Exploring Mountain Province: Maligcong, Bontoc and Sagada

Follow me on Instagram, guys: @karl_olivier
Follow me on Instagram, guys: @karl_olivier

I’ve been fascinated by Mountain Province even before the hit film, That Thing Called Tadhana, made one of its municipalities, Sagada, a word-of-mouth for people of all ages. Some friends, either travelers or not, have already experienced the said Cordillera province and the common thing that they tell me about the place is that it’s beautiful, more so when it wasn’t yet bombarded with people. Anyhow, I’m still excited about going here especially that I was also planning to visit the beautiful terraces of Maligcong that is found in the capital municipality of Mountain Province, Bontoc. Despite the province’s very steep slopes and deep ravines, not to mention a lot of zigzag roads going in and out, a lot of people including foreigners still go here.

This blog post will show you a 3-day itinerary of exploring Mountain Province, covering Maligcong in Bontoc and the municipality of Sagada. I am with my Puge friends (Team Puge!) this time and we were six (6) in the group.

Where is Mountain Province?

Cordillera Region
Cordillera Administrative Region (map courtesy of Wikipedia)

Mountain Province is a province in the northern part of Luzon Island. It is part of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and is landlocked by the provinces of Kalinga and Abra in the north, Ilocos Sur in the west, Isabela in the east and Benguet and Ifugao in the south. It consists of 10 municipalities, 144 barangays with the municipality of Bontoc as its capital. Its land area is 2,239.9 sq km (less than half the area of Cebu Island) with 83% characterized as mountainous while 17% is made up of hills and valleys.

Mountain Province has an interesting history. The Spaniards had a hard time controlling the area of the Cordillera due to the rugged terrain and its hostile indigenous population. One of our guides in this Mountain Province trip said that the people didn’t like the aggressive means of the Spaniards compared to the Americans who were appeasing in their approach especially in advancing their faith. That’s the reason why it’s the Anglican Church brought about by American missionaries that thrived in the province (comprising 60% of the population) especially in Sagada (almost 100% as said by our guide).

How to go to Mountain Province?

Coda Lines
Coda Lines bus (picture taken from their Facebook page)

Probably the fastest way of going to Mountain Province via commute is by riding the Coda Lines buses. Currently, their buses use the HM Transport Terminal in Cubao, Quezon City. We reserved our bus ride for a Thursday night trip (8:30 pm) and were able to arrive in Bontoc in Mt. Province at around 7 am.

I can’t say the same, though, with the ride home even though we also took the Coda Lines bus. It took us about 15 hours as there were many stopovers, each one taking about 15 to 45 minutes. The driver also tended to stop along the way to accommodate more passengers.

How to go to Maligcong?

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Bontoc jeepney bound for Maligcong

*From town proper of Bontoc to Malicong

Daily jeepney rides going to Maligcong are available in Bontoc. The first trip happens at 8 am while the next one happens at 12 nn. Same thing happens when going back to the town proper of Bontoc from Maligcong. A jeepney passes by in front of Ate Suzette’s Homestay at 8 am.

 

How to go to Sagada?

Coda Lines buses are bound for Sagada. If you want to go straight so Sagada, just skip going to Maligcong. However, if you have decided to visit Maligcong and would go to Sagada afterwards, be informed of the following:

*From town proper of Bontoc to Sagada

There is a terminal of jeepneys bound for Sagada near the outpost of Bontoc. Jeepneys go to Sagada daily and they will go ahead when jeepney is already full.

Where to stay in Maligcong?

View from Ate Suzette's Homestay
Good morning, Maligcong! This the view from Ate Suzette’s Homestay when we woke up early morning.

It is said that there are three homestays in Maligcong and our group decided to stay in Suzette’s Maligcong Homestay as two of my friends have already experienced the place months before.

Suzette’s Maligcong Homestay and Coffee Shop 09155463557 suzette_chees@yahoo.com

 

Team Puge with Ate Suzette

Team Puge with Ate Suzette from left to right: Arvin (Instagram: @arvinrod), Eric (IG @i_amboneric), yours truly (IG @karl_olivier), Roel (IG @getshotbyme and @hulagway_), Sam (sadofi_) and Don (IG @xenxei)

I had a good time here in Ate Suzette’s homestay. Not only were we able to refresh, rest and eat meals for the duration of our stay, we were also provided a great view of the Maligcong Rice Terraces especially in the early morning where fog abounds the area. We were also greeted often by Ate Suzette’s dogs, Kuneg, Mako and Misty, especially during meals! Haha. But hey, don’t give them food even when they beg (see picture below) because they are trained to eat only when they are given food by their master. They’d try their charm and all but don’t give in! Haha.

 

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This is Kuneg, one of Ate Suzette’s dogs, as he tries to woo travelers staying in the homestay to give him food. He’s so cute and all but don’t you give in! Haha.

Where to stay in Sagada?

Indigenous Handicrafts and Inn +639216455679

We decided to stay in Indigenous Handcrafts and Inn along South Road in Sagada. Their contact number is +639216455679. There were two rooms given to us even though one was already spacious enough to accomodate us. The bigger room which was located on the 4th floor was spacious and complete with beds, tables, comfort room (with heater though it was malfunctioning during our stay) and toilet. There was a television on the wall for entertainment. The inn has a kitchenette at the ground floor and it can be used to eat your meals. The inn also has a nearby store where you can buy handwoven products as pasalubong. 

 

What to explore in Maligcong

Maligcong Rice Terraces

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Probably the most recent must-see travel destination in Mountain Province is the stone-walled Maligcong Rice Terraces, the pride of the Maligcong people.

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It’s admiringly beautiful, and one that matches the UNESCO World Heritage Site Batad Rice Terraces, which I am really fond of.

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People say that the best time to visit is during the months of April and May as most of the rice fields here are already green.

Mt. Kupapey

Overlooking Maligcong Rice Terraces atop Mt. Kufafey
Overlooking Maligcong Rice Terraces atop Mt. Kufafey

It’s advisable to go hike the nearby mountain of Kupapey to really enjoy the view of Maligcong Rice Terraces. Not only would you be able to admire the beautiful scenery, you’d also feel one with nature as you get to experience fresh, cool air thanks to the pine trees that embed the mountainside. It would only take a few hours of climbing (mountaineers rated it as having 3/9 difficulty) but because we enjoyed taking pictures (see pictures below), it took us a whole day of touring Maligcong Rice Terraces and Mt. Kupapey. This is also the reason why we were not able to hike the nearby mountain of Parutan (Fato). Our guide, Gideon, said that it would normally take 2.5 hours just to reach the peak of Kupapey and 30 minutes going down.

Guide fee towards Maligcong Rice Terraces and Mt, Kupapey is P500.

What to explore in Sagada

Tourism Center

Important Reminder: Register first in Sagada’s Tourism Information Center so you can go and have access to its travel destinations. Registration fee is P35 for each person, and you have to carry it with you every time you tour.

 

 

Hanging Coffins

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One of the most popular destination sites in Sagada is the Hanging Coffins. Placing the dead in hanging coffins has been an old tradition of the Igorot people, but it’s something not done often anymore. Our tour guide, May Joy, said that for now, the last coffin that has been placed here was done in 2010. As one can see in the picture above, the hanging coffins were suspended from the limestone cliff via ropes and wires (scaffolding).

 

What was said to be a difficult hike towards these coffins before has now been made easier thanks to cemented pathways. Anyway, our travel guide said that the coffins used here are smaller than the actual size of the dead. She said that the dead person would assume a fetal position, a way of signifying that how they entered the world (the position a person takes inside their mother’s womb) is how they are bound to leave it.

The path towards the hanging coffins is just around the town proper of Sagada but you would have to need a guide to get there. You can ask for May Joy Deyan (09151283742) as your guide. 🙂 Guide fee is P200. There is no environmental fee at the entrance but there is maintenance fee for the nearby Anglican Church at the cost of P10.

Lake Danum

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A lot of people go in Lake Danum but they seldom go to the other side. Take good pictures here highlighting the reflection of the trees in the placid lake.

Situated at the west side of Sagada, Lake Danum is a small lake that attracts the crowd especially in the late afternoon. Why? It is the place to be in Sagada if you want to witness the sun as its sets in this part of Mountain Province.

You’d have to walk for several meters away from the lake towards a higher patch of land to see the sunset.

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EYE OF THE DRAGON. The sun was about to hide beneath the horizon when dark clouds seemed to cover it from our view. When it appeared again, what I saw was a sunset of a different kind: a dragon with its burning eye.

The lake is located 4 km away from the town proper. It can be reached via van (transportation and guide fee is P550) or by walking for about an hour.

Kiltepan View Deck

I said to myself that FINALLY, I have experienced Sagadaaa! ;-D

 

Probably the most famous travel destination in Sagada not only because of its awesome view of the Sagada valley along with its terraces but also because of the popular scene of Angelica Panganiban and JM de Guzman in Antoinette Jadaone’s movie, That Thing Called Tadhana, Mt. Kiltepan is a must-see in Mountain Province.

Kiltepan is known for having too many visitors. However, there’s this other side of it that does not. We were alone in this side of Kiltepan for about 20 minutes, just about the time the sun was about to rise.

When looking for a place to witness the sunrise over Sagada, head over here. The hike towards the peak wouldn’t take that long, especially when you’ve hired a van towards the view deck. Those who choose to walk from the town proper may have to endure a 3-km walk from the town proper and another 1-km hike towards the peak while feeling the cold temperature of Sagada in the wee hours of the morning.

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Kiltepan is the place where the character of Angelica shouted to release her anger, pain and frustration because of her failed romance with a lover for oh-so-many years. Well, we didn’t get to hear shouts while we were there. Haha. That was probably because we were not with the crowd while being there.

 

We woke up at 3:30 AM to prepare. Our guide fetched us at around 4:30 AM. We were able to reach Kiltepan before 5 AM. Needless to say, there were already many people when we got there as many tourists/travelers wanted to see the sunrise (especially it was Easter Sunday). Well, we didn’t get to hear shouts just like what Angelica did in the movie while we were there (it would be funny, though, if we heard one, hehe). Thank goodness our guide knew another place in Kiltepan where we can still have a good view of the sunrise and the Sagada rice terraces without the crowd.

Bomod-ok Falls

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Bomod-Ok Falls is such a beauty, don’t you agree? 🙂

Said to be the “big” falls in Sagada (its name means “big” in Bontoc), Bomod-ok Falls provided a refreshing dip after more than an hour of trekking. The falls is beautiful and the rocky formations surrounding it make it more scenic.

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It would take about an hour or more of hiking when going to Bomod-Ok Falls. But the pathway towards it is already cemented, making it easier now to go there compared before when the path was still patches of land.

Terraces are a fixture in Cordillera. This one’s taken while we were hiking towards the falls.

Our guide, Ate Grace Diawan, has been a really good guide here in Bomod-Ok Falls. she has provided us with cultural stories, facts and figures about Sagada. Ask for her when going here in Bomod-Ok. Here’s her number: 0935077467.

By the way, our guide fee here in Bomod-Ok is P550. Kuya Satur Segundo, our van driver has asked us to pay P550 for Kiltepan and P650 for Bomod-Ok transportation. However, we were able to ask him to lower it down to P1000. 🙂

***

Here’s a detailed itinerary of our 3-day trip in Mountain Province:

THURSDAY
8:30 PM Ride the bus in Coda Lines, HM Terminal in Cubao, Quezon City The bus is supposed to leave by 9 PM but it left at around 9:30 PM.
9:30 PM Departure from QC
FRIDAY
12 MN Reached Sison, Pangasinan Stopover.
7 AM Arrival in Bontoc, Mountain Province You can go and have breakfast in the nearby store of Labfas Coffee Shop.
8 AM Departure from town proper of Bontoc to go to Maligcong You can go toploading here!
8:40 AM Arrival in Maligcong/ Checking in Suzette’s Homestay The place is spacious and provides a good view of the Maligcong Rice Terraces.
9 AM to 6 PM Exploring Maligcong Rice Terraces and hiking Mt. Kufafey Do your own thing here! J
6 to 9 PM Wash up, eat dinner and socials in Suzette’s Homestay You can go talk with fellow travelers or just stay comfy with your group of friends.
9 PM Lights Off Sleep early!
Saturday
6 AM Waking up, washing up Expect a foggy morning! 😀
6:30 AM Breakfast We asked Ate Suzette to cook for us (yesterday’s dinner and today’s breakfast). Each meal cost P120 per pax.
8 AM Departure from Maligcong Bye, Kuneg, Mako and Misty!
8:30 AM Arrival in the town proper of Bontoc You can just walk towards the terminal of Sagada-bound jeepneys.
9 AM Departure from Bontoc to go to Sagada
10:30 AM Arrival in Sagada, checking in Indigenous Handcrafts and Inn Expect a lot of people here especially during weekends and holidays.
11:30 AM Lunch Try Masferre Country Inn and Restaurant. Food here is a bit pricy but they’re good! (Actually, food in Sagada is really much more expensive compared to other places in Mountain Province.)
2 PM Go to Hanging Coffins Take pictures and leave nothing but footprints.
4 PM Go to Lake Danum for the sunset
7 PM Go back to town proper, eat dinner
8 PM Wash up
9 PM Bar night in Moonhouse Moonhouse is the best place to be when you want to chill out at night in Sagada!
SUNDAY
3:30 AM Waking up time
4:30 AM Go to Kiltepan Peak Expect a lot of people here! Ask your guide/van driver where the best place is in Kiltepan.
5 AM Arrival in Kiltepan Peak
Before 7 AM Head back to town proper
7:30 AM Breakfast
8 AM Go to Bomod-Ok Falls Ask for Ms. GraceDiawan to have a splendid time in Bomod-Ok!
8:30 AM Start of hike towards Bomod-Ok Falls
Before 12 nn Head back to town proper for lunch
Past  12 nn Lunch in Lemon Pie House Try their famous lemon pie at a really inexpensive cost!
1 PM Head back to Indigenous Handcrafts and Inn, wash up and pack away things Buy pasalubong for your family and friends! It’s not really easy going here in Sagada so it’s best to buy them tokens from this place that both you and they can keep.
2 PM Checking out
Past 2 PM Head to pasalubong stores
3 PM Ride Coda Lines bus headed for Cubao Expect a lot of bus stops starting in Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya and Nueva Ecija!
Monday
5 AM Arrival in Cubao, Quezon City Finally! Haha.

Rough estimate of our Mountain Province trip (excluding pasalubong and food outside of Maligcong):

Travel item/transportation/destination Cost (per pax unless indicated otherwise)
Coda Lines bus ride from Cubao, QC to Bontoc P950
Jeepney ride to Maligcong P20
Suzette’s Homestay rate per pax P350
Guide in Maligcong P400 (per group, P67 per pax)
Prepared dinner in Suzette’s Homestay P120
Prepared breakfast in Suzette’s Homestay P120
Jeepney ride to Bontoc P20
Tricycle ride to Sagada terminal P10
Jeepney ride to Sagada P80
Indigenous Handcrafts and Inn rate per pax P350
Guide in Hanging Coffins P200 per group (P33 per pax)
Entrance fee for the maintenance of nearby Anglican Church P10
Lake Danum van ride P550 per group (P92 per pax)
Kiltepan and Bomod-Ok van ride P1000 per group (P167 per pax)
Guide in Bomod-Ok Falls P550 per group (P92 per pax)
Coda Lines bus from Sagada to Cubao, QC P950
TOTAL P3,456

Some reminders and tips when traveling here in Mountain Province:

  1. Wear jacket or other clothing intended for winter. Even though it’s summer, the temperature in Mountain Province can really go very low especially in the wee hours of the morning and at night!IMG_1568-01
  2. Bring extra cash. As always, be thrifty but it’s best to keep extra money that you can use if ever you need to.
  3. Having a trip in Mountain Province isn’t very cheap especially when you’re going solo. It would be better when you go here in a group.
  4. Bring food that you can eat while on the move or on tour.
  5. Get to know the locals. Don’t hesitate to ask questions to be informed. Be respectful, too, and obey their rules.
  6. IMG_1758-01
    Before taking a picture, we asked Manang if that’s okay. She said yes and smiled before heading back to planting rice. Salamat, manang!
  7. Buy their local products. It’s best to buy their products as your pasalubong for your family and friends!
  8. Internet connection isn’t very reliable in Bontoc and Sagada but there are places where they are fast. It would be best, though, to just leave your phones in your pockets and just stay present to where you are and who you are with. 🙂
  9. Bontoc serves as a junction in the Cordillera Region. You can either head to Ifugao or Kalinga or Baguio after your stay here.20170414_065653-01
  10. While in Sagada, it’s best to try the lemon pie in the popular Lemon Pie House. And at night, it’s best to spend your time and just chill in Moonhouse!
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The Puges in Moonhouse! From left: Don, Arvin, Eric, Roel and yours truly. Sam stayed in the inn to have his beauty rest. Hehe.
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