Planning for backpacking trip to the cooler climate of the mountains in northern Philippines? Here’s a travel guide cum itinerary that help you get started on pinning down the cost and details. The Baguio-Sagada-Banaue route is perfect for adventure travel style. Prepare yourself, physically that is, for all the adrenaline-packed activities that awaits you in the mountains of Cordillera Autonomous Region.
Baguio City, Sagada and Banaue are all located in the Cordillera Autonomous Region in the northern Philippines. This backpacking route is pretty popular because of the cool climate and many tourist destinations all packed in the mountainous area of the region.
I share here the itinerary that I planned, how many days, where I stayed and how much it cost me. The cost may vary depending on your travel style and activities you want to do or join. After arriving at Banaue, the last stop of the route, you can opt to go further, to another town, Batad or to the neighboring provinces in the Cordillera Region.
When to come
You can decide to come during the summer months of March thru May. But I must warn you that this is also the exodus of many families from Manila because of school holidays and long holy week vacations. So that means full accommodations, crowded tourist spots, heavy traffic getting out of and coming back to Manila. Not to mention that prices for everything including bottled water increases proportionally with how crowded it is during peak season.
I went during the rainy cooler months of September. Baguio is most beautiful when it rains. I loved that the city is cleaner and smells like a car freshener because of the pine trees. The lean months of September is a perfect time to visit Sagada. Less crowd, cheaper everywhere and you get your own personal tour guide. October to December is a busy period for the locals accepting tourist because of the fruit picking season and the cooler climate. February is a busy month too because of the Sagada’s town fiesta.
If you want to see the green valleys and rice paddies of the famous Banaue Rice Terraces, you should plan your visit during September to October due to harvest season. The rice paddies though, are at its greenest during July right after planting season. Perfect for your travel photography!
What to pack
- Your clothing that can last for 5-7 days depending on your planned stay. I completed the trip in 7 days.
- Headlamp for cave exploration activities in Sagada. Flashlight is no good since you need your 2 hands for climbing and grip.
- Jacket and hoodies to keep you warm.
- Flip flops
- Swimming attire if you plan to take a dip in Sagada’s and Banaue’s amazing cool waterfalls.
- Photography gear
Baguio City is easily accessible by bus or by driving from Manila. And with the opening of the TPLEX, the travel time is now shorter and smoother. Here’s the centralized website for bus companies that travel to Baguio from Manila. Baguio City is much like Manila, there are number of malls and choosing where to eat and lounge for drinks is not a problem. This vibrant and energetic city serves as the regional center of the Cordillera mountains.
I stayed in transient house Bab’s Place located in Gabriela Silang. Mrs. Barbara, the owner, has a nice place and a fantastic view of the city skyline from the terrace. Plus 2 lovely dogs to play with during your stay.
Bab’s Place, Gabriela Silang, Baguio City
PHP600.00 per night
+63 923 349 8481
To travel to Sagada, from the transient house, I flagged a taxi to take me to Dangwa Bus Terminal. You can mention to the driver that you’re headed to Sagada and they already know where to take you. For most backpackers, Sagada is almost always the next stop. The first bus trip to Sagada usually leaves around 6-6:30AM from Dangwa Bus Terminal and there is a bus that leaves every hour after that but no more after 1PM. The trip can take 5-6 hours so make sure you got something to eat and drink with you on the bus. The bus fare is PHP220.00.
Make sure to get the window seat because it’s a 5-6 hours of scenic ride. The bus ride will take you to thru the most beautiful amazing zigzag roads, in my opinion, for the whole of Cordillera. The dizzying ride can be nauseous for some, and if you do need a vomit bag, you can ask one from the bus conductor.
I stayed in Sagada for 3 whole days. Sagada is a small town where everything is kept simple. Upon arriving, register at the tourism office just across the town hall and beside the police station and pay an environmental fee of PHP35.00. For any tour that you’re interested to do, you must always go with a tour guide. The information ladies will gladly help you for any questions or directions that you need. They also provide help to solo backpackers who wants to join group activities and tours to save up on tour guide costs.
Before coming to Sagada make sure to have some cash on you. There is only one bank in Sagada, the Rural Bank of Sagada. They will accept USD but I bet the rate will not be good. Better make sure that you have Philippine Peso with you before coming. Everything here is cash basis. If you need to withdraw some cash, there is an ATM inside the tourism office. This is the only ATM for the entire town of Sagada. I have not tried to use it, though I saw Visa and Megalink logo.
I stayed in a transient house at Hidden Hill, towards the southern part of the street where the tourism office is located. Their rate is the most reasonable at PHP350.00 per pax per night. Maybe because their pretty far from the main highway, about 15 minute walk from the tourism office. There is no tricycle here, the best part that I loved, so that means less noise pollution and you burn more calories climbing the steep streets.
There are many tours and activities that you can do around Sagada. But to save up on the tour cost, you can ask the nice and well-informed lady receptionist at the tourism office that you want to join other groups so she can help you check out if there are other groups with vacant slots. I met new friends by joining other groups plus its fun planning together, over beer and sumptuous dinner, on what activity to do next.
To travel to Banaue from Sagada, you have 2 options. You can take the jeepney to Bontoc, the capital city of Mountain Province. From Bontoc you can take another jeepney ride going to Banaue. Choosing this option is cheaper plus you may get the opportunity to ride at the rooftop of the jeepney, called toploading, for a more adventurous ride. Most of the jeepneys do not travel past 1PM so better check your timing and leave early. Travel time from Sagada to Banaue is around 3-4 hours.
Another option is to take the Coda Bus Lines. Beside the Sagada Town Hall is the Coda Bus ticketing office where you can but tickets or check for more information on schedules. This option is definitely pricey, ouch at PHP300.00, but if you cannot leave Sagada in the morning, it’s good that there’s bus that can take you to Banaue at 3PM.
Banaue is a fourth class municipality and is bigger than Sagada. There are tricycles that can take you around Banaue. Upon arrival, you have to register at the Banaue Tourism Office. All transportation pass by at this office and its hard to miss since its also a drop off point.
I stayed with Banaue Homestay where my stay was really homey and I had an awesome view from my bedroom window. Ms. Bea also respond quite fast to inquiries. They also offer Banaue Rice Terrace tours which includes 4-hour trekking through the valleys of the famous icon. The tour cost is PHP800.00, including tour guide and tricycle transport to the viewpoint, and I shouldered this cost alone. I’ve always wanted to trek the 8th Wonder of the World so I went anyway. If you plan to do this activity, make sure you are physically fit, wear the proper shoes and bring bottled water. I forgot my bottled water at the tricycle, fortunately there is a small community at the top of one of the valley that sells bottled water for PHP20.00. The climb can be pretty steep and challenging at times and the pathways can be muddy due to rain or irrigation. Never go without a tour guide.
Related Post: Trekking Banaue Rice Terraces
If you plan to head back to Manila after all that exhausting climb, there is a Coda Bus ticketing office just a few steps from the Banaue Tourism Office. This is the easiest option and the most comfortable one and you arrive Manila terminal at 3AM. Another option is take a side trip to Santiago, Isabela and from there, take a Victory Liner to head back to Manila. The travel time from Banaue to Santiago is around 4 hours.
So head on to the mountains of Cordillera and challenge your limits to hours of trekking the 2000 year old Banaue Rice Terraces, cave explorations and spelunking in Sagada, brave the cold waterfalls of Sagada and Batad, chill with a Sagada brew and arroz caldo (hot congee) while waiting for the sunrise in Kiltepan Viewpoint.There is no better time than now. Click To Tweet
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