Sauntering in Stunning Sagada: A First-Timer’s Adventure

I have heard much about Sagada, a small town nestled deep in the Mountain Province in the Cordillera Region, from friends who have been there. I have also planned to visit the place someday, noted for its spectacular and dramatic scenery, its pleasant and at times cold weather, and in contrast, its warm people.

Incredible view enroute to Banaue.

Little did I know that that someday would come sooner than expected as my wife Erlin and I were tagged along by her bosses at the Total Orthopedic Care (TOC) for a trip to see and experience the quiet, rustic mountain town. Thank you very much to the generous sponsors of this trip.

With a little research and some tips from friends, we were able to craft and itinerary that would take us to the tourist destinations upon our arrival in Sagada, after a harrowing nearly eight-hour trip, five hours of which were spent negotiating the winding mountainside road to one of the coolest places in the Philippines.

The world famous ‘hanging coffins’ of Sagada.

Upon arriving at the town proper, we had lunch at the Strawberry Cafe. They had a good-sized menu but we helped ourselves to their baked chicken, lechon kawali and adobo. We also had their blueberry, strawberry and mango yoghurt. The food was good. After a few minutes of rest, we checked in to our lodging.

Yoghurt is an absolute must-try when in Sagada.

Since Sagada embraced tourism, some of the houses in and around the town have been converted into inns and lodges for the mix of domestic and foreign tourists.

The Episcopal Church of St. Mary the Virgin in downtown Sagada.

We stayed at the three-story Sagada Green Hills, owned by Nora Capuyan and handled by her daughter-in-law Gloria. The house was great as it featured a spectacular view of the mountain range for a backyard! We were 10 in the group but the house could accommodate a group of 20.

Our first stop the day was Lake Danum. Yup! There is a lake in Sagada, which is said to be 5,300 feet above sea level. From there, there is a place where tourists can see and take pictures of the sun setting on the mountain range. A sight to behold indeed. We missed the sunrise experience though at Kiltepan Tower. That’s alright. Because it gives a reason to go back there.

Kiltepan Peak

We then had dinner at the Misty Lodge that to us, served the best yoghurt in Sagada. The place had a restaurant where the living room would be and has a cozy feel to it with the Christmas tree on one side next to the fireplace. The wood finish and vintage feel make it homey. We liked the place so much that we had lunch before leaving Sagada.

The next day, we had breakfast at the Rock Inn and Cafe. It is far from the busy town proper and sits on a wide space, practically because it is also where an orange orchard is located where visitors get to experience picking the oranges from the trees themselves.

Oranges for picking at the Rock Inn and Café.

At the Cafe Bodega, we had breakfast afterwhich we then headed on our orange-picking adventure. But not after undergoing a short orientation.

Erlin Due of the Sacred Heart Hospital Total Orthopedic Care (TOC) trying her hand at pottery in Sagada.

Since the oranges were picked on trees, visitors were provided a guide supervise the picking and to make sure the trees are not destroyed nor a branch broken because, as the cafe manager stressed, it takes years to grow the trees and years more for a broken branch to grow. Violators will be charged Php800 for the damage.

With a minimal entry fee of Php50, a visitor can pick all the oranges they can, as well as eat all the oranges they can while picking the fruits for 30 minutes. However, they have to turn in and pay for the ones they plan to take with them. These are priced at Php80 per kilo. I managed to pick more than 5 kilos.

After the orchard adventure, we proceeded back to the town proper and after registering with the Sagada Tourism Center that provided for us a tour guide, we headed for the closest tourist destination: the Echo Valley, Cemetery, Echo Trail and Hanging Coffins.

Sagada Green Hills.

The Sagada Public Cemetery old cemetery where one of the SAF 44 policemen was buried. As short trek from the cemetery brought us to the Echo Valley that featured rock formations which the guide said were carved by water centuries ago.

An exhausting trek of several hundred feet down the ravine of the Echo Valley through a combined railed man-made concrete and slippery soil flight of stairs brought us to what have got to be Sagada’s most interesting tourist attraction, the Hanging Coffins.

There, on the limestone cliff face, several coffins made of an assortment of materials hang, held by metal supports on the underside and in place by rope or wire. The coffins, some made of hollowed out logs which seem to be the most ancient ones, house some of the oldest ancestors of some people in Sagada that still adhere to the old ways.

The tour guide said the Igorot people believe that putting their loved ones’ coffins in high places such as the cliff wall brings their deceased closer to Heaven. The relatives of the deceased believe that the higher the coffin, the more valued the deceased was.

A pre-burial ritual of several days is performed by relatives of the deceased that includes putting the deceased in a chair in a fetal position and preserving them using smoke. The coffin was then placed on the cliff wall afterwhich the deceased, wrapped in cloth, would be placed. Some of the coffins had chairs strapped on them which the guide said was the chair where the deceased was seated during the pre-burial ritual.

No out-of-town trip would be complete without sampling the local fare. So we had lunch at the Pinikpikan House where we sampled the much-talked about pinikpikan chicken and the local meat etag. The taste for it, though, seems to developed.

And so our exploration continues. Next stop was the Sumaguing Cave. We, however, were not able to go spelunking since our colleagues were not up for it. We only managed to get near the mouth of the cave. From the postcard photos I’ve seen of the limestone formations in the cave, this is definitely another one for my bucket list.

The soil in Sagada was discovered to be suitable for making earthen pots. So a trip to Sagada Pottery was on the itinerary. My wife had a go as she had always wanted to try the pottery making. After a short tutorial and a fee, Erlin managed to fashion a small jar in her session. Finished products are sold in the Sagada Pottery Store just beside the small tourist-attracting workshop.

We capped the day’s activities with dinner at the Masferré Country Inn and Restaurant and some yoghurt at the popular Yoghurt House. Both restaurants ore on the same street in downtown Sagada.

It’s a wonder that despite American missionaries setting foot in the town in the early 1900s that led to the establishment of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in the town, and welcoming domestic and foreign tourists and accepting tourism to drive the local economy in modern times, the people of Sagada were able to keep their culture and traditions intact.

There is still a lot to see and experience in the town of just over 11,000 residents. I, for one, will definitely go back. –Photos by Jojo Due

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