Sagada, the Philippines

Our Mountain Retreat in Sagada

After our exhausting trekking adventures in Banaue and Batad we were searching for somewhere to relax for a few days before leaving the Philippines. Luckily, we found the perfect place in the peaceful mountain town of Sagada; in fact, we loved it so much we didn’t want to leave – here’s why.

Sagada, the Philippines

Falling in Love with Sagada

The six-hour bus journey from Batad to Sagada was a treat in itself. A cool breeze filtered in through the open windows of our bus while goats occasionally stamped on the roof (yes, there were goats strapped to the roof) and we climbed higher and higher along twisting roads into the mountains, assaulted by spectacular scenery at every turn. We tottered precariously on the edges of deep, tree-lined valleys and sped through small towns and rice fields surrounded constantly by towering mountain peaks, until finally we arrived in what became our favourite place in the Philippines – Sagada.

Goats on a Bus in the Philippines

As we walked along the one main street past school kids and ever-present colourful jeepneys we discovered dozens of appetising restaurants with names to makes our mouths water; The Lemon Pie House, Strawberry Café and The Yoghurt House. We checked into a cute wooden lodge where, for lack of guests, they gave us the biggest room in the entire place with three double beds overlooking a gorgeous view of the mountains and pine forests.

The Yoghurt House, Sagada

For the first time since we’d hit Asia we didn’t need or want air conditioning; the weather was cool, breezy and prone to rain, reminding us of home. I loved being able to nestle down in fleecy blankets in my own double bed and slept deeply every night. During the few short days we stayed in Sagada we got into a routine of eating all our meals at the Yoghurt House, which served absolutely delicious bowls of granola smothered in yogurt, vegetarian rice dishes, home-made cheese straws and huge hikers’ breakfasts of fruit pancakes and eggs – I was in heaven.

Gronola and Yogurt at the Yoghurt House, Sagada

Hikers Breakfast at the Yoghurt House, Sagada

An Unexpected Tour

We headed out to explore Sagada on our second day and somehow got lost looking for the church. As we stood in the middle of a field squinting at our map three local boys came racing towards us: “Where are you going?” they asked in perfect English, “We will guide you for 50 Pesos each!”

*Update: since our trip to Sagada we’ve learned that it’s not a good idea to hire children as guides and we do not recommend this practice. We live, we learn and we want to pass this information on to other travellers so they don’t make the same mistake we did.

Our 11-Year Old Tour Guide in Sagada

We agreed and our enterprising 11 year-old guides took us on an unusual tour up to the church, stopping to show us some ‘Crazy Plants’ which snap shut when you touch them. As we took pictures of the old church, which was bombed by the US during the Spanish occupation, its clock began to chime. “Wait here, for the evil spirits to pass,” our guides warned, stopping still.

Church in Sagada, the Philippines

The boys led us further up the hill, the shyest of the three stopped along the way to cut me some flowers with his trusty knife (every little boy in Asia has one…) and then find me a stick for support when I slipped on some mud. Crossing the cemetery the boys paused to show us the grave of a three-day old baby who recently died. “His mother cried a lot,” they explained somberly.

Sagada Wheels & Chruch

This stop seems less morbid when you consider the next place they took us; to the hanging coffins in Echo Valley. Although the practice now seems to have died out, for thousands of years the local custom in Sagada was to bury people in wooden or stone coffins attached to mountain sides. This kept bodies from wild animals, protected them from floods and supposedly made it easier for their spirits to reach heaven.  I found the coffins an eerie sight and couldn’t help imagining people dragging bodies all the way up the valley and sealing them into these cliff-side tombs.

Hanging Coffins in Sagada, the Philippines

Hiking in Sagada, Philippines

There’s plenty of hiking to do in and around Sagada to nearby waterfalls, a lake and acres of UNESCO rice paddies.  Even after our tough trek in Batad we were keen to get out and discover more of Sagada but sadly we just didn’t have time to see everything. However, as well as spending a scary and exhilarating day caving, we also managed to visit a small local waterfall.  To get there a young girl led us to a dirt path which cut through a field of waist-high plants to a river. We followed the path downstream and emerged at the waterfall which was crowded with local boys playing and swimming in the sun.

Waterfall in Sagada, the Philippines

Inspired by this, we also took a two-hour walk out to the Bomod-ok (big) waterfall only to arrive near dusk and find we’d never make the further trek down to the base of the waterfall and back up again before dark. The walk there and back was more than worth the effort though and we enjoyed trekking along mountain paths through tiny villages past rice paddies and old women permanently doubled-over from years of working in the fields.

Hiking in Sagada, the Philippines

Scenery in Sagada, the Philippines

Sagada is the one place we’ve been to on this trip so far that I truly didn’t want to leave. If it weren’t for our visas and the fact that we had family and friends meeting us in Thailand we might just have stayed there for weeks, trekking through the cool hills and relaxing in our mountain retreat. On our last evening in Sagada we watched the sun set over the mountains all purple and pink – like a beautiful bruise – and we promised ourselves that we’d return here before we leave Asia.

Sunset in Sagada, the Philippines

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 05:32h, 07 October Reply

    Though we didn’t make it to Sagada (this time!) we actually felt very similar to this when we reached Pai in Thailand. We were there in low season which I think makes all the difference, but it really felt like such a chilled out retreat from the world and every day I woke up there feeling so happy. It was wonderful to explore and immediately felt like home. Even though we showed up thinking we would probably hate it and likely only spend 1 or 2 days, we wound up spending 2 weeks! 😀

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:27h, 07 October Reply

      Funny you should mention Pai, we were there just last week and loved it too; there are definitely many similarities between the two places. It was quiet when we visited both Sagada and Pai, which made our experiences even more special; Andrew and I have definitely discovered that we’re mountain people rather than beach people so far on this trip!

  • Patti
    Posted at 05:55h, 09 October Reply

    Sounds as if you’re really enjoying yourselves, I’m so happy for you! When I saw your photo of the hanging coffins, all I could think about was what would happen after a number of years and the wood started to rot and fall apart?! Yikes! Another great post Amy. You’re visiting a part of the world that most likely we will not see so I am enjoying it through your journey.

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:03h, 09 October Reply

      Thanks Patti, we are really having a blast now that we’ve adjusted to life on the road and gotten over our teething problems; I’m sure there will be more tough patches ahead but we’re much better able to deal with them now (or so I hope!). The Philippines was so amazing, we can’t wait to go back to Sagada in April; glad you’re enjoying the posts. We did actually see bones through the cracks of some hanging coffins near another cave in Sagada and it was pretty creepy!

  • Simon Lee
    Posted at 06:18h, 09 October Reply

    Hi Amy, dropping by for the first time and glad that you and Andrew could make a big change in your life and live the way you love!

    I am from Malaysia, but never been to PH even it is so near to us. Me and my wife love peaceful environment and i think Sagada could be a good place for both of us to really relax and enjoy. Hope to visit this beautiful place some day.

    BTW, are you coming to Malaysia? If yes, give me a shout and maybe we could catch up, i am living in KL and Penang (occasionally).

    Simon Lee

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:24h, 09 October Reply

      Hi Simon, thanks for the kind words. If you like peace and quiet you’d love Sagada, we certainly can’t wait to go back there! We visited Malaysia in June for three weeks, spending most of our time in Borneo and we absolutely loved it. We hope to go back there one day, we’ll make sure to look you up if we do!

      • Simon Lee
        Posted at 07:06h, 10 October Reply

        Hi Amy, Borneo is definitely a good place to visit, which part of Borneo did you visit? I am sure you will love the islands surrounding Sabah:)

        Simon Lee

        • Amy
          Posted at 10:58h, 10 October Reply

          We went to Sarawak, including Batang Ai National Park, as well as Sabah – we absolutely loved it!

  • Maddie
    Posted at 04:17h, 10 October Reply

    Oh how I miss the Yoghurt House, I think I ate the hikers breakfast every day we were there! We felt the same as you, after being in humid Asia it was weird and wonderful to have clean, fresh air and nice cool temperatures. I fell head over heels for Sagada, so glad you had a great time too.

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:03h, 10 October Reply

      Hi Maddie, great to hear from another Sagada and Yoghurt House fan; I long for the hikers breakfast and the cool, clean mountain air!

  • Anne
    Posted at 10:03h, 25 April Reply

    Hi, it’s my first post here to say that I like your blog especially the writing and neat photos; it felt like I’m enjoying the experience with you (or more like, traveling vicariously through you!) I’m also relieved and glad you enjoyed our country (not everyone has kind words like you do), then again it’s probably because you went to the provinces and not in the metro. Also the ‘crazy plant’ you mentioned, I think, (if my childhood memory serves me right) is called ‘makahiya’ and that translates to ‘shy’, so it’s basically a shy plant 🙂 Lastly, I’m not much of a traveler in my own country but if you have any questions feel free to ask. God bless and have a safe trip in your future travels!

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:45h, 26 April Reply

      Hi Anne, thank you so much for reading and commenting, it’s amazing to hear from a Filipino! We absolutely love your country and its people, you are all so sweet and welcoming. We’re currently volunteering in Leyte and are having such a great time meeting all the local kids and helping homeowners clear their land of debris. Thanks for the insight about the plants too 🙂

  • laica
    Posted at 22:02h, 15 October Reply

    This place is amazing. I’ve been to Sagada 3 times in 2 years and I still plan on coming back. Definitely my favorite place in the Philippines.

    • Andrew
      Posted at 03:16h, 16 October Reply

      It’s such a peaceful and relaxing place Laica! We love it. 🙂

  • Douglas
    Posted at 17:48h, 06 January Reply

    hi amy and andrew. i happen to be looking for articles about sagada (my hometown) to show my friends (i’m bringing them there this month) and i stumbled on your blog. I read your article, also the one about your caving adventure and I just can’t help but to love your enthusiasm and appreciation and love for the place! It’s heart warming.
    i did guide a lot of tourists around sagada back in the day when i was a child. it was fun.
    it had always been foreign travellers like you who really show appreciation and respect to the place and who truly go there for adventure.
    God bless and may you have more exciting adventures come your way

    • Amy
      Posted at 18:48h, 06 January Reply

      Hi Douglas, thanks so much for reading and sharing our article and for taking the time to write us a message. You have a truly beautiful hometown! We loved Sagada and I dream about returning there again one day. We love the Philippines! Best wishes to you 🙂

  • tidge
    Posted at 05:50h, 23 June Reply

    Been to Sagada too, and yes the Yogurt House, I loved their spaghetti its all natural… My wife and I promised to go back there and definitely try the connecting cave.

    Then Coron, locals there are so warm, beautiful beaches and corals to see, so many diving spots to visit specially ship wrecks of WWII, my wife said to me that I belong to the Sea lol.

    Hope to see more of your blogs about my country…

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:03h, 23 June Reply

      I love the Yogurt House, such delicious food! I like the sound of Coron; we don’t dive but we do love snorkelling so I’m excited to check that out in the Philippines.

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