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Friday, October 14, 2011

Fall in Love with Sagada

2011 is almost over. In the midst of the BER months comes the chill which reminds Filipinos of the year-end holidays to come. December is the busiest travel season. If you plan to visit any local destination during December, you should have booked at least two months ahead. When you have confirmed your reservation, you can relax and your Christmas countdown will be as exciting as ever.

Our trip to Benguet was rather an irresistible impulsive decision when hubby and I were visiting Pangasinan. I never thought about the long lines at the terminals but my vision of a special holiday season supported my enthusiasm despite lack of sleep and travel fatigue - what you get when you've been on the road for more than 18 hours. During holidays, everyone is buzzing to be with the family. It is also the best time to schedule an office leave and spend quality time with the people who matter most.

The distance and 'isolation' of Sagada appealed more to us so we decided to move farther up North. After our long wait at the Tarlac Bus Terminal, we were able to catch seats in a Baguio-bound bus. Bus Terminals in Tarlac are open 24/7 because Tarlac is a major stopover for many North-bound buses. Buses to Sagada leave between 6 and 8am. Not sure if they have later trips now. Average travel time is 6 hours, not including traffic when passing by La Trinidad. La Trinidad is a busy district where one can expect local buzz. The Bell Church and Strawberry Farm can be found in La Trinidad. There used to be a gigantic strawberry monument which marks the Strawberry Farm. Though I didn't see it last February.
The bus passes by the highest point of the National Highway. It used to be unpaved and driving around the steep, rugged Benguet mountains need special driving skills. Public utility vehicle drivers regularly plying the route have acquired these. You have to trust them despite the haggard look of the old buses. We had a few heart-thumping and hold-your-breath stops where the driver and his assistants maneuver tricky terrain. I wouldn't recommend travel to Sagada during the rainy months although I have survived one luckily. It was an unavoidable business trip which I could've taken with travel insurance. Don't leave home without one! 
You can feel it when you're almost there. The scenery is so lush, nature lovers will fall in love - like we did! We actually extended our stay for 2 more days. We didn't get a guide but we got a map from the local tourism office. You can hire guides there and arrange for trips to the falls and neighboring towns. 
Map of Sagada
It was probably bad timing, but the Sumaging (big cave) was closed during the 2x I've been to Sagada. For safety, they close the big cave during rainy season and sometimes during December. You'll need big lamps inside to navigate the caves. It's best to hire a guide (500 per group of 10) when you want to go spelunking. We walked through most of the site in 4 days (including some 3-4 hours traversing from Kiltepan Tower). Villagers are very friendly, don't hesitate to ask for directions. 
From Kiltepan Tower
When we were in town, we left our mobile phones in the room so we had no idea whether the mobile signal was good or not. But yes, there is network coverage for both Smart and Globe when we arrived. Its best to go around town with a buddy so you don't freak out. I almost did when I thought a wild boar was nearby. I went ahead to get a closer look at the hanging coffins and didn't notice that hubby was on his way back. There were other people on the trail so he thought I was following him. On my way back, I missed a turn so I went through more hanging coffins in another side of the cliff. I was basically left on my own for almost an hour. Kinda creepy to keep hearing your own call for help at Echo Valley.
Sacred Mountains: Hanging Coffins
We dined at the Country Inn, Rock Valley Inn, Shamrock Cafe and also tried the local 'turo-turo'. We had intimate snacks at the Yogurt House, though they didn't have yogurts when we came. Meals range from 75 to 200. Local deli can be bought at the town plaza and the public market (open at designated time/days only). There are also small stores where you can get spreads, batteries and energy bars for your hikes. Just don't forget to bring enough cash as the next ATM is about 5-6 hours away and the chances of a same-day return trip is small unless you have your own vehicle.

I heard you can rent as low as 300 per room at the St Joseph's Rest house. But it was almost always full. The usual lodgings include the Ganduyan Inn and Sagada Guesthouse. During peak season, you can ask around for homestays. They range from 150-300 per bed. Those who open their homes will also accommodate cooking your meals. A few have hot and cold showers, while most have water heaters. Do ask before finalizing your stay. December temperature can get as low as 10 degrees C, bathing in cold water can be dreadful. 

Some interesting Filipino deli (Ifugao) we've tried:
Etag, naturally preserved tapa

Ifugao Bibingka

Strawberry Preserves and Candies from BSU
Despite the chill, take time to watch for the sunrise and sunset. There's none like it when you leave Sagada. They've left us mesmerized and speechless for minutes. The long drive was worth it. We both wished it wasn't a 12-hour drive from Manila. But perhaps, that's what has saved its beauty so far. What travelers can do is stop by Baguio City for a day before moving on to Sagada and Banawe. There's so many worthwhile things to do in the city. You probably need to decide prior. I regretted spending 6 hours at the hotel in one of my visits. While in Baguio, you can appreciate Ifugao culture at Tam-awan Village. Support local artisans by buying their masterpieces. I would've loved to take home a few. Many reflect ingenuity and Filipino craftsmanship.
Tam-awan Village Cafe
I highly recommend you visit BenCab Museum for traditional and contemporary art infusion. 
BenCab Museum Lobby
Don't forget to haul goodies from the local market. We get broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries (seasonal) and souvenir items from the public market.

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20 comments:

beautiful sarap talaga magtravel lalo na jan sa lugar na yan malamig pa

This makes me want to go there for once... I have long been postponing my getaway in Sagada, but this time around.. I'm going for it:) Thanks for sharing your two cents of this wonderful place..

I've never been to Sagada eventhough I've been to Baguio several times.

I've been hearing a lot of great stories from people who went there and I do look forward that I can visit that place someday. It can be a great way to loosen up and detoxify with fresh air and cool surroundings.

Thank you for sharing your travels in Sagada.

I 've never been to Baguio and Sagada .dami ko ng namimiss na magandang lugar sa philippines .Sagada looks so peaceful.

Hi Air and Mel, thank you for taking the time to drop by :)

It's really cold in that side of Pinas. I all the more enjoyed our hikes because of the cool breeze even at noon. Nakakatakot lang maligo especially if you have to leave early in the morning.

Go for it, Mel! I hope we can go back and even stay longer =D

wish I could find time and money as well to go there . You had written a very encouraging post for me to adore SAGADA much more .

Hi Ads and Tess :)

you should try Sagada! Yes, it is peaceful there. Safe pa. But ofcourse, you still have to take extra precautions to keep valuables safe. Its a place we found to be totally relaxing.

Nightlife, by the way, we mostly spent dining and drinking hot Sagada tea or the local coffee - ang lamig kasi! And then the villagers showcased their traditional dance during New Year's Eve - complete with bonfire!

Hey Little Miss, nice of you to visit :) it doesn't cost much to stay in Sagada. There are plenty of homestay accommodations and you can also buy local produce at the market (a lot cheaper than dining at the inns). Although the long trip will make you want to stay more than 2 days!

In our extended stay, we stretched our budget by preparing sandwiches and buying canned, ready-to-eat food. We just had to spend for hot drinks and water :)

My trip to Sagada was one of the least costly but one of the most memorable among my travels.

OMG Bencab! :D I've never got the chance to visit Sagada even when I was still single...I often go to BAguio though. Will include this on my bucket list...what an experience, thanks for the share. (http://viennadaily.blogspot.com/2011/10/nine-years-in-this-lovely-city.html)

How was the tapa??? Looks weird! hahaha I hope it was good! I've never been to Sagada. It seems so far even though I've been to Baguio. Next time siguro I will go :)

It's Sagada time!

I like to personally pick strawberries but when we were in Baguio last time, the price per Kg is more expensive than that on display table when you personally pick the berries, so I have not experienced picking them. I hope to do it next time.

I am really looking forward of going to Sagada and look for nice food feature. Hope to fall in love too. I've been in La Trinidad though. :-)

i always love to go here, pero saka na daw sabi ni hubby pag malaki na anak namin.

Sagada is one of my unforgettable trips this year. Close ang sumaging cave? Bad timing naman. :( Sumaging is the best cave I've been so far.

Actually I am challenging myself to reach Sagada from Vigan using a scooter via the mountain trail. interested about the coffins hanging there.

@Vien, my son actually has a photo with BenCab...and he has no idea who he was with. Will feature the museum at a later post :)

@Michelle, oops, i forgot to put it on a plate before taking the photo. the red background is part of the original packaging. maybe thats part of why it looks weird. the tapa was so salty we had to rinse it a few times before cooking. They use salt to preserve food since most households in Benguet don't have freezers.

@Jyppe, handpicking strawberries is part of local tourism efforts to promote agri-tourism...shared the cost with my cousin and her friend to lessen the burden :) my son loved the experience!

@Palagutom, we weren't as adventurous when we picked our food. We just made sure not to miss their red rice. But perhaps, there's a next time. Maybe I'll read your reviews first :)

@michi, tagged along my 2-year old during my 2nd visit. It was a long and tiring ride for him. So I agree with your hubby, paglaki na lang ng anak ninyo.

@Gabz, closed twice :( will time my next visit during the summer months. kainggit. do you have photos? would love to read your experience at Sumaging Cave.

@Ed, yes the hanging coffins are very interesting and so are the stories of local folks. Mukhang challenging at exciting yang balak mong route. Let me know about it!

I'll pack my bags for Sagada trip everytime..
It was one of the most memorable trips I had this year..
We probably have the same Itinerary..
We stayed overnight in Baguio before going to Sagada so we wont have to spend 12 hours in the bus..
all worth it considering that your passing through the Philippines highest altitude highways and beautiful mountain countryside

@Simurgh,

me, too. And I'd probably stay longer than 4 days :) Thank you for dropping by!

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