Thrilling journeys, unforgettable experiences: a guide to Banaue and Sagada

Taking on the arduous trip to this mountain paradise, with its breath-taking vistas and challenging adventures, will be well-rewarded

Philippine Daily Inquirer

How many long weekends have you passed up without taking a much-deserved vacation? Next time, take a few days off and make Sagada number one on your must-visit list.

Few places deserve to be labeled “breathtaking” as that quaint village in the Mountain Province. And yet for all the beauty and challenge of Sagada, the journey there is undoubtedly as unforgettable as the destination itself.

One route to explore would be via Ifugao, which offers a constant visual feast along the way. The trip can start from Quezon City at the Victory Liner bus terminal at the corner of East Avenue, where travelers can take the Tuguegarao-bound bus.

There is a choice of either the air-conditioned bus for P575, or the deluxe bus for P750. The deluxe bus of Victory Liner has add-ons—light snacks, an onboard toilet, and a roomy capacity of 29 seats (each fitted with footrest), ensuring extra elbow room and leg room to guarantee travel comfort.

The trip is seven hours ending in Solano, Nueva Vizcaya.

Another option is to book a 20-seat coaster with MM Fariñas Travel and Tours to shuttle your group from Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya to Banaue for P8,000, back and forth.

Upon reaching Solano, walk a few steps to the jeepney terminal and get on a jeep going to Ifugao at P105 per person for a two-hour ride without stops (the first trip leaves at 6 a.m.).

Eighth wonder of the world

Alight in Ibulao, Kiangan, in Ifugao and travel to Banaue, dine there and pose for souvenir photos, with the Eighth Wonder of the World as your backdrop. You might consider staying a while for a more immersive day trip to the awe-inspiring rice terraces, which is now 2,000 years old.

Dotting the scenery are images of rice gods that farmers make from fern while waiting to harvest rice.

In Ifugao, it is still a thrill to see the fog descending on the mountainscape, no matter how many times one has seen it happen in other places.

While there, we recommend staying at the Banaue Hotel at P2,000-P,3000 for twin-sharing. There are also other bed-and-breakfast inns that will suit various vacation budgets.

From Banaue, one can proceed to Sagada via Bontoc on a jeepney at P180 each. The path is winding, often rugged, and in some parts quite narrow that only a single vehicle can be accommodated at a time, but the road is safe. Through some stretches of the journey, be daring enough to travel “top load” (sitting atop the jeepney) for a more intense and orientation-shifting view of the grandeur below—that is, if if you’re not scared of heights or too cocky as to be careless.

Throughout the trip are reminders of the rich tradition and abundant nature in the Mountain Province: a stray bayawak on the highway, pine trees that act as sentinels of the mountains, cold and crystal clear water gushing forth from the highlands which travelers freely fill their water bottles with, and local people chewing betel nut or nganga.

Of course, the highlight of the trip is reaching Sagada. Find a place to stay in once you reach the town. St. Joseph Resthouse near the bus stop is one of Sagada’s most easily accessed accommodations and, with its garden motif, is quite charming.

Occupancy ranges from dorm rooms (for two and four, starts at P500) to private cabins. Once settled in, register at the municipal hall so you can get a guide to accompany your group during spelunking and hiking. The tours and trails will push you to your limits, create a profound shared experience with your co-travelers and even with strangers, and give you a better understanding of why travelers who have been to Sagada keep returning.

Enlivening swim

The Bomo-od Falls offers an enlivening swim at the end of more than an hour’s worth of hiking through sloping pastures, which may not be as grand as the terraced fields in Banaue and Batad, but are still fascinating in their own right.

Before dawn breaks the next day, station your group at the peak of Kiltepan to welcome the chilly sunrise and see the world from just beneath the sky. Then navigate the crevices of Lumiang Burial Cave, a place you must treat with reverence, and if you’re fit and game enough to go on spelunking for more hours, continue to the underground labyrinth of Sumaging Cave, where the rock formations both challenge and awe.

Other places worth visiting are the Anglican Church, Yoghurt House, local bars for tasting Sagada wine, coffee, or tea, the Masferre museum, Sagada weaving shop, and restaurants that offer the local delicacy, pinikpikan, among others.

The heart of every dream destination is its people. In Banaue, the residents are warm and accommodating, while in Sagada, the locals are gracious and maintain a courteous distance. People there delight in living simply, and although they may have gotten used to the presence of tourists, visitors should always, always remain respectful and undisruptive to the culture and the people.

Sagada’s pabaon for the audacious, risk-taking traveler is the life-altering experience of reconnecting with oneself, with nature, and with the Divine. It will be hard to bid the mountain paradise goodbye, but know that you can always come back.

With a trip costing in the vicinity of P5,000 per person, one can have a dream Banaue and Sagada vacation. For the patient and passionate adventurer who can find joy in the eventful 12-hour trip from Manila to the hidden Eden that is Sagada, the reward is the journey itself.

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