Travel Date: 7-9 February 2016

Date Published: 28 April – 4 May 2016, Issue 367

Visit for the actual article.


Title: Surviving Sagada

Sagada has always been on my bucket list. As a kid, the farthest place I’ve ever been to was Baguio. Anything beyond the Summer Capital was a place of mystery to me. To my young mind, Sagada was a foreign land where people looked and dressed differently and have rituals and customs that involved dancing and fire.

In between clouds at Mt. Kiltepan

Two decades later, my wanderlust for Sagada is still there, further ignited by the cult-movie “That Thing Called Tadhana” (starring Angelica Panganiban and JM De Guzman), which was set on location. So when a friend said she has a week off from work and had nowhere to go, I immediately set out to plan an itinerary to backpack the Cordilleras for the second time – this time including Sagada.

Arriving there, I felt that all those years prepared me for this moment. Or not.

So. How did I survive Sagada? Let me count the ways:

1. Cardio.

Sagada is a municipality in the Mountain Province, nestled in a valley between the Cordillera and the Ilocos ranges. The town is small enough to be explored on foot – if you have the energy and the stamina for it.

Because of its’ geography, the place is often sloping, so be prepared for uphill walks. Our group got a van to go around. However, we still got a lot of “workouts” in, since most tourist spots involve physical activities. To see the famous hanging coffins, we had to do a hike through Echo Valley.

The famed hanging coffins of Sagada.

Spelunking in Sumaguing Cave also tested our endurance and flexibility. A more hardcore version of it will be the Cave Connection of Lumiang and Sumaguing. But that one’s for my next visit.

on all-fours inside Sumaguing Cave

2. Layer

We went there on the coldest month of the year, February. It was freezing, as temperature dropped below 10°C. So if you want to survive 5am Mt. Kiltepan temperature while waiting for sunrise or enjoy a bonfire dinner at Lake Danum at sunset, wear at least 5 layers of clothing. A friend even had to bring the hostel blanket to Mt. Kiltepan. It was that cold.

Sunset over Lake Danum
Bonfire gangsta’s at Lake Danum

3. Smile

The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Sagada was the number of tourists. There were a lot! This was kind of a disappointment for me, seeing that in my head, it was supposed to be a mysterious isolated place. The downside of this is that you will have to share your “emo-moment” as you watch the sea of clouds roll over Mt. Kiltepan with a hundred other people.IMG_0081.JPG

On the upside, you will get to meet a lot of people, maybe even find a friend or two. Sagada Pine Café is a quaint little café in the morning that turns into a chill watering hole at night, where a lot of travelers (both Pinoys and foreigners) hang out. Better practice your best smile, your tadhana might be in the crowd. Mine was somewhere else.

4. Talk

I always make it a point to befriend a local or at least talk to them at length. This way, I get to know more about a place than what I find in the internet.

Inside Sumaguing Cave

Despite the influx of tourists, Sagada still does not feel as tourist-y as, say Bohol, where tour guides already have memorized spiels, and souvenir shops look dingy and frightening. Establishments here are well-maintained, charmingly homey and often offers “specials” such as The Yoghurt House and Gaia Café and Restaurants (vegan food).

Gaia Cafe was in the movie “That Thing Called Tadhana”. The chair next to me is yet to filled.

This un-tourist-y feeling of a very tourist-y place is unsettling for me, and I mentioned this to our guide. He says it’s because all businesses are locally owned. By law, outsiders can’t buy properties in Sagada nor can they open businesses. This is to maintain the culture of Sagada while creating opportunities for livelihood for the locals.

Another fact I discovered: majority of the Igorots in Sagada are Anglicans. In the 333 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines, the Spaniards were unable to penetrate the Cordilleras because of the remoteness of the place. So when the American Episcopal Missionaries came to the country in the 1900s, they went straight to the mountains to instigate their faith in the Igorot culture.

St. Mary Episcopal Church

Would my younger self love it had she been with me to Sagada? I’m not really sure, since she expected fire dancing and rituals. I, on the other hand, would want to explore every nook and cranny of the town, and learn more about the culture and people. While the biggest setback for me is the number of tourists there, I feel that Sagada still has gems hidden under its beautiful surface.

No fire rituals, just beautiful people and crazy adventures.

Ingat and see you on the road!

Know a place I should discover? Or want to travel together? Email me at  


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