The cold mountain breeze of the Cordilleras is only secondary reason to visit this destination. It is home to Banaue Rice Terraces, dubbed by the locals as the “8th Wonder of the World” due to its ancient majestic splendor. Sagada boasts of unique caves, hanging coffins, and indigenous culture. The region’s capital Baguio City is dubbed as the City of Pines and the Summer Capital of the Philippines for its cool weather and a myriad of pine trees throughout the city.
Sagada and Banaue are ideal destinations for those who want to truly get away from city life and seeking crisp fresh air. People who have a taste for adventures and cultural heritage will surely get their fix from these destinations. Baguio City is great for those who enjoy cold weather and sight-seeing but are not keen on leaving the conveniences of the modern world.
Top Attractions and Activities
Spelunking and Hiking
Sagada has at least 4 caves worthy to uncover. The most popular is Sumaguing Cave, believed to have been underwater millions of years ago due to the abundance of limestone formations inside. Lumiang Cave is connected to the bigger Sumaguing Cave and is largely popular with its burial site. Crystal Cave boasts of rich occurrence of stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations while the Matangkig Cave hosts Latang Underground River, another one of Sagada’s highlights. Hiking to Bokong and Bomod-ok Waterfalls is pleasantly rewarding for an invigorating dip in their natural pools. In Banaue, hike up to the Viewpoint to get a panoramic view of the picturesque landscape of the Banaue Rice Terraces. The hike would take about 1-2 hours but it is very much worth the effort. Take on Mt. Pulag, the highest point in Luzon and second-highest Philippine mountain. It would take 2-4 days to reach the summit where you can apparently touch the clouds.
Hanging Coffins and Indigenous Culture
For more than 2000 years, native people of Sagada have been burying their deceased loved ones up the mountains and cliffs. They believe that they can reach heaven easier the higher their remains are deposited. The natives have carried on their traditions and lifestyle because the area was not penetrated by Spaniards. Pay a visit to Sagada Weaving House and witness firsthand the skillful hand weaving techniques of local women. The textile’s high-quality still bears genuine patterns from tradition – triangles signifying mountains and zigzag lines for rivers. Banaue Hotel showcases cultural shows and the nearby Tam-an Village is worth a quick visit where locals exhibit their expertise in wood carving and traditional weaving. If you want the full cultural experience, try sleeping in a native Ifugao hut, too.
Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao
Banaue Rice Terraces was carved by ancestors mostly by hand some 2000 years ago. They stand about 1500 meters, resembling staircases built for a giant and believed to be able to cover half of the world if the steps are lined from end to end. The rice fields are nourished by an olden irrigation system from rainforests high above and are still functional to this day.
On February of each year, Baguio Flower Festival draws millions of people to the city. It is a month-long celebration with major events happening on weekends. There are a myriad of activities like street dancing, marching bands, parade of flower floats, bazaars, cultural performances in various themed-costumes, and street entertainers.
Parks and Gardens
Baguio City could easily pass as having the most parks and gardens given its land area. To name a few, Burnham Park features a lake, skating rink, gardens, a grandstand, picnic grove, and more. Wright Park features horse-back riding and a field of pines. Minesview Park close by is also a very popular spot, showcasing panoramic views of mountains and mines. Bell Church has well-manicured Chinese gardens, temple, pagodas and Buddhism artifacts. It is a good stop en route to Strawberry Fields where tourists get the chance to pick the fruits themselves. Off the beaten path, you may opt to go to Maryknoll Ecological sanctuary for a nice picnic and a stroll.
In Banaue, drop by the Museum of Cordilleran Sculpture. On display are antique wood carvings of bulul representing Ifugao ancestors’ lifestyles, primitive masks, various fabrics, functional artifacts, and other interesting artworks. It would be unfortunate to leave Baguio without visiting BenCab Museum if you’re an arts and culture aficionado. It features the works of Benedicto Cabrera, an award-winning Philippine national artist. Besides his masterpieces, impressive works of art by local artists are also on exhibit. After exploring the galleries, head over to Café Sabel downstairs for a quick snack or take a stroll along the eco trails towards a mini forest.
Best shopping spots
When shopping for souvenirs, the Sagada Weaving House offers the best quality and affordable price for hand-woven goods. In Banaue, Tam-an Village sells woodcarvings to tourists at reasonable prices. In Baguio, there are a lot of places to go shopping. For food items such as jams, breads and fresh organic greens, go to Good Shepherd Convent. The Ifugao Woodcarvers Village is en route to BenCab where a lot of wood products are sold. If you’re looking for antique items and furniture, visit Maharlika Livelihood Center which provides shipping to its customers. For fresh vegetables and fruits, go to the Central Public Market if you don’t mind crowds.
How to get to and around
To get to the Cordilleras, you have to travel by land. There are daily buses from Manila with direct trips to both Baguio and Banaue. The direct trip to Baguio takes 4-6 hours and to Banaue 9-10 hours. There are no direct trips from Manila to Sagada, one would have to connect a trip at Baguio or Banaue first to get there. Buses ply the Baguio-Sagada route daily on an average of 6 hours travel time. Jeepneys from Banaue to Sagada are only operational during peak tourist season. Public transportation can get quite difficult in Banaue and Sagada especially during typhoon season. For this reason, hiring a private car or availing of packaged tours is beneficial. In Baguio City however, taxis are abundant, cheap and comfortable modes of transportation.
The Cordilleras are known for vegetable and fruit farming, thus fresh vegetable dishes and salads is a must-try for visitors. For obvious reasons, the best food the region has to offer is its homegrown organic rice in Banaue with coffee trailing very close behind. Sagada coffee is one of the perks of visiting as it has homegrown Arabica and Civet blends, the latter dubbed as the most expensive coffee in the world. Authentic Cordilleran dishes include chicken pinikpikan, etag or itag, pinuneg, sabusab, and their native wine called tapuey.
- There are no ATM’s in Banaue and only one ATM in Sagada. Credit cards are rarely accepted so make sure to bring enough Philippine pesos. There are money changers but rates are quite low.
- Baguio City has a lot of ATM’s, money changers and credit cards are accepted in malls and most restaurants.
- There is a curfew for minors starting at 10:00 PM and liquor is no longer sold in bars by 1:00 AM. This is strictly implemented in Davao City for peace and order
- In cases of emergency, dial 911 for immediate response from the city government. During office hours, you may also call (6382) 296-9626.
- Apply mosquito repellents when going in forests or caves. There are times of the year when mosquitoes are swarming in certain places
- You may have to book hotels in advance when visiting around the Kadayawan Festival week as an influx of tourists will swarm to the city
- For your own safety, always get a guide when you go hiking.
- Apply insect repellent especially when exploring caves.
- Climate is typically cold and rains occur even during summer so wear appropriate clothing.
- Wear comfortable outdoor shoes suitable and non-slippery footwear when caving.