Ecotourism is a new conservation movement based in the tourist industry. It has been described as “responsible travel which conserves the natural environment and sustains the well-being of local people” . High up in the Cordillera mountains in the Northern Luzon region of the Philippines exists the town of Sagada. This place is booming with adventures for nature-lovers ranging from hiking, spelunking, zip-lining, and getting to know the local culture for a fair price with a small carbon footprint. When you get to Sagada, it’s important to register with the tourism office because the fee (35 Pesos/1 CAD) goes straight back to the community and the local guides working in Sagada.
A very important thing to note is that if you don’t register and go with a local guide, you will be barred from entering any sacred site or cave. This is for various reasons. As Sagada’s tourist boom grows, the number of tourists and tour companies has also grown. Guides are required to prevent tourists from disrespecting or disturbing holy sites, littering and disturbing nature. They also ensure your safety as well as act as a fantastic source of knowledge about the local culture. Lastly, it provides your guide, a local, with a means of income that can be brought back to the community.
Keeping that in mind, here are the top 3 things to do in ranking order:
1. Spelunking in Samaguing Cave
You could spend weeks exploring this cave with a local guide. Normally it’s a half day adventure that takes you all the way from the start to the deepest part. This portion actually has fossil remains from MILLIONS of years ago. There are also TONS of bats roosting throughout the cave.
This video created by Life by Art provides a great visual for what to expect.
Tip: Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and wet. There are a lot of bats and their fecal matter as well as underwater caves that you can wash up in! Water sandals are best, but believe it or not, most of the guides spelunk in flip flops. This tour is not for the physically unfit or claustrophobic.
You may also be offered an additional car ride to the entrance of the cave. Decline, it’s a 10 minute ride for which you will be charged an exorbitant fee. Walk for 15 minutes instead! Reduce traffic congestion and your carbon footprint!
2. Echo Valley & Hanging Coffins
Echo Valley is unique in that rocky outcrops jut out from the edges of this valley and can produce echoes of sounds if loud enough. Once within the valley, the famous hanging coffins are more easily seen. In Sagada, many are traditionally “buried” by being placed in a hanging coffin that is attached to one of the rocky outcrops that make up the Echo Valley.
You can walk there from the tourism office in 15 minutes. It’s not strenuous.
3. Mount Kiltepan at Sunrise
Mount Kiltepan is the highest point in this region which provides a breathtaking view of the mountains bathed in misting clouds at sunrise. It’s worth walking up early and walking 4 kilometers from downtown Sagada to the base of the mountain and only a 20 minute trek up.
Tip: A lot of people choose to take a private car or jeepney up to the peak. Not only is this expensive but also detrimental to the environment because of the noise pollution but also pollution from the car itself. Save money and the environment and walk!
A fantastic place to eat, especially after crawling and squeezing through Sumaguing Cave, is Gaia café. Not only is the food ridiculously tasty and vegetarian, but it is all locally sourced. This café aims to have zero waste by composting food waste which makes it worth a stop.
Sagada has a lot to offer in terms of eco-tourism. But it’s important to note that the town is getting more tourists every year and with that influx comes problems. They don’t have a garbage disposal plan, nor do they have enough water supply to sustain the locals let alone the influx of tourists. Recently, road widening projects have increased in the area, but traffic congestion has increased as well.
Another conflict that arises from tourism is the degradation of Sagadan culture. Especially during the Begnas festival which is a large draw for tourists. If you are planning to attend the Begnas festival or just visiting Sagada and want to hear what has been developing from a local Sagadan, read this blog.
Though this is a eco-tourism hub, there are still problems that need to be addressed and this is why it is important to register with the Tourism office and get a guide from the Genuine Guides Association of Sagada. The money goes back into the community so that these arising problems can be solved and so that you as a tourist can remain respectful.
Jones, L. (1993). Eco Travel. Earth Journal, Boulder, Co: Buzzworm Books. 300-308.
***If any information is incorrect, please let me know! Science is about learning from mistakes and improving and making sure you stay up to date with the most up to date information! ***