Sagada's peaks hide gems underneath: it is home to around 60 caves that have impressive stalagmite formations and crystals adorning the draping stalactites.
A trip to Sagada will not be complete without exploring Sumaguing Cave: the most accessible among the town's caves. Sumaguing has everything a cave has to offer: a difficult descent, bats and the guano they excrete, beautiful stalagmite formations and big enough pools to swim in. I find the chamber extremely wonderful that if you enjoyed Puerto Princesa's Underground river, you should not miss this cave. Lonely Planet couldn't agree more that Sumaguing Cave was included in Best Adventure Travel Destination in 2009. The only one from the Philippines.
Allow me to share with you our Sumaguing adventure.
Trip starts at the Tourist Information Center where we hired a guide.
For PhP 600 for a group of 4, the guide will ensure that you're safely navigating the cave, serves as your personal information expert and will provide your much needed assistance as you descend the cave. They're worth every penny you paid for.
On a side note, you have two options to explore the caves of Sagada:
1. Basic Sumaguing Cave. The easier between the 2 options: easier descent and the highlight are the formations inside the Sumaguing Cave. It costs PhP 600 and takes about 1.5 hours.
2. Cave Connection. You'll be traversing two caves. Above average spelunking skills required. Swimming in neck deep water and getting into tight spaces are necessary. It costs PhP 800 and takes 4 hours. You might see some of the interesting formations but the highlight of this option is the spelunking experience.
We got the first one, because we're after the formations. We did not regret it. It is already difficult as it is.
The cave is a few kilometers away from the town center.
If you are not bringing your own transportation, motorized commuting is non-existent, hence you have to walk on concrete road for around 30 minutes. No worries, there are a lot of gorgeous views along the way.
Limestone cliffs. Proof that Sagada was once underwater.
If you prefer it, the fee comes with a stopover at the Lumiang burial cave. The last time this cave has been used was in 1986 and is one of the few burial sites that visitors are allowed. Some of the coffins are already petrified and expect to see some bones.
You also get a good view of the rice terraces in Dagdag.
From the roadside, this is the mark to the cave.
Then you descend some steps before you get to the mouth of the cave.
Your guide then lights up the Petromax, your 360-degree light source inside the dark cave. You have to make sure that your hands are free and ready to get yourself wet at least knee-deep (and swim). Please ensure as well that you have a non-slippery footwear on.
For non-spelunkers, this is a difficult descent. If you are not physically fit and you do not enjoy getting yourself dirty, please don't attempt getting inside the cave. You will end up whining and the other adventurers will just find you annoying. You've been warned.
First part of the descent is carved steps. Then it gets dark wherein you have to do some basic rock descent on moist loam and rocks. It's steep and heart stopping. Just don't panic and keep calm. Then you get to the bat cave. Bats on the ceiling and guano on the rocks. Guano is slippery and you have to hold on to rocks with bat dung. No complaining please. Either that or you fall deep.
At this point, a lot of spelunkers give up. Please don't. It gets easier and prettier. The rocks change to white granite and you begin to encounter small pools of cool water. I was in awe.
The granite-like rocks are very slippery.
We did a bit of rappelling. I was and am never good at it.
Then the beauty of the cave reveals itself. Beautiful stalagmite formations. These sandstones have very good traction. No reason to slip.
An interesting one. Our guide stopped us and took this photo before pointing what it is.
There's the turtle.
The King's Curtain.
A cool (freezing, actually) pool where I was enticed to
swim dip - the bigger one. If you're not too cold, do swim in the pools. Prepare a change of clothing so that you won't catch pneumonia on your walk back to town.
These formations are the reason why you should explore Sumaguing cave. The rocks also feel nice to the feet. It provides very good traction and just the right amount of roughness to slough off dry skin. Shhh.... that's our secret. Just be subtle when you start rubbing your foot on the rocks, you might freak everyone out.
More importantly, the stalagmites and pools are breathtaking.
1. Sumaguing Cave is a must-visit when you're in Sagada. You will enjoy it if you love nature, thirsty for adventure, doesn't mind getting dirty, and you can appreciate stalagmites and stalactites. To be honest, I find it as beautiful as Puerto Princesa's Underground River. Its strength is you can actually touch the formations - one thing you can't do in Puerto Princesa. You can also swim in the freezing water.
2. Given its difficulty, it is best enjoyed by anyone who is physically fit, meaning those who can do basic rock climb, strong thighs for leg support and don't panic on the sight of 20-feet ravine. It is best enjoyed with company: special someone, friends and family. Please don't bring kids who require supervision and who are not up for the physical requirement. You will just end up getting a heart attack. Also, if you have anyone above 50, please make sure they are up for the challenge lest you leave them behind: we encountered one on our way up.
3. Avoid the peak season. I heard it gets really crowded during the holy week and I don't think you can enjoy it with the people around. It is best enjoyed with the silence of the surrounding and minimal chatter of friends.