When in Mountain Province: Sagada

It must be with the unique indigenous vibe or the rich natural resources that urge people to pack their bags for Sagada. Whatever it is, a trip to this town guarantees an adventure.
Sagada is located in Mountain Province, a landlocked province that is part of the Cordillera Administrative Region in the northern part of the Philippines. It is approximately 411 kilometers away from the capital Manila and takes 11-12 hours travel by land. Despite the distance, it is one of the most visited in the north along with Baguio, Banaue, and Kalinga. What sets Sagada apart though is the exhilarating activities that are definitely unique and compelling.

Getting Close to the Hanging Coffins
The hanging coffins stand as a 200-year-old tradition of the Igorot tribe. For them, burying in a higher place makes their loved ones closer to heaven. The coffins amazingly suspend from the limestone cliffs and almost touching the boulder of rocks - a bizarre sight that can only be found in Sagada.
Going to the hanging coffins requires a guided tour, which is often called as the "Eco Tour." This tour involves some 15-20 minute trekking to reach the coffin viewing area.
It usually starts by passing by the modern cemetery as the trail goes down with both cemented and terrain trails. Descending can get tricky at times to require a leg work, but the trail is considered easy so it suits almost anyone.
The guides are not only guides, but they are also storytellers. Most of them are tribe members themselves, so they know much about the history, traditions, and beliefs.
Taking a look closely, chairs also hang with the coffins. These chairs, as bizarre as it sounds, are meant for coffin watchers (or bantay in Filipino) who are believed to watch and take care of the dead. These are hung at a certain height or level - the higher it is, the greater the love for the dead is.
The coffins are of different sizes. Although all are adult bodies, the smaller ones are bodies placed in fetal position. The Igorots believe that the body must return to its original position, which is in fetal position during birth.

Shouting Out Loud at Echo Valley
Also part of the Eco tour, Echo Valley is a popular place where people shout as loud as they can to get an echo back. Urban legends say that it is inhabited by spirits: when you shout, the echo is said to be a reply from a spirit. 
Coming from the hanging coffins at the lower part, ascending to Echo Valley is challenging yet it promises a scenic and relaxing view. It shows the limestone formations wrapped in lush green of tall pine trees.

The Eco Tour with hanging coffins and echo valley costs PHP 200 for a minimum of 10 people. It is paid at the Sagada tourism office or at SAGGAS (Sagada Genuine Guides Association Inc.)

Spelunking in Sumaguing Cave
Conquering a deep, dark, and slippery cave is one for the books. Sumaguing Cave equates adventure as it is one of the difficult and not-for-the-weak spelunking sites in Sagada. Finishing the trail may take at least 3 hours.
The big mouth of Sumaguing Cave jump starts the adventure. The guides divided the areas into different descending stages. This cave is so steep that the trail just keeps on going down. In fact, at some point, you can already notice exhaling cold air.
Challenges are endless and they will leave you breathless! Some rocks are not only slippery wet but also full of bat poops! It may stink and feel gross, but it is all part of the experience! Thousands of bats live inside, but mostly remain jangling at the ceiling of the cave and so they are harmless.
The more slippery and deeper stage requires removing footwear. It is also the part of having to rappel and getting a good grip of the ropes. 
Stalagmites and stalactites form inside Sumaguing Cave. Famous rock formation include “the king’s curtain,” “elephant,” “rice terraces,” and many more. Seeing them up close is the priceless reward of the trail. Reminders:
- Get a registered guide to Sumaguing Cave from SAGGAS. The fee is PHP 500 for every 4 persons with PHP 35 environmental fee per person. Guests need to register their names.
- Strictly follow the instructions of the guide especially when inside the cave. Do not go way ahead of the group or never go alone.
- Wear comfortable clothes that are stretchable type
- Wear anti-slip footwear. Some are comfortable with flip flops, some with trekking sandals
- Bring waterproof camera. DSLR is not advisable.
- If available, bring a head-mounted flashlight (the one that can be placed at the forehead). It is fine if to no avail since the guides have their own kerosene lamps

How to Get to Sagada via Public Transport:
1.) Manila-Banaue-Sagada route: Get an Ohyami Bus at Fajardo Street in Sampaloc Manila going to Banaue. Travel time is 9-10 hours (complete bus schedule and fares here). Once in Banaue, get a jeepney going to Sagada. Travel time is 3-4 hours. Jeepney fare is PHP 250.
2.) Manila-Sagada direct route: Get a Coda bus At HM Transport Inc. Terminal in Cubao, Quezon City. Visit their website here for updated schedule of trips. Travel time is 12-13 hours.

Check out the rest of my Northern Philippines series!
Viajera Vlog: Benguet
When in Ifugao: Banaue Rice Terraces
Viajera Vlog: Kalinga





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