Sagada is a world away from what most people would imagine when picturing the Philippines.
The Philippines is known for its stunning islands replete with white sand beaches and impossibly clear waters in shades of turquoise blue and emerald green. But Sagada doesn’t have any of that.
What it does have is lush green mountains, cool pine-scented air, first-class food, addictive local coffee, picturesque rice terraces, refreshing waterfalls, and more adventure activities than you can shake a stick at.
To only visit the beaches of the Philippines would mean not getting the full picture of what this incredible country has to offer the visitor. So why not escape the oppressive humidity that plagues the lower lying regions of the country and go somewhere different?
Get your ass to Sagada…
Rich in indigenous culture, the Igorot people of Sagada are fiercely proud of their traditions and have fought hard to keep them intact, including their unusual method of burial which involves hanging coffins from the side of cliffs. That alone makes Sagada worth a visit.
Backpacking in Sagada is the perfect way to round out your Philippines adventure, whether you are looking for a relaxing break or an outdoor adventure extravaganza. There are so many things to do in Sagada and it is one of the cheapest places to travel to as well.
But don’t take my word for it – come and find out for yourself. This Sagada Travel Guide will get you started…
Sagada Travel Guide: Things to do
Marvel at unique hanging coffins
One of the main reasons a lot of people make the trek up to Sagada is to see the iconic hanging coffins. The Igorot people of Sagada have traditionally ‘buried’ their dead in colourfully painted coffins clinging to the sides of limestone cliffs, or piled up at the entrance of caves. They believe these methods of burial provide an easier path for the spirits to reach the great beyond, as well as keeping wild animals from their remains. These days it is more common for locals to bury their dead in cemeteries – although there are still a few locals who choose to be buried in the traditional way. You can reach some of the coffins independently or a visit can be included in an Echo Valley tour booked through the Tourist Information Centre. This is a must see on any Sagada itinerary.
Spelunking in massive cave systems
If adventure is your middle name then spelunking may very well be the perfect activity for you. The most popular spelunking adventure is the Cave Connection tour, which takes you from Lumiang Cave through Sumaguing Cave. Exploring the underground cave system involves wading through chilly rivers, rappelling down waterfalls, and squeezing yourself through tiny openings. It is like being birthed again, except this time you are old enough to be aware of it. Definitely not for the claustrophobic! There are also stacks of wooden coffins located at the mouth of Lumiang Cave, which is always an interesting sight.
Tour Guides are required for this 3-4 hour adrenaline rush of an activity, and you can pick them up from the Tourist Information Centre. If this sounds too extreme, you can do a shorter caving course in Sumaguing Cave. There is also an option to explore Balangagan Cave which is a 4 hour adventure and has some of the most beautiful rock formations of all the caves.
Hike in the lush mountainous surroundings
There are many hikes on offer in the mountains around Sagada, some that can be done independently and a large number that requires a guide, which is very affordable. Echo Valley is one of the most popular hikes in a Sagada itinerary and on a half day hiking there you will see rice terraces, an underground river, hanging coffins, and a waterfall, along with lots of gorgeous scenery. If you feel like a challenge, you could climb the highest peak in Sagada – Mt Ampacao – or hike to one of the waterfalls mentioned below. There are a large number of hikes available with local guides from the Tourist Information Centre, where you can pick up a free map and guide with hikes listed.
Swim under a waterfall
It can get pretty hot during the day up in the mountains and what better way to cool off than in a deep, cool pool under a cascading waterfall? I can’t think of any! There are numerous waterfalls around Sagada that can be visited independently or as part of a tour. Visit Bokong Falls for its deep, perfectly shaped rock pool close to town, Bomod-Ok Falls for its impressively high falls surrounded by rice terraces, and Pongas Falls for an adventure, with a challenging trek of slippery trails, and sheer drop off to reach it.
Try all the excellent eateries
The Philippines is not known for its cuisine but it doesn’t mean there aren’t delicious food destinations – Sagada is definitely one of them. For such a small town there is a ridiculously high number of eateries, and the crazy thing is – almost all of them serve incredible food. Sagada is known for its lemon pie, but there are so many other delectable dishes that are done so well here – wood fired pizza, Korean dishes, fried chicken that Colonel Sanders would be proud of, traditional Pinoy dishes such as chicken adobo, handmade Italian pasta dripping with cheese, and so much more. You won’t go hungry in Sagada, in fact, you may come away with a few joyfully earned extra pounds. Check out the restaurant list further down this guide to start planning your meals now and make sure to include at least some of them when planning your Sagada itinerary.
Try the local coffee
As with its cuisine, the Philippines is also not generally known for having great coffee, but Sagada is definitely an exception. Due to the higher altitude and cooler mountain temperatures, coffee grows exceptionally well in this mountainous corner of the Philippines and a lot of the local cafes not only serve the premium local stuff, some even roast the beans themselves onsite. If you have ever wanted to try the infamous civet coffee, a.k.a. Kopi Luwak, the most expensive coffee in the world – now is your chance. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper here than getting it back home. They also grow tea in the area so try to pull yourself away from the glorious coffee to try the mountain tea as well.
Go for a leisurely stroll around town
The surrounding mountains of Sagada offer gorgeous spots for hiking and adventure, but the town itself is beautiful and also definitely worth exploring. There are pine covered mountains surrounding you everywhere you look, and once you head any direction from the main street of town, you will very quickly come across lush and verdant countryside with mountain views, rice terraces, and a whole lot of peace and quiet. There are a few destinations that are worth visiting on the outskirts including the Sagada Weaving Cooperative where you can buy quality woven items and clothing while also seeing the talented weavers at work, Gaia Cafe – a crazy looking hippie treehouse/vegetarian restaurant, and Misty Lodge – a painfully quaint wooden lodge with a restaurant serving the most amazing pizza. Make sure to add these to your Sagada itinerary.
Try your hand at rock climbing
If you have ever wanted to give rock climbing a try but have been put off by high prices, then now is your chance. Rock climbing in Sagada is relatively cheap and with a low difficulty level, it is the perfect place for beginners. You can either just show up, it is located behind the cemetery in town and the attendant is usually there, or ask for more information at the Tourist Information Centre. All the gear is provided.
Sagada Travel Guide – Getting there
There are two ways to reach Sagada from Manila: via the mountain city of Baguio, or via the smaller town of Banaue, which is a popular destination in itself for its rice terraces.
Manila to Sagada via Baguio
There are several bus companies that run regular buses, usually hourly, between Manila and Baguio. You can also catch buses overnight. Victory Liner is one of the main companies and they run buses from Cubao, Pasay and Monumental Main Terminal in Caloocan City. The trip takes between 4-6 hours and you can choose a basic or deluxe bus service.
On arrival in Baguio, you will need to get from the main bus station to Dangwa Station, a short taxi ride away, to catch the GL Trans bus to Sagada. Buses leave on the hour from 6 am to 1 pm and take about 5-6 hours to reach Sagada. These buses are basic, with tiny seats and no air-conditioning. A word of warning: prepare for a hot and bumpy ride!
Manila to Sagada via Banaue
For buses to Sagada from Manila via Banaue, you can take Autobus and Dangwa Tranco which both leave their respective terminals in Sampaloc at 10 pm for the nine hour journey.
On arrival in Banaue, there are jeepneys, and sometimes minibuses or vans that can take you the last 3-4 hours to Sagada. Just ask at the Information Centre although it is likely you will have drivers waiting where the bus drops you off. Alternatively, take the 9 am jeepney to Bontoc and transfer there to the bus to Sagada.
Both ways take about the same amount of time and also cost approximately the same amount. You could break up the long journey with time in either Baguio or Banaue if you don’t want to bang it all out in one go.
Accommodation in Sagada:
Sagada is the perfect destination for backpackers with plenty of affordable accommodation options in and surrounding town.
Hotels in Sagada
Misty Lodge – Located in the serene mountains just outside of Sagada but within easy walking distance to town, Misty Lodge is a cosy, family-run lodge offering eight private rooms, a wonderful restaurant on-site and massage services. There is complimentary wi-fi in rooms.
Masferré Country Inn and Restaurant – Located right in the heart of Sagada, Masferré Country Inn offers guests cheerfully decorated private rooms with complimentary toiletries and wi-fi. The excellent on-site restaurant serves food all day.
Shamrock Tavern Inn – This is a pretty cool place to stay at while in Sagada and it is located very close to the Sumaguing Cave. You can also go for a nice massage or karaoke away if you fancy!
Guesthouses in Sagada
This rustic inn offers peace and tranquillity on a hill above town with excellent valley views. Great value with large, clean private and family rooms. There is a mixture of rooms with shared or private bathrooms. Friendly and helpful staff. No wi-fi available.
This large property is one of the most popular budget guesthouses in Sagada, offering a wide-range of room options, on-site restaurant, complimentary wi-fi, and a social atmosphere. Great views overlooking a valley and town.
It may not look like much on the outside, but the Residential Lodge is delightfully cabin-esque inside with cosy rooms and common areas. Complimentary wi-fi, tea and coffee. Full kitchen for guests. Selection of private rooms with common or private bathrooms.
For a more local experience, why not stay in a local’s home? There are multiple affordable listings on Airbnb for the Sagada area, and you can even rent a whole apartment if you are travelling with a group. Check out the Airbnb Coupon Code and get 35% off here on your first booking. Also, a great way to stay away from those backpacker assholes…
There are also a few places you can camp near Sagada including Kiltepan Peak, which is also a beautiful place to catch the sunrise.
Where to Eat in Sagada:
As mentioned above, the options are almost endless for amazing food in Sagada. Here are a few tried and tested favourites:
One of my favourite spots, hanging over a leafy gorge. Bana’s serves awesome local coffee which they brew themselves onsite, including civet coffee, as well as some of the best tasting food in Sagada. The breakfasts here are the best in town, their chicken curry is the best I have eaten in the Philippines and the honey and broccoli chicken is to die for. Don’t miss this place.
A cosy two-storied log cabin, Yoghurt House is famous for – you guessed it: Yoghurt. They have some killer yoghurt and fruit lassis here but the mains are also pretty good – try the pasta and chicken with potato rosti.
Hidden away down an alley off the main street, Strawberry Cafe has simple but delicious breakfasts that are very budget friendly, and their coffee is awesome.
Gaia Cafe is a hippie spot serving organic vegetarian and vegan dishes along with local crafts. The unusual treehouse structure has the best views in town, overlooking a scenic valley of rice terraces. It’s about a ten minute walk out of town and isn’t always open when it says it will be but it’s definitely worth trying your luck for.
On the outskirts of town, Misty Lodge Cafe is a peaceful spot to enjoy some of the most amazing pizza in the Philippines, which is made from scratch. Misty Lodge is also well-known for its great breakfasts at affordable prices.
The best spot in town for the world famous in Sagada lemon pie. Seating is Japanese tea house style – on cushions on the floor around low tables. Make sure to try the iconic lemon pie or their equally as good egg (custard) pie, washed down with a steaming cup of mountain tea or local coffee.
This low-ceilinged Rasta bar with walls covered in Bob Marley images and bottle caps serves a selection of delicious Korean and Pinoy dishes but is also a great spot for a few casual beers.
If you have a craving for fried chicken, Masferré will be your saving grace. With truly awesome fried chicken, as well as cooked breakfasts, sandwiches, salads and fresh vegetables, Masferré is a great spot for any meal of the day.
And I saved the best for last. Log Cabin is an institution in the Philippines and has been running for over twenty years, offering incredible, lick your plate clean, gourmet food in a cosy setting. Bookings are definitely required here as it is only open for dinner and is very popular. The Chefs at the Log Cabin use only the best local ingredients, and the menu constantly changes depending on what is in season. You honestly can’t go wrong with whatever you order, whether it’s a creamy pasta, stuffed chicken or roast pork – everything is amazing, including the service.
Sagada’s street food is delicious, but don’t take my word for it. Check out this awesome video guide to the best street food in Sagada.
Top Tips for Budget Backpackers exploring Sagada
To keep your spending to an absolute minimum and travel cheaply whilst backpacking in Sagada I recommend sticking to the three basic rules of budget backpacking…
Hitchhike: Thumb a ride! People in the Philippines are kind and generous so there’s no harm in giving hitching a shot. Hitchhiking in Sagada is a great way to keep your transport costs down.
Camp: With plenty of gorgeous natural places surrounding Sagada, why not carry a tent and camp to cut down on costs. If not camping then why not a local experience? Make sure to check out Airbnb or Couchsurfing for a local taste of Sagada.
Cook your own food: To save money on food, carry a pocket rocket stove on your backpacking trip so you can cook meals on the fly. Another option is to make simple salads and sandwiches – no cooking required. It will save you a ton of money.
Backpack Sagada for free
Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore The Philippines long-term and experience living in this truly incredible country is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Sagada Travel Guide – Things to Know
- Register with the Tourist Information Centre when you arrive and pay the environmental fee, you will need the receipt to book any tours and to do any hiking in the area.
- You don’t generally need to book accommodation in advance (unless it’s a holiday period), just turn up and ask around until you find a place where the price is right. It is perfectly acceptable to haggle.
- Internet is pretty spotty in Sagada and most cafes either don’t offer it or it is so bad that it’s not worth using. Try getting a guesthouse with internet or pay to use the internet at the internet cafe on the top floor of the shopping centre, next to the Tourist Information Centre.
- There is an ATM in the Tourist Information Centre
- If you want to travel during holidays such as over Christmas, New Years or Easter – make sure to book your buses in advance as they book up quick.
- Most importantly: be respectful of the local people and their culture.
A gear checklist I swear by! Make sure you check this out before venturing out for a backpacking adventure…
Useful Apps to Download Before Backpacking Sagada
Be warned, free wifi in Sagada is hard to find and will probably be painfully slow. Don’t use your precious moments downloading apps while backpacking Sagada, prepare before you go!
uTalk Go – The backpacker’s secret weapon when it comes to learning languages, I cannot recommend uTalk enough; whilst backpacking Sagada and the rest of Asia, this is your greatest weapon.
Maps.Me – My favourite offline maps app, download your map and route before you venture out to keep you on track. Great help if you’re venturing out on your own and don’t know the local language.
XE Currency – Use this kickass app and avoid getting scammed while exchanging currencies!
Get insured before heading to Sagada
Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your backpacking adventure but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get insurance with World Nomads, Please do get some sort of insurance from somewhere, there are lots of decent options online.
I hope that this Sagada Travel Guide has been helpful to assist in planning where to stay, how to get there, what to eat and things to add to your Sagada itinerary.
Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.
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About the Author
A self-professed crazy cat lady and world traveler, Katie is originally from New Zealand but has been living abroad and travelling the world for over 12 years. She is currently based between the US and New Zealand, where she is learning the ropes to this digital nomad thing and trying to see more of this wonderful world we live in.