Entering Sagada‘s dark caves, it’s hard to tell what you might find in any given corner. Following your guide’s flashlight, you see only what he sees. Perhaps the guide wants to hide something from you. Could there be bodies of the deceased stacked high along these limestone walls.
The short answer: Yes, there are. Not quite as grim as you might imagine but there’s no hiding the basic facts.
As a modestly-sized town in the Philippines’ Mountain Province, Sagada has an unassuming quality that wouldn’t attract much attention to the uninformed. Daily life in the settlement doesn’t provide a whole lot of material to write home about. Residents keep to themselves, tending their crops during the day and spending the evening at home.
However, those in know consider Sagada a desirable destination for enjoying outdoor adventure tourism and witnessing some bizarre cultural traditions. Though the town isn’t all that accessible, the potential inconveniences are well worth the rewarding results.
Credit: Mad Scientist Inside
As the region’s most highly-anticipated activity, spelunking is best done as part of a tour group. With a guide in tow, you will be led into Sagada’s cliffs, dodging stalagmites and dipping below stalactites.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the cave trek will be a cake walk. The physical challenge will have your socks sopping wet and your knees wobbling. And with no helmets in sight, it’s probably best to proceed with caution.
The highlight of your day will surely be the burial caves, which hold the coffins of Sagada’s deceased. Equal parts intriguing and somber, the coffins are stacked high along the cave’s walls. And outside of the shelter, hanging along the cliffs, are the coffins of those who have earned the right to be elevated towards the heavens.
Look to shell out around $20US for a guided trip.
Now that you’ve ventured inside the cliffs, why not take them on from the exterior? Despite being a physically demanding activity, the low difficulty level of rock climbing in Sagada allows for maximum participation. Taking place in Echo Valley, an all-inclusive climb will cost about $6.
Beyond the thrilling aspect of clinging to a cliff some 40 feet (12m) in the air, confidence-filled climbers will be able to enjoy the view of the surrounding valley while repelling downward. And if you feel as though you haven’t adequately challenged yourself on the site’s easy walls, ask the guide to take you towards a course that’s a little more difficult.
Where safety equipment is scarce on the spelunking adventure, visitors can rest easy knowing that they will be fully equipped with harness, helmet, and ropes.
When To Go
To avoid both the crowds and the rains, stay out of Sagada between June and September. Beyond that it’s clear sailing.
Temperatures in the region will be fairly consistent with lows of 57°F (14°C) and highs of 72°F (22°C). Outside of the rainy season, you shouldn’t have to expect more than 50mm of rain per month.
Getting There & Around
If you’re in the market for a lengthy bus ride, you’ve come to the right place. Coming from Manila, you’ll face up to 15 hours of bumpy transportation. Consider making a pit stop in Baguio.
- Mid-range accommodations: $5-15
- Meal: $3-7
- Beer: $1
- Hike over to the Big Falls if you’re looking for natural wonders.
- Keep your eyes open for Sagada’s famous wild horses.
- Walk to and from all of the area’s sights.
- Torture yourself by riding the bus from Manila without at least one night’s rest.
- Miss out on tasty crepes at the Yogurt House.
- Worry about booking tours. It can all be done at Sagada’s tourist information center.
- To be buried in a hanging coffin, the deceased must have met a list of specific requirements.
- Hanging coffins are not unique to Sagada. Expect to see them in China and Indonesia as well.
- Sagada is famous for its Arabica coffee.
Feature Image Credit: jojo nicdao