This is recommended to people who've been here, or those who are just plain adventurous..
People do hire guides for two main purposes, (1) of course, for someone to tour them around, (2) for safety of visitors.
but if you're willing to take risks (and save money), you can go to the Big Falls by yourselves. There is a jeep in Sagada going to neighboring town Aguid which passes the town of Bangaan, where you start your hike down to the falls. This waits for passengers from 7am to 8am, although, it's better if you're early because once the jeep is full it leaves right away. Bangaan is 5 kilometers away from Sagada. just a quick 15minute ride. You'll see a Bangaan Public School then when you come across a fork, go down the jeep. You'll find the stairs going down - this is the start of your trek. just follow the cemented path through Fidelisan Town proper, through farm fields, until you reach the stone path to the river. the trail is easy enough to follow, if there are forks, go along with the reasonable road leading down. in any case, when you reach th river, you can just follow the source of the water.
It will take you approx 45minutes to an hour hiking down. There is a toll fee, by the way, of P10/person in Fidelisan, you'll need to register your names there. The jeep to Bangaan costs P30/person. The first trip from Aguid to Sagada is around 12:30 pm. You can also opt to hire the jeep you took going to Bangaan to fetch you so you can go back to Sagada, (this is what we did). We paid P400 - reasonable enough compared to hiring a guide for P600 plus jeep rentals for P700.
Sagada is blessed in having gold in the nearby mountains. The city holds it as a public trust and anyone who can come up with their own materials has the right to crawl inside a small hole that is the main shaft to crawl down to the face of the gold-bearing vein.
The pickings are ground in a water-powered mill and each gram of precious metal is the property of the guy who mined it. But this is no easy money. Each miner is considered dead when he enters the dark. Accidents like cave-ins are not common, but they are not unknown.
My guide’s brother was a miner from the time he dropped out of high school, but he wants to go back for an education after trying this tough game.
Sagada is a small place and its not difficult to explore the province.
Its nice to hike from the different paths you see from the main road and not at all scary since the locals are very warm and friendly with tourists. There are a lot of sights to photograph.
The mornings are cool during February and chilly at night.
About the sagada oranges that they sell at Baguio. Its not at all true. Ive been at Sagada and asked about it. The locals themselves say that theres no sagada oranges like that but a different type. Much like the dalandan but bigger and the skin is much thicker like oranges.
Saturday market day starts as early as 6AM, preparation much earlier. You'll find mostly fruits and vegetables unique from mountain sources, and if you're a chef or a hobby cook, you just found some kind of heaven. In prices so low, you'll be tempted to make your own lunch.
Catch this opportunity to get cheap foodies. Delicious too!
To the left of the market/palengke is a small internet cafe/restaurant. Various magazines and books are available to the patrons. What I particularly liked was an old folder with type-written pages about an account of an authentic Sagada burial. The story is presented in the first person view of the man being buried. The story is well written, descriptive, insightful, touching, yet very easy to read. You might think it a bit morbid reading about a burial right before having a meal but it's not. Read it there yourself if you want to get a better feel about all those famous hanging coffins in Sagada.
Being the adventurous that I am, I tried to look for the Echo Valley all by myself. Armed with a ap and a digital camera, I set foot on the trail going to the valley. I passed by the Cemetery and the school but I see nothing of resemblance to the Echo Valley. Instead of just heading back to the hotel, I kept on walking until I found myself in the deeper part of the woods. I was enjoying myself at first but when it started to get dark, I freaked out. Good thing I saw a truck driver who gave me the directions on how to get out of the woods.
The experience was both fun... and a little scary.
Tourists should stop by the Makamkamlis Bakeshop. It's near the Sagada Weaving, before reaching the town proper.
Makamkamlis Bakeshop offers different varieties of bread for really cheap prices. But you shouldn't miss their cinnamon rolls. Too bad all their special cinnamon bread was already bought when we reached the bakery. There's their ordinary cinnamon roll however which only costs PhP14.00! Every other bread on their counter costs that! Their breads even last for three days so buy before heading home to ensure much fresher bread. Their food items are also available in the town market.
You can also see how their breads are made right inside the shop. The bakers knead the soft dough and form them into the little breads you'll see on their counters. Freshly baked daily! Mmm!
No matter how rough the road is, I enjoyed, to the max, my journey because of the magnificent views on the way to Sagada. Really captivating. I was always charmed by the panorama- hundreds of mountains, cliffs rising up to the skies and the presence of abundant pine trees.
when you are going to sagada via banaue, dont forget to pass by the viewpoints to the famous rice terraces. one of the viewpoint which they call the NFA viewpoint is the part of rice terraces that is visible in the philippines 1000 peso bill. on our part, we found a group to share with us the rent of the van for 2000 . therer were five of us. and we told the driver before taking us to sagada, we should drop by the viewpoints. the driver even take us to the natural source of mineral water. it was really pure and clean. we drank it!
• Bring your own portable water heater!!! The water usually gets ice-cold especially in the morning. Be ready to pay an additional fee of P30, though, for the extra energy consumption.
• Wear comfortable shoes or strapped sandals with good traction. You would be doing a lot of hiking and trekking and caving during your stay, and the last thing you would want to do is wear shoes that act more like ice skates or rubber slippers that keep on slipping off your feet. Your feet would get all muddy, making it easier for the slippers to slip off. This is important especially when exploring the caves where one small slip may send you falling to the sharp-edged rocks below.
• When going to sights requiring a tour guide (e.g., caves) or a jeepney ride (e.g., Bomod-ok “Big” Falls), it is much more economical to join other tourists with whom you could share the expenses. Usual rates for tour guides range from P500-600/guide.
• Have a map of Sagada. Especially if you are on a tight budget, having a map of Sagada (the one by P.M. Stephens was very useful to us) will do away with the need for tour guides (except the caves where tour guides are REQUIRED). Just make sure you are good with directions! For a map of Sagada, check out my "Packing List" tip.
• Regarding restaurants: You must try St. Joseph’s fried chicken with vegetables and rice (P90); Yoghurt House’s yoghurts (P50-60) and pancakes (P40-50); Masferre’s various food choices. For the budget-conscious, there’s Cuisina Igorota at the back of St. Theodore’s Hospital (it’s actually the hospital canteen). Meal costs P50, inclusive of generous (read: GENEROUS) servings of meat, vegetables, and unlimited rice. The lady cook was so good in preparing delicious meals that we ate there thrice. They also serve iced tap water (unlike the other restaurants), for free of course. And more, they have the only television set I’ve seen in Sagada, complete with cable.