Hunt ghosts in the Philippine Cordilleras

Whenever you read in a travel guide to the Philippines it is unavoidable that you hear about Sagada, Banaue and Baguio in North Luzon. The three cities are the starting point for adventures in the breathtaking Cordillera region with its spiny mountains, that rises up to 2900m.

Rice Terraces in the Cordillera
Rice Terraces in the Cordillera

From the famous hanging coffins, to dark and unexplored caves, the steep slopes of the rice terraces or sleepy villages – the Cordillera has it all. The people living there, called the Igorot, have a fascinating culture that is reflected in the area´s mixed and stunning attractions. Above all, of course, the rice terraces in Banaue, claimed to be the “eighth wonder of the world”. Whether it is or not, a trip to the Mountain Province is something you shouldn’t miss and we will tell you the best way to spend your time in the Cordillera.

How to get to the Cordilleras from Manila?

Jeepney in the Philippine Cordilleras
Jeepney in the Philippine Cordilleras

The best way to go to Sagada from Manila is by bus. There is no direct bus from Manila so you have to stopover in Baguio, Banaue or Bontoc.

Going to Sagada from Manila via Baguio
Going to Sagada from Manila via Banaue
Going to Sagada from Manila via Bontoc

The buses to the north leave nearly every hour. As it can get really busy make sure you book your tickets in advance. You can do this either direct at the bus terminal of the bus operator or online (you have to book 3 days in advance) via PinoyTravel.
Keep in mind that the ride will take you between 10 to 12 hours. So you better get an overnight bus to arrive early in the morning, get some sleep in the bus to get a kick start the next morning.

Where to stay in the Cordilleras?

Cow in the rice terraces in the Philippine Cordilleras
Cow in the rice terraces in the Philippine Cordilleras

There are many options to stay in the Cordilleras. It depends on your budget and what your expectations of course.

Where to stay in Banaue?
Where to stay in Sagada?
Where to stay in Baguio?

What to do in the Cordilleras?

In the Cordilleras you can basically do everything you can imagine from a mountain region: Hiking, caving, rafting, and mountain biking or swimming in a (very) cool and natural mountain lake with waterfall. Besides this there are the hanging coffins in Sagada you shouldn’t miss. But let´s go into detail:

Activities in Banaue
Activities in Sagada
Activities in Baguio

What is a perfect trip to the Banaue, Sagada and Baguio like?

The perfect trip to the Cordilleras will help you enjoy the fresh atmosphere of the mountains for three to four days. Best is to start in Manila or wherever you come from on Thursday evening via night bus and arrive in Banaue early morning. Ohayami Transit is the only operator for the route. Buses start 9:30PM or 10PM in Manila. (check prices)

Cable Winch in Sagada
Cable Winch in Sagada

In Banaue you have to register in the tourist information. Take the stairs town to the marketplace and help your body to get some energy with a good Filipino breakfast at one of the restaurants. Why not enjoy your hot brewed coffee at the Sanafe Lodge & Restaurant (Agoda Link) with the best view in the morning.

After breakfast take the next bus to Sagada via Bontoc. Immanuel Bus Line goes to Bontoc and will charge you 100PHP. You have to transfer in Bontoc to a jeepney that will take you to Sagada for 35PHP. Trip will take around 4h. Make sure you ask the driver to sit on top of the jeepney to enjoy the incredible view over the Cordilleras when the jeepney makes his way to serpentines through the mountains.

Panoramic View over Sagada
photo credit: The mountains on the road from Baguio to Sagada via photopin (license)

Once in Sagada your first venue is the Yoghurt House where you grab a fresh Mango Juice and a copious lunch. You will need it, because your afternoon activity will be the Cave Connection. It´s the king of Sagada´s adventures and will take you to the underground passage that links Sumaging and Luminang caves. The three to five hour trip is not for claustrophobic people and there is a good chance that you have to swim in ice-cold water and climb up the mountain edge on a rope. I promise you the physical efforts are totally worth it. You can only do this tour with a guide!

Strawberry Picking in Baguio
photo credit: Strawberries via photopin (license)

You will be completely tired in the evening so make sure to take it easy and reward yourself with a nice dinner in the Log Cabin.
Make sure you already book a tour to the Bomod-ok Falls (The Big Falls) for the next day.

Waterfall next to Banaue
Waterfall next to Banaue

Don’t sleep too long the next morning, because your guide will pick you up early to take you to Banga-an. This is your starting point for a walking tour down through the rice terraces to a waterfall. The tour will take around four to six hours and you can see people harvest the rice and enjoy the pristine atmosphere of the terraces and the small villages situated along the way down to the Bomod-ok Falls. In the end you can jump into the natural pool of the waterfall.

After the trip you will head back to Banaue via Bontoc and boost yourself with a good dinner before taking the bus back to Manila around 11pm.

Congratulations! You managed one of the most impressive sceneries of the Philippines!

You fund a cool hostel or place in the Sagada, Banaue or Baguio? Perfect, share your discovery with us and post it in the comments!

Hi! I´m David and I like sharing my travel experiences with you. I´m passionate about traveling and want you to be part of my adventures. If you have any tips or if you want to share your experience, just kick it in the comments. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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