driven town, prices can be slightly higher than rural areas, though are still relative to the general cost of the Philippines.

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Responsible Travel – Best Practices

Coming Soon!

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Reality Check – Be Aware

Sagada is an awesome place for nature lovers! There are so many great activities here, from caving, to hikes short and long. If you are physically incapable of moderate rigorous activity, you may be a bit disappointed, as the town is quite small, and most of it’s attractions are on trails or in caves.

For the most part, travel guides or tour guides aren’t needed for inside the town, as it’s so small. However, if you’d like to visit some of the outer Sagada tourist spots, such as spelunking in to some of the deep caves, or trekking out to Echo Valley to see the famous Sagada Hanging Coffins, it would certainly be recommended. Not only will you easily find the sites and learn all about their history, but you will put yourself in less risk of injury as there are many steep cliffs and drops both in the valleys and the caves.

Sagada is a wonderful destination in the Philippines and is certainly off the beaten path!

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JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages

This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.

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Have you ever been to a city that had a really unique historical or cultural feature? Where was it and what made it so unique?

While you’re in the Philippines, be sure to island hop! Check out the Coron region and the Central Visayas!

Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!

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WSE Travel - Sagada - Hanging Coffins - one of several locations they can be seen
Hanging Coffins – one of several locations they can be seen around Sagada

5 Responses

  1. Love reading your blog and a proud Pilipino here. It’s more fun in the Philippines indeed. We have a lot of beautiful destination here, you must try mountaineering activities in mountain province and Tagaytay. The place will surely offer you a great journey.

  2. Its not exactly Free. All visitors need to register at the Tourist Office in town, pay P35 and receive a ticket/receipt/pass which entitles them to visit all sights in and around Sagada. You can be refused entry if you have not paid this fee and can show a receipt.

    1. Hey Sally! Wonderful news 🙂 Do you know where you’re going to be going in the Phils? If you go north on Luzon, be sure to check out Sagada!!

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