Sagada is more mystical than Baguio City.

Sagada is more mystical than Baguio City.

Over the holidays, I brought my daughter, niece, and nephews to Sagada, Mountain Province. It was a six-hour drive from Manila to Baguio City where we stayed overnight before proceeding to Sagada which took us another six hours by land. The mountain views were breath-taking, and the fog added to the exhilaration that we felt as our van went higher and higher up the twisted roads.

Sagada is more mystical than Baguio City. The pine trees seemed taller, thicker, and more self-assured. Wild flowers provide unexpected visual delights, as they wave in the wind, nature’s glad tidings. I love Sagada for its crisp air and chilly evenings. But, Sagada is not for the faint of heart. The road going there narrows to a one-way rocky and muddy path strewn with boulders that slid down from high above. If you look to your right, the empty air and a long, long drop awaits.

If you do go to Sagada, you’ll need a very good vehicle and an expert driver, preferably one used to single pass, winding roads. Taking the public bus is advisable. What is not advisable is for anyone to travel there at night. We reached Sagada a few minutes before sundown and it was indeed a harrowing experience having to deal with the fog, rough roads, and dusk all at the same time.

What is there to see in Sagada? They have the hanging coffins, beautiful falls, exotic caves, orange orchards, and gastronomic delights. Going to many of these places required a great deal of trekking so the younger set has the chance to break out their hiking boots. For geriatric guests, I say don’t let that dampen your enthusiasm. Sagada is also about its people – warm, hardworking, and good storytellers. They are used to tourists of all colors and accents, and to locals flocking there with families in tow.

Our group stayed at Sagada Home Stay, a delightful inn with a perfect view of the mountains and its villages below. The owner is a charming hands-on lady named Karen Fiar-Od who incidentally has an equally charming dog named Pipay. Karen says her inn accepted around 20,000 backpackers last year. One of Home Stay’s attractions is a simple bonfire place where guests can sit down around the fire and swap stories. At P300 per head for an overnight stay, the place is affordable yet clean and comfortable. It’s best to reserve ahead of your trip by calling Karen’s mobile number: +639197028380. We weren’t able to do the proper booking protocols but she had a vacant flat that was immediately made available to our weary group so we thankfully had a place to rest for that night.

Sagada Lemon Pie House

Sagada Lemon Pie House

Sagada is also home to the best lemon pie I’ve ever tasted. Make sure that your itinerary to this mountain paradise includes a quick trip to the Sagada Lemon Pie House. The lemon pie was not too sweet and not too tangy, just right for one’s tastebuds. They also serve full meals for hungry visitors.

Before you leave Sagada, make sure you contribute to its local economy by visiting Sagada Weaving & Souvenir Shop owned by Ezra Kiethley Aranduque (09195571431). Ezra was a true gem to talk to, like a favorite uncle always with a hearty laugh ready for his customers. Our group had so much fun looking at exquisitely tailored bags, placemats, table runners, clutch bags, purses, and wallets. He was kind enough to show us the shop’s workroom where the looms were, and explained how the weaving process is done.

I asked Ezra if he has some difficulty in getting young weavers to work for him. Is working the looms a dying craft? He replied that lately this has been the case, and piracy has also become a problem among small and medium weaving enterprises. He advocates, and I completely agree with him, that the government through TESDA, include hand-weaving as a skill for apprenticeship. Ezra is willing to volunteer to teach weaving, Sagada-style, in case TESDA is interested.

Our trip to Sagada ended on a citrusy note as we made our way to Rock Inn & Cafe’s orange orchard. Here, you pay an entrance fee of fifty pesos that would entitle you to snip oranges and eat them right there, beneath the trees. The oranges are actually the small, sweet “ponkan” ones, easy to peel and eat on the spot. My daughter, Estelle, and her cousins enjoyed the orchard trip, and we ended up buying the oranges that we picked at P50 per kilo. Quite a good deal, if you ask me.

For those planning to visit Sagada, prepare for your trip well in advance. Budget-wise, one can do it without having to break the proverbial bank. Preparation includes physical fitness, because the cool mountain air can be unforgiving for those with extra poundage to shed.

Sagada should be in every Filipino traveler’s bucket list, more so than Hong Kong, Singapore, or any other foreign destination. Sagada is a vision of tranquility, with a vibrant local community that we can all be proud of.

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Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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