Friday, December 23, 2005


Notes from our February 2005 trip to Sagada, Mt. Province:

Sagada is among the most famous mountain resort and municipalities in the Philippines. It's about 6 to 6 1/2 hours by bus from Baguio City of Benguet province.
Among the prominent attractions of Sagada are:
(1) Thick pine forest vegetation, similar to Camp John Hay of Baguio.
(2) Cold weather due to its high elevation of around 5,000+ feet above sea level, higher than Baguio of around 4,500 feet.
(3) Many caves, including the big cave and the cave of old coffins.
(4) Hanging coffins on limestone rocks.
(5) Rice terraces to see, though not as expansive as the rice terraces of Battad, Banaue, Ifugao province.
(6) Waterfalls, more than an hour walk from the municipal center.

There are many places to stay there, generally walking distance walking distance from each other, just around the town hall and bus station. Among these are the Sagada guest house, Ganduyan Inn, St. Joseph Rest house, Masferres Inn, etc. We stayed in Ganduyan Inn; room rate is P125/person per day, common bathroom; some rooms have own bathroom and therefore, are less cheaper.

Plenty of places to eat as well; usually at the guest houses or inns, in some small cafeterias. Food (say, a cup of rice + meat or chicken) range from P50 to P100 per meal per person.

How to go there:
From Manila, take bus to baguio (Victory bus, Five Star bus, Dagupan bus, among the big bus lines), preferably the 11 pm or 12 midnight bus, you'll reach Baguio City about 5am the following day. Fare is around P300+ per person. The first trip to Sagada at Dangwa bus terminal leaves at 6am, so there's still time to eat breakfast somewhere (Session road has a number of 24-hrs. cafes). Lizardo bus line is the biggest (if not the only one) that plies the Baguio-Sagada route, there are no air-con buses. If you take the 6am bus, you'll reachSagada about 12 to 12:30 noon. Fare is around P200 per person for the 151 kms. trip, about 2/3 of which is on dirty and bad roads. If you like watching cliffs and dozens of mountain ranges, you'll enjoy the bus trip to Sagada.

Despite the circuitous route and bad roads, bus accidents very seldom happen. Bus drivers are skilled in going through such kinds of road. If you wonder in some wide areas though, where the trees are, well, they've been replaced by vegetable plantations, especially cabbages, baguio beans, as well as rice fields, or grasses have taken over.

People normally do not take guides in going around their way. One can buy a one-page map for P10 or P50 in most guest houses/inns and stores. Or they meet fellow tourists, and either they plan their trip together or ask for tips from those who have just visited certain places. But going to the big cave, a guide is necessary. The guides bring the lights (a "petromax") and ropes to guide visitors in some slippery parts of the cave.

Going back to Manila, there are 2 routes. One is to take the same route back to Baguio then Manila; Or via Bontoc (Mt. Province's provincial capital) and Banaue. If taking the second route, take a Sagada-Bontoc jeepney (about 50 kms., 1 hour), then Bontoc-Banaue jeepney (nearly 100 kms., about 3 hours).

Banaue, Ifugao.
There are plenty of beautiful rice terraces to see along the way en route to Banaue.
Bontoc-Banaue road is the trickiest road network in the country, I think.
You'll pass by the highest highway in the Philippines more than 2,000 meters above sea level!
The vegetation changes from pine forest to mossy forest as you go higher. Going down to Banaue, there are less pine trees, more dipterocarp forest species.

In Banaue town proper, you can find a number of viewpoints to see the beautiful rice terraces. But the famous place where you seem to have a 3D view of the monstrous terraces is in Battad. Was there 3 years ago, it took us 30 minutes ride by jeepney (fare about P50/person), then walk of nearly 3 hours! No electricity in Battad, lodging houses at P50/person/day (again, this was 3 years ago). The stone terraces are really huge and tall, some about 12 ft tall, and there are dozens of rows of them in each column.

From Banaue, there are air-con buses going to Manila (they usually leave at 5pm everyday), or you can take a Banaue-Solano (Nueva Vizcaya) jeepeny. There are many buses coming from Kalinga, Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya provinces going to Manila, via Nueva Ecija and Bulacan.

Some notes re. view in these provinces:

a) Benguet (Baguio city, La Trinidad city,...) -- mostly vegetable terraces. Sometimes a big hill or small mountain is almost bald of trees, but you'll see hundreds of vegetable plantations.

b) Mt. Province (Sagada, Bontoc,...) -- mainly pine forest, then dipterocarp and mossy forest; a few vegetable and rice terraces to see.

c) Ifugao (Banaue, Kiyangan, ...) -- lots of rice terraces; a few pine forest, mostly dipterocarp forest.

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