It was Halloween 2011 when my group of travelling buddies went to Sagada, Mountain Province primarily to witness the ‘Panag-apoy’, a ritual to coincide with the observance of the All Souls day and All Saints day where locals would literally lit the whole cemetery on fire, a ritual that is steadily gaining a wide audience from curious souls like us year by year.

Sagada Cemetery :  Going to lit this place on fire for the Panag-apoy

Going to Sagada is a 6-hour bus ride from the Dangwa Station in Baguio City, going through almost the whole Mountain Province. You’ll passed through the Halsema Highway, the highest peak of Philippine Hiway; catch a glimpse of the Ambuklao Dam; and the town of Bauko, the hometown of the late actor Marky Cielo, where a life-sized picture of him is standing above his tomb beside his house.

View of the Mountain Province from the van
Robbie being Robbie at the Halsema Highway

Sagada is adjacent to Bontoc, the Capital of the Province, and upon arrival it was not exactly what I had imagined. The place was already commercialized ready to cater to tourist. Tourism offices were set up and offers tour packages that would include transportation and tour guides. We stayed at George Guest House, and scheduled an early morning tour at Kiltipan Peak to witness the sunrise, a supposed mid-morning to lunch spelunking at Sumaging Cave (which took 6 hours), and yet what’s disappointing is that I didn’t get to do the very thing that we went there for, the ‘Panag-apoy’ since it was scheduled 3 days after our arrival, and by that time I needed to be back at work. I imagined that the feeling is unlike attending a party in Corfu in those kind of celebrations but the experience would be just as great, well in a very different kind of way. Anyway, the 6-hour spelunking ‘cave connection’ experience was enough for me to say that this trip was worth it. Anyway I would just like to share some tips for those who are planning to Sagada to avoid hassle when you get there. 

My tips when going to Sagada: 
  • There are two ways when going to Sagada from Manila, via Baguio or from Manila straight to Bontoc-Banaue which you’ll passed through the provinces Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela. If you choose the Baguio route, from the Dangwa Station (behind center mall) just ride a mini-bus to Sagada (bring lots of food and drinks, and drink Bonamin since it’s a 6-hour ride up and down the mountains) or if there are around 12 of you or you’re just filthy rich you may opt to hire a van, in this way you’ll have the option to stop for pictures along the way or go top loading (riding on top of the van). As for the Bontoc route, its atleast a 9-hour ride from Manila and upon arrival to Bontoc, you ride a jeepney to Sagada. 
  • Sagada is not your common sight-seeing spot, if you’re going there you have to be ready for physical activities to actually get a feel of the place, hike a falls, go spelunking, and hike some more. Just look at some of the places of interest. 
  • Sumaguing and Lumiang Caves 
  • Bomod-ok and Bokong Falls 
  • Rice terraces 
  • Echo Valley 
  • Kiltepan Tower 
  • Underground River 
  • Lake Danum 
  • Hanging Coffins 
  • Pongas Falls 
  • Mt. Ampacao 
  • Marlboro Mountain 
  • Bring cash. More than you think you’ll need. There’s only one ATM there and it seldom works. Personally, I would have stayed longer to witness the Panag-Apoy, it would have been easy to file for a sick leave at work, but the almost 200 peso per meal in Sagada caught me off-guard. If I stayed a day more, I’ll have no more money to come home. 
  • Choose to stay in an accommodation which has an open kitchen. Buying food in the market and cooking it instead of eating at the local restaurants which I guess targets foreigners will save you atleast 150 peso or so per meal. 
  • Upon arrival, check out the tourism office first to see the tour packages so you can maximize your time.
  • And finally, go with someone. This is just a personal opinion as I know people who likes to go solo when travelling, but for me, I just want to enjoy this beautiful place with friends, you know so you can have someone to say to ‘uy!, nakita mo yun? ganda no? parang ibang bansa’ and somebody would answer ‘oo nga’ instead of just hearing crickets and echoes.
The view on top of George's Guest House
Rice Terraces everywhere
Main district of Sagada
Catching Sunrise at Kiltipan Peak
A map at one of the Tourist stations
Sagada at Dust
People who answered 'oo nga' when I said, 'ganda no? parang ibang bansa!'