Itinerary, Luzon, Philippines, Travel, Travel Tips

Baguio – Sagada Travel Guide

When asked about my travels, I can only tell stories. How I ate fried grasshoppers in Vietnam or drank my way through Laos, for example. I suck at giving structured information like budget and itinerary.

But here’s an attempt at a Baguio-Sagada Travel Guide that really, is just Sagada. Don’t judge ūüėõ

This guide is based on a backpacking trip I did years ago and is purely experiential. Also, allow me to disclaim that this may not be the most updated information on rates (although I tried my darnedest best to check on latest rates and prices). However, I have provided contact information if you wish to double-check.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust


Disclaimer : When I write about myself drinking beer in the Philippines, I mean Red Horse and nothing else.


BAGUIO

How to get there

From Manila, we took the 1115H Victory Liner bus from the Sampaloc terminal to Baguio. The trip took around 6 hours via TPLEX.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Coming¬†straight from an early flight from Cagayan de Oro, I was exhausted. The comfort that Victory Liner’s first class bus provided¬†was formidable. What with full air-conditioning, reclining seats, free wifi, free snacks and a bus stewardess, it was an experience in itself.

Fare: 455PHP (Regular Aircon); 750 PHP (First Class) | Tickets can be pre-purchased online or in the terminals


Victory Liner Inc. – Manila
www.victoryliner.com
551 Earnshaw St., Barangay 401, Sampaloc, Manila, Philippines
Phone: +63 2 559 7735


Tip: If going to Baguio without prior reservations like we did, seek assistance from the Tourist Information Centre outside the Victory Liner bus terminal.

When we reached Baguio, it was nearly dusk. Thankfully, the men at the Tourist Information Centre were very helpful. Without a hotel reservation, they offered to drive us around the city until we found a hotel that we liked.

Fare: 50 PHP (Van and driver; until a hotel is found)

Where to stay

Our main requirement was a comfortable city-centre hotel that was close to the bus station for Sagada. After a couple of other enquiries, we found Belfranlt. The hotel was a bit dated, but its location, spacious rooms and clean toilets sold us. The hotel also had cable television, hot and cold shower and free breakfast.

Rates: 1650PHP (Double Aircon)


Belfranlt Hotel
General Luna Road, Baguio City, Philippines
Phone: +63 74 442 4298


Where to chill

Remember that acoustic bar in the movie That Thing Called Tadhana? We’ve been there long before the movie was shown.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Perhaps, there was something about Baguio that made unraveling a little less difficult. Bohemian Cafe, for instance, beckoned nostalgia. Dim-lit nooks and alcohol, and the music that filled all the spaces in between.

Price: 100PHP (cocktails) ; 60PHP (beer)


Bohemian Cafe
Assumption Rd, Baguio, Benguet, Philippines


SAGADA

How to get there

Early the next morning, from Baguio, we took the 0700H GL Lizardo bus to Sagada. We were supposed to take an earlier bus but missed it. Hearty breakfasts do that. The trip took around 6 hours via the scenic Halsema Highway.

Fare: 220PHP (Regular Non-aircon)

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust


GL Lizardo Bus Terminal
Rajah Matanda St, Baguio, Benguet, Philippines


Where to stay

We alighted at Sagada Public Market and walked further down along South Road to the SAGGAS (Sagada Genuine Guides Association, Inc.) office. After making initial enquiries, we looked for an accommodation to drop our bags in.

As it was past lunch time and we didn’t have a prior booking (again!), we didn’t walk far. Most of the accommodations near SAGGAS were fully-booked.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Fortunately, we chanced upon Alibama Inn, a small hostel situated above Pinikpikan House. It was okay, except it didn’t have hot shower. I died.

Rates: 250PHP per head (Non-aircon bedspace)


Alibama Inn
pinikpikanhaus@gmail.com
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: (63) 920 8135797


Where to eat

Famished from half a day on the road, a siomai stall outside SAGGAS felt like oasis in the desert. I devoured an entire serve and downed it with a glassful of black gulaman.

Price: 28PHP(Siomai, 3 per serve); 10PHP (Black Gulaman)


Siomai King
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
(fronting SAGGAS)


After doing the Echo Valley and surrounds tour, we dropped by Yoghurt House for some refreshments. Centrally located and with an instagrammable yellow facade, the Yoghurt House sure was unmissable.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

The menu was on the pricier end of the spectrum, though. But I was all for good food and cozy ambiance, and really, I allowed myself to fall prey to good marketing and pretty interiors.

Price: 99PHP(Lemon Lassie)


Yoghurt House
www.yoghurt.sagada.org
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: +63 908 112 8430


For dinner, we strolled further into the innards of Sagada, away from South Road. We were checking out souvenir items in a random shop when my nose caught a whiff of the unmistakeable pork binagoongan.

I heeded the call (or smell) of the home-cooked goodness, of course. That, plus plateful of extra rice later, I was solved.

Tip: grab a couple of free Mentos candies from the jar on the counter.

Must Eat: Pork Binagoongan


Homestay Diner
Sagada – Besao Rd, Sagada, Mountain Province, Philippines


Salt and Pepper¬†was best for breakfast. A stone’s throw away from SAGGAS, we went there to carbo-load before the doing the gruelling Cave Connection.

Price: 150PHP (Bislled’s Delight (Tapsilog)), 30PHP (Mountain Tea), 30PHP (Lemon Iced Tea)


Salt and Pepper
www.facebook.com/sagadasaltandpepper
Phone: +63 998 979 8695
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


After the Cave Connection, we dropped by Sagada Lemon Pie House to supposedly sample their renowned lemon pies. But man, I was starving. Famous lemon pies be damned, I needed rice and a proper meal!

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Price: 150PHP (Spicy Red Chicken and rice meal); 20PHP (Lemonade)


Sagada Lemon Pie House
www.sagadalemonpiehouse.blogspot.com.au
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: (63) 907-7820360


Where to  chill

“Fcuk Sagada, ang sarap mo!”¬†said the vandal on a hanky pinned on a freedom wall. It stood out¬†from all the trinkets that travellers before us had left in the comforts of Bamboo Bar.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

I fell in love at once; left awestricken by the myriad of stories stuck on the walls of that rendezvous. I could have stayed there and made friends and found love and lost pieces of myself. I could have been the resident storyteller, or secret keeper, or kiss-and-spiller.

I could have been everything; and nothing. And even the latter would have been okay.

Prices: 50PHP(Beer)


Bamboo Bar
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


What to do

(Rates are based on a 2pax shared tour)

Echo Valley and Bokong Falls

Knackered from the bus ride from Baguio, we settled on an easy activity for the afternoon. Our sampler tour¬†started at St. Mary’s Anglican Church and into the woods behind it.

While hiking, we learned a bit about how faith was the core of the town, and that in many aspects, religion shaped huge part of the town’s culture and history.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

We first reached Echo Valley, where everything you screamed was screamed back at you. It was popular to those who needed emotional release from  romantic shambles. I swore alright; profanities overload.

Shortly after we resumed our hike, we¬†came across a high rock with coffins hanging on the side.¬†“Ah, there you are,” I exclaimed, noting the most recognisable spot in Sagada; the most photographed.¬†The underground river cave was cloaked just behind the hanging coffins.

Further, Bokong Falls hid behind a dense shrubbery. It wasn’t easily visible, but the sound of the cascade lured the water baby in me. Ice-cold but rejuvenating, I couldn’t have thought of a better way to round an intrepid day off.

Rates: 600PHP(Guide)

Kiltepan Peak

Our guide, Anthony, met us outside the SAGGAS office at 4am on our second day. Much to his dismay, we opted to trek Kiltepan, as opposed to taking a hired van to the peak. We promised him a tip though, as consolation, explaining how as backpackers, we didn’t particularly like being herded.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

The trek was relatively short and easy, nothing like the tramps we’ve done in other backpacking trips. Several vehicles ran past us, filled with tourists in identical crocheted bonnets.

When we got to Kiltepan Peak, most have already taken their spots and have set up tripods to photograph the iconic Sagada sunrise. Some have pitched tents right at the peak the night prior, we learned.

I found a spot too, and from there, the sunrise was glorious. There was barely¬†sea of clouds, however. ¬†So really, I didn’t quite achieve the frame I woke up early for.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Determined to still enjoy the moment, I ejected myself from line of disappointed tourists and joined a company of local guides around a bonfire at the back. Someone offered a tin mug of brewed coffee; another, a stick of cigarette. I said yes to the coffee, no to the cigarette.

Rates: 400PHP(Guide)

Cave Connection

Apart from Bungy Jumping in New Zealand, the Cave Connection was probably the bravest feat I have done to date. It was a rightful bragging right, but definitely something I would not allow any of the people I love to ever do.

Imagine going through the mouth of one cave to another– the kind that takes up to 4 hours– with a single kerosene lamp and zero safety gear. Oh wait, we were advised to go barefoot as it was apparently less slippery that way. To slip, by the way, meant 2,500ft down into the abyss of nothingness.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Rendell, though, was awesome. He has been guiding Cave Connection tours for a couple of years, but initially joked that we were his first tour. His familiarity of the route made the whole ordeal a little less daunting. It also helped that he kept saying “eto na yung pinakamahirap, Miss” (this is already the hardest, Miss) each time we get past a tricky obstacle. Only to realise that a more difficult one will come up next.

Including stopovers, we were able to finish the connection in just a little over 2 hours.¬†Rendell, who, towards the end of the tour also identified himself as John, couldn’t stop gushing.

“Sure ka Pinoy ka? Ba’t ang bilis mo? Korean lng ang ganyan kabilis!” (Are you sure you’re Filipino? Why are so you fast? Only Koreans can be that fast!)

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

I could only smile. I got what he meant, but chose not to go there.

Rates: 800PHP(Guide)

Pongas Falls

Probably my most favourite of all, was Pongas Falls. It was a bit away, and was thereby our most expensive activity. But it was all worth it. Our guide, Alder, doubled as a photographer, and was big on candid shots.

We passed by a village to get permission from the local chieftain before proceeding to the falls. On the way, we walk past villagers going about with daily life– women cooking for early dinner, kids on their way home from school and men racing to finish the day’s work before sunset. I saw myself in each one of them, remembering my own village back home.

When we reached the waterfall, we were delighted to find it deserted. We basically had it all to ourselves for the rest of the afternoon.

It was past dusk when we made it back to the main road.¬†Before calling it a day, we shared a beer with Alder, who, at the time, was chewing betel nut to celebrate a day’s worth of hard work.

Rates: 600PHP(Guide); 600PHP(Van Rental)


SAGGAS
Sagada Genuine Guides Association, Inc.
www.facebook.com/saggas
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


WHAT IS YOUR SAGADA STORY? SHARE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.


Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust
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Asia, Luzon, Philippines, Travel, Visayas

Backpacking Philippines

The awakening for Backpacking Philippines happened while traveling Indochina last summer. Whilst I recognised how traveling to other countries afforded me perspectives that I wouldn’t have otherwise felt in my own backyard, I also realised that I was exploring to find experiences that resembled the familiarity of home.

So when Matthijs, a Dutch backpacker‚ÄĒ whom I shared one too many bottles of beer with‚ÄĒ asked if I was keen to show him around the Philippines, I cancelled all other travel plans and jumped at the chance. What he didn‚Äôt know was, I was just as much of a tourist as he was.

BAGUIO – SAGADA

Read: Baguio-Sagada Travel Guide

Our adventure began at a bus terminal in Sampaloc, Manila. From there,  we took a six-hour land trip to Baguio, a city where villages hung on the hips of mountain ranges.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Baguio

At twilight, we strolled around Session Road, cheeks with hints of scarlet from the cold. Amused at the lilt of the Ilocano tongue, we combed the markets for the crowd, chomping on street food in between. As the night deepened, we holed up in an acoustic bar called Bohemian and drowned sorrows, imagined and otherwise, in beer.

A decision borne out of the night prior’s drunken conversation led us to Sagada the next day. Charming and nostalgic, the town beckoned my poetry: I just had to be there.

Happy to be dragged to my exploits, Matthijs gamely trekked the jungles with me‚ÄĒ to chase waterfalls, spot hanging coffins and watch sunrises before seas of clouds.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Sagada

But our most dauntless adventure of all was spelunking and abseiling between caves with nothing but ungloved hands and bare feet. Albeit a physical feat, surviving the 4-hour Cave Connection was a real test of courage and strength of character. I, particularly, feel braver since.

BATAD – BANAUE

Read: Batad-Banaue Travel Guide

Riding on top of a jeepney may not be news to daredevils. But riding on top of a jeepney traversing through the deadly Halsema Highway was what we did. Keeping to our YOLO branding, we kept at it all the way to Banaue, and even to Batad.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Banaue

When not avoiding live wires, we revelled in the landscapes: rice terraces, mountain ranges and cliff faces. We were also immersed in a culture so intact, and in a history that stood on the feet of diligence and bravery.

For a few days, we stayed at a 100 year-old hut in a village fronting 2000 year-old rice terraces. There, we tramped through deeper into the woods, and higher into the mountains. We saw more waterfalls and caught more sunsets.

There was no beer, shame. But regardless of the time of the day, there was always an oversupply of rice wine.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Batad

EL NIDO

Read: El Nido Travel Guide

In stark contrast to our week in the hinterlands, an overnight bus to Manila and a morning flight to Puerto Princesa took us to the beaches of Palawan.

Upon learning that a jaunt to the Underground River won’t be possible until the next day, we crossed Puerto Princesa off our list.  But that also meant we had to continue the journey for five more hours to the beachfront haven of El Nido.

Where I got the energy to survive the commute, I didn’t know. But if there was ever such a thing as a power bank for humans, I would have very gladly plugged my whole self in.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - El Nido

El Nido was the lover worth dumping everyone else for. Three days became six, and it still wasn’t enough.

We hopped between islands, snorkelled in lagoons, held picnic lunches in deserted mounds of white sand and drank nights away under the tutelage of French bartenders, who have found home in my country.

In one of the boat trips, a common love for boisterous laughter forged an instant friendship between us and a trio of very fun-loving Pinoys. Eventually, and very willingly so, they shared my honour of entertaining our foreign friends, staging one big showdown of local hospitality.

CORON

Read: Coron Travel Guide

Coron was an altogether different ballgame. Whilst El Nido’s charm dwelt on rock formations jutting out from cerulean seas, Coron tucked entire kingdoms underwater.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Coron

Having had the privilege to snorkel in Kayangan and Barracuda alone was already worth the 9-hour arduous boat ride from El Nido. But to add shipwreck diving and hammock-lounging in a private island to the equation? No price tag could ever be put on that.

The nights, meanwhile, were a class of its own. Traveling with a French couple, we brought the party atmosphere of wild El Nido to sleepy Coron. On one occasion, we got wasted over happy-hour rum coke and donned on a random shop’s mascot costume. We were too drunk to find out if we ever made it to local news, but I remember stopping traffic, running around town as a green gecko.

CEBU

Read: Cebu Sinulog Travel Guide

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Cebu

Just in time for the Sinulog Festival, we flew to Cebu from Coron to cap off our month-long vagabonding around the country. There, we met up with other wayfarers who were also in town for the weekend shindig.

Out of all stops, Cebu was the only place I’ve ever been to before, so I made sure to plate up a generous helping of Filipino hospitality. For four days, we barely slept in the name of fun and mayhem.

By the end of the trip, Matthijs and I felt we’ve out-YOLO-ed ourselves, and spent our last few days in Cebu looking back at our travels.

Backpacking Philippines - Words and Wanderlust - Sinulog

In one of our conversations, he told me that Philippines should no longer be lumped in general terms (ie., Asians) internationally; that Philippines is Filipino, awesome enough to stand on its own.

‚ÄúYou aren‚Äôt even third-world. You have first-world cities and first-world people, where even the most primitive of tribes can speak decent English and even the poorest of communities are happy.‚ÄĚ

I sat there, bereft of speech, startled by the reckoning that it was actually me, who have been shown around in my own country.

From the eyes of a foreigner, I saw the Philippines again for the first time. It was beautiful. Perhaps, the most in the universe. As a Filipino, I realise right then and there, that it was my duty to open my country’s doors for all to see.