Driving from Manila to Sagada and vice-versa is a daunting task but it is not impossible.
I can personally attest to this since I just recently conquered a drive from Manila to Sagada (passing through Baguio) then going back to Manila from Sagada (passing through Banaue). According to the locals, the common route travelers take is the reverse of what I did since most want to go on a side-trip in Baguio after spending a few days in Sagada.
Before I embarked in this big adventure, I wanted to prepare myself on what to expect when driving to Sagada. Now that I have personally achieved this feat, I share to you some important things to remember to ensure safety in case you plan to take the road on your own and drive to Sagada.
Before anything else, a quick look on what Sagada is. Sagada is a small municipality in Mountain Province. It is nestled on top of Malitep tributary, which is why the weather is often cool in this place. It is famous for Mt. Kiltepan (and the sea of clouds), Sumaguing Cave (and spelunking), and the hanging coffins. Sagada has been a popular tourist destination because it gives people an escape. It gained even more popularity when it was featured on the hit film “That Thing Called Tadhana”.
10. Can a city driver drive to Sagada?
I’m a city driver. I have been driving for over ten years so you can say I’m already experienced but mostly I just drive in the city so I cannot really gauge if I’m experienced or not. Also, I’m a short driver, literally. I barely reach 5-feet in height and I drove to Sagada so we can say it’s really the skill and not the size that matters. LOL. My most difficult drive prior to going to Sagada is taking the Quirino route from Baler to Isabela. That highway was still under construction back then and if it is still not done, I will NEVER pass that road again even if it’s a shorter route compared to passing via Nueva Ecija then Nueva Vizcaya then Isabela. That is how difficult that road is.
However, the drive to Sagada has its challenges especially when you reach Halsema Highway. There are many hairpin turns and a few areas prone to landslide. There was even one part of the road with a sign “Drive Carefully. Sinking Road.” or something like that. But you see, these challenges are stationary unlike in city driving where a bus can hit you even how careful you are.
If you are a cautious city driver, it is possible for you to conquer a drive to Sagada. If not or if you are not confident of your driving skills, I recommend that you get a local or an experienced driver.
9. Can I drive to Sagada at night?
I haven’t tried this and probably won’t. In my experience, I did not see any streetlights along Halsema Highway, which means you will be driving in total darkness along a cliff. Moreover, it can be very foggy at night, which will make the drive even more challenging that it already is.
Take note, we arrived in Baguio at around 5AM but decided to wait out until it was the morning to continue driving to Sagada.
8. Are there gas stations along the way?
Before driving to Sagada, you can top up your tank in Baguio but don’t worry if you are not able to do that. Driving to Sagada from Baguio is lined with small towns, and oftentimes, they have small stores that offer fuel. Some also sell food in case you get hungry. If you need restroom break, most locals are nice enough to direct you where you can do this. At one point, we stopped by a town called Kabayan because one of us had to take a restroom break. They didn’t even take any payment and told us their water supply is free.
7. How about driving directions?
We just used Google Maps and Waze, and turned on our GPS. Unexpectedly, there is internet signal albeit slow along the way. Although we got lost, we were able to find our way to Sagada. Also, although there are few people on the road, there are some you can ask for directions.
6. How long is the drive from Manila to Sagada?
Ideally, it’s 10 hours but again, we got lost between Baguio and Sagada so it took longer. Also, if there is traffic or other road incidents, it will take longer. Bring lots of patience. Enjoy the scenery.
5. Is Halsema Highway really dangerous?
It wasn’t dubbed as one of the most dangerous highways in the world for nothing. It is challenging with its hairpin twists and turns, and it is quite narrow for a two-way highway. Moreover, there are parts of the highway where there is no metal or concrete barrier that protects commuters from the cliff so you really have to take the turns carefully. Additionally, if you drive early in the morning or when it is really cold outside, the highway is blanketed with thick fog, which gives short to zero visibility.
However, Halsema Highway has really improved. It is now completely paved so you can drive smooth but expect lots of turns.
4. Can I drive to Mt. Kiltepan viewpoint?
Parking area at Mt. Kiltepan
Yes and there is a parking area right by the viewpoint. However, if you don’t feel confident driving (there are a few patches of rough road and it can get muddy if it rains), you can leave your car by the gas station at the entry point of Mt. Kiltepan. Then, you can just walk from there to the viewpoint. It is less than 1 km and many people are walking even at dawn so you can just walk with them.
Also, even if it is early in the morning, there are locals who set up shop and sell food at Mt. Kiltepan. Please, don’t throw your trash anywhere.
Sea of clouds at Mt. Kiltepan
3. What car should I bring?
I highly recommend taking a 4×4 off-roader. I brought a Toyota FJ Cruiser and it was really reliable. It was a long drive but the seat was just comfortable that I did not experience any body pains afterwards. Although the car is big for me that I can’t easily reach a few things when driving (like the sun visor), it is something you want to have in this kind of trip. The trip was tiring due to the length of the drive, and the twists and turns, but it would have been more difficult if it was a different car. I drive a car with manual transmission (a Toyota Yaris) on a regular basis and I took that same car to Baler and Isabela, and it was really tiring. This drive to Sagada is more manageable.
2. Where else can I go when I decide to drive to Sagada?
It was just a weekend trip but if we had more time, I would have wanted to spend more time in Baguio, gone up to Mt. Pulag, and stayed longer in Banaue. If you can, do a great northern trip already and include exploring province like Cagayan and Isabela. However, that will take more than a weekend.
1. Other tips?
Bring lots of patience. It is a long drive and it can be dangerous if you are impatient and speed away. However, if you take your time, focus on the drive, and enjoy the scenery as well, the destination is reachable. Always lean on the side of caution – drive slowly and arrive safely.
Where should we drive next?