Manila, The Philippines
13.0000° N, 122.0000° E
We just got back from a wonderful long weekend up in the mountain region of the Philippines.
Getting there was no easy task, but the trip was definitely worth it.
The journey started in Manila @ 10pm on an overnight bus to Banaue. Tickets per person were 610php (roughly $13USD), but what you save in cash your body pays for as I’d be lying to say it was a comfortable ride. I did enjoy Alan Jackson’s Greatest hits blaring in between showings of Austin Powers.
We arrived in Banaue at 6:30am just in time pay our town registration (35php per person about $1), negotiate fare to Sagada and grab breakfast the The People’s Inn of Banaue before heading off to Sagada.
Town registration fees were a must in all 3 towns we visited. I guess we could have ducked out of them in both Banaue and Sagada, but if my $1 contributes to the maintenance of these amazing places I’m happy to pay it.
We traveled with a fellow Bikram teacher I met at my yoga teacher training, Jilla who happens to be a Philippines native. It saved me from having to do research on the convoluted way to get to Sagada. If you find yourself making the journey, however, the best way to find a ride would be to take a short tuk tuk ride from the bus stop to The People’s Inn of Banaue. Local guides set up shop along the road and will either drive you themselves or arrange transportation. We paid 500php per person which ended up being a little bit of a rip off as they were able to fill the car with other travelers. Look to spend 1500php one way for a carload.
Just out if town we stopped at the Banaue rice terrace lookout point. It claims to be a UNESCO world heritage site, but we learned later in the trip the real UNESCO site is in the town of Batad, but the photographer who photographed the terraces for the 20php was too lazy to hike into the town of Batad so he photographed the terraces of Banaue. Regardless the terraces were spectacular.
We really lucked out as well. When we first arrived at the view point the terraces were fogged in and we couldn’t see a thing. Right as we were supposed to hop back into our car the fog lifted revealing the impressive site!
Hoping back into the van we continued up the windy mountain road for about 2 hours until we reached Sagada.
We had arranged accommodations ahead of time which was very important the weekend we were in town. The pope was visiting and the entire country was on a 5 day national holiday so almost every homestay was booked. We ended up paying 750php per person for a private room, but on a normal weekend I’ve read you should be able to secure a room for half that amount.
Again, the first thing we did in town was head to the visitors center to pay our town registration fee. We also did research on what caving tour we wanted to do the next day. After talking with the guides we decided to do the most extreme option Crystal Cave. Getting the information we needed, we headed out to grab lunch and explore the town by foot. We ate at Salt and Pepper which seems to be recommended by most of the travel blogs, we however felt it was very crowded and highly over rated.
The town is pretty straight forward, most homestays and restaurants can be found north or south along the main road. We headed all the way south to scout out the cave entrance we would start out the following morning.
Along the way we hit up the Sagada Lemonpie House to reserve our pie for Sunday. One of the things Sagada is known for is their lemon pie, specifically from the Lemon pie House. These pies are so popular that you have to reserve them 24 hours in advance or on a busy weekend like when we were in town 48 hours.
After reserving our pie we continued South to one of the hanging coffin sites. Slightly unimpressive in comparison to the echo hill site we continued on passing the beautiful Sagada terraces until we arrived at the Lumiang Burial Cave.
Lumiang is one of the caves you can hire a guide to take you into, but you can visit the entrance of the cave to see the coffins without a guide.
Headed back into town we stopped by the Sagada Brew House (one of the must hit restaurants!) for dinner before heading to bed early.
The above pictures are of our favorite coffee shops 6php (13 cents) macaroons and a little local boy pushing a bus that was blocking the street along. (Because the town only has 1 street going north and south and wasn’t designed to handle cars, such road blocks were very common.)
We woke up at 6am to start our day of caving. Heading back to the visitors center we found a guide who had enough experience to lead us into Crystal Cave. Upon seeing that we were a group of 3 he called his cousin to help him guide. At first I thought this was overkill but found out later this was definitely needed as there was one point in the cave when we “human laddered” up a 15 foot waterfall.
Our guide getting ready and the entrance to the cave!
The best part of the cave was the natural pools. Only the top pool was full of water when we went, but normally this would create a cascade of water down 5 different pools!
The most technical parts of the cave included repelling without a harness down a 10 foot drop that was only 4 feet wide. I never worried I would fall, but I had one guide above me telling me to adjust my arms–into a position that felt physically impossible to get into while the guide below was telling me to drop my left foot into a crevice. Just slghtly easier was crawling on our backs through a human size hole shortly after the entrance to the cave.
We emerged into Sumaging cave to see the train of tourists being walked through the more popular tour covered in mud. I enjoyed telling the line of tourists entering the cave “good luck” as the looked in horror at our muddy bodies…
Cleaning up we grabbed lunch and a tasty yogurt (the other treat Sagada is world renown for!) at the Strawberry Cafe before heading back to our room to nap.
There are two places where you can get the famous Sagada yogurt. The first being the Yogurt house and the second being Strawberry Cafe. We tried both and I have to say Strawberry Cafe’s food and yogurt is far superior. While the yogurt house does serve yogurt it tasted fairly normal. Strawberry Cafe’s yogurt tasted almost like cheesecake and rather than using a fruit preserve, their yogurt is served with fresh Strawberry’s picked from their garden. Combined with one of the best meals we had in Sagada I would say Strawberry Cafe is a must!
Resting up, we headed out late afternoon for one more adventure in Sagada up to Echo Hill to check out the hanging coffins. Much like the path down the Lumiang Cave the path was a trail of people, but the site didn’t disappoint. On the way there, is also the town Church and an amazing vista of the city.
The hanging coffins of Sagada are considered a very holy place. If a coffin begins to rot or snakes take habitat, the coffin is removed to maintain the integrity of the space.
Only those that die of natural causes are up for consideration to be buried on this cliff. If one wants to be buried there, they will begin making arrangements as their death nears.
It is thought that if you are buried here, your soul will have an easier time getting into Heaven.
We had our last meal at St. George’s Restaurant and home stay which was tasty and satisfying with a gorgeous garden view where we watched local boys play leap frog as we ate.
Early to bed, early to rise we got up at 6am again, picked up our lemon pies and headed back to Banaue.
When we arrived we once again ate breakfast the The People’s Inn before taking off to Batad.
Batad is the real UNESCO world heritage site, but to get to it you have to walk about 2 miles downhill (yes that means later you have to come up!)
Once you arrive in town you are greeted by the most magnificent rice terrace I’ve ever seen! We chose to continue the adventure walking down, then up the terrace before we descended into the valley across the town to the second largest falls of the Philippines, Tappia Falls.
I can now say without doubt descending on a hike is much tougher on my body as walking down to the falls my legs had already begun to shake. I was a little nervous, because in this case what goes down must go up but 2 hours later we were back across the terrace grubbing down on some curry and chop suey. Needless to say my legs were sore for the next couple days but the views were breath taking.
Taking in one more meal at The People’s Inn, we boarded our bus and headed back to Manila. We arrived back in town just in time to catch the Seahawks amazing comeback as they punched their ticket to the Superbowl! Go Hawks!!!