In a warm and humid country like the Philippines, provinces located at higher elevations are godsend. The relaxing and cool climate of these areas is more than enough to lure tourists from the city especially during summer. But Mountain Province is more than just a refuge for city dwellers who wish to enjoy a cold weather: it has a rich heritage that has been widely felt and seen—thanks to the dedication of the locals in preserving it. Tourists in this province will surely discover a trove of cultural and historical treasures.
Sagada is one of the well-known destinations in Mountain Province. Visiting the Hanging Coffins in the town may be a bizarre experience for some but it is also very educational as the attraction reflects the culture and beliefs of the locals and their ancestors. Another tourist draw in Sagada is Mount Kiltepan, a mountain famous for its scenic view from the summit, especially when a sea of clouds appears at dawn.
The municipality of Besao is another great place to visit for those who wish to see more of the beautiful countryside. This small and quiet town is surrounded by mountain forests, while its sloped terrains are riddled with quaint houses and only a few establishments. Hiking and camping are among the popular activities in the town. Additionally, the sunset in Besao is claimed to be one of the best you will ever see in the province.
Of course, the Mountain Province has its own man-made rice terraces, many of them located in Sagada and Bontoc. Some of these terraced rice paddies are smaller but are also breathtaking and impressive like their counterparts in the nearby province of Ifugao.
Coda Bus Lines offers nightly trips to the towns of Sagada and Bontoc in Mountain Province from its bus terminal in Quezon City. The buses usually depart between 9:00 to 10:00 P.M. Travel time to Bontoc takes nine hours, while travel time to Sagada is 10 hours.
How to Get Around
Tourists can ride jeepneys to get from one town to the next. These vehicles can also be hired for tours.
Tricycles are preferred for shorter distances. Like jeepneys, they can also be hired for a tour.
What to See
The religion in Mountain Province is predominantly Anglican, which is why Episcopalian churches are present all over, especially in Sagada. The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin is not only a spiritual dwelling for Anglican residents but also an architectural marvel. The church features a magnificent stone facade and well-decorated interiors.
In Bontoc, a rustic village serves as the doorway to the province's historic past. The Alab Oriente village is home to plenty of historical sites and artifacts that give you a background on how the prehistoric tribes lived. The most prominent of these artifacts are the Alab Petroglyphs.
The Arab Petroglyphs are a series of symbols etched onto a boulder on a cliff. According to UNESCO, the carvings are believed to date back as early as 1500 BC and are said to depict the ancient rituals of the natives.
Mountain Province is blessed with plenty of natural wonders. It is known for its beautiful mountains with sprawling greeneries: Mt. Kiltepan in Sagada, Mt. Kalawitan in Sabangan, Mt. Clitoris in Tadian, and Mts. Gotong and Data in Bontoc. Tourists who want to witness Mt. Kiltepan's famed sea of clouds are advised to have an early morning start.
Another top-rated attraction in Sagada is the Echo Valley. A short trek will take you to a viewpoint where you can see the famed Hanging Coffins. It is named as Echo Valley because those who yell will be able to hear their echoes. The Cave Connection spelunking adventure at the Sumaguing and Lumiang caves is another attraction that guests should not miss when in Sagada.
Though the Mountain Province is landlocked, there are many waterfalls and lakes found in several towns where guests can swim. In Sagada, there's the Bomod-ok Falls, Pongas Falls, and Bokong Falls. Meanwhile, Besao has Banao Lake, also known as Danum Lake. Tadian's Gawaan Lake is also worth a visit.
The towns of Mountain Province also have some beautiful rice terraces that rival those of the Ifugao province. These are Sagada's Aguid Rice Terraces, Besao's Rice Terraces, Sadanga's Rice Terraces, and Bontoc's Maligcong and Bay-yo Rice Terraces, to name a few.
Other than viewing or trekking to these rice terraces, visiting a museum is another way to learn about the culture and history of Mountain Province. In Sagada, Ganduyan Museum features a treasure trove of artifacts of the ancient dwellers, while Sagada Pottery highlights the pottery creations of local artists.
Bontoc Museum is another must-see attraction when you're in town. The artifacts and displays in will give you a glimpse of the life of the ancient Cordillerans. The museum also has a section where a replica of a traditional Bontoc house is on display, complete with tools used by the ancient tribes.
Events and Festivals
Lang-Ay Festival is a celebration of the province's foundation anniversary every April. But more than that, this festival held in Bontoc showcases the rich culture of the different tribes in the Mountain Province through cultural shows and performances as well as trade fairs and all sorts of contests and competitions.
Another must-see Mountain Province festival is Sagada's Etag Festival. Held every January, the festival puts the spotlight on one of its native delicacies—etag or salted pork. Aside from being a culinary festival, it also showcases Sagada's native culture through parades and traditional performances.
Where to Eat
Since Sagada is becoming more and more popular among tourists, it has more dining options than the rest of Mountain Province. Most of its restaurants and in other towns in the Mountain Province serve dishes which are guaranteed to be made with the freshest vegetables.
Most of the restaurants not only offer rice meals but also pastas and pizzas. Yoghurt House is loved for their delicious yoghurt concoctions, while Lemon Pie House is famous for, you guessed it, their lemon pie.
Misty Lodge and Cafe is the go-to place for tourists craving for American food. This establishment serves burgers and pizzas alongside creamy shakes. Meanwhile, a healthier option would be Gaia café, which serves vegetarian and organic dishes for a health-conscious crowd.
In Bontoc, Tchayapan Restaurant offers hearty meals paired with their signature Tchayapan rice for hungry travelers. Meanwhile, Caja serves pizzas and cupcakes for those craving for light fare.
Mountain Province is known for pinikpikan, a traditional local dish similar to tinola. For the locals, it is a sacred dish, which requires a ritual as part of the preparation.
Where to Shop
For tourists visiting Sagada on a Saturday, make sure to swing by the weekend market. There are many stalls that sell fresh fruits and vegetables at affordable prices as well as fruit products like jam and wine.
Both Ganduyan Museum and Gaia Cafe have souvenir shops selling all sorts of merchandise such as T-shirts, keychains, and woven bags.
There are many cooperative shops in Sagada and Bontoc that sell food products such as fruit wines and the local coffee brew.
ATMs and Money Changers
There are only a few ATMs in Mountain Province, particularly in Sagada and Bontoc. Make sure to bring some extra cash as withdrawing your money in the province can be a bit difficult.
Fare: PHP 720.00
The bus fare to Sagada via Coda Bus Lines costs PHP 720.00. If you're getting off at Bontoc, the fare would be cheaper.
Food: PHP 100.00 to PHP 300.00
There are many affordable dining options for backpackers in the Mountain Province, which range from PHP 100.00 to PHP 300.00.
Shopping: PHP 100.00++
If you're going souvenir shopping, trinkets cost about PHP 20.00 each, while T-shirts range from PHP 200.00 to PHP 300.00, depending on the size. If you want to bring home a pack of the local coffee, cooperative shops sell them for about PHP 200.00. Fruit wines, on the other hand, cost PHP 150.00 per bottle.
Accommodation: PHP 500.00 to PHP 1,000.00
Mountain Province is a backpacker's haven because of its affordable accommodations. Guests can enjoy an overnight stay at an inn for as low as PHP 500.00.
Activities: PHP 60.00++
The Ganduyan Museum has an entrance fee of PHP 60.00. Some attractions in the Mountain Province require you to hire a guide. The usual rate is about PHP 1,000.00 for a guide who can accommodate up to five tourists.
Day 1 (Bontoc Itinerary)
||Have breakfast at Tchapayan Restaurant.
||Visit the Bontoc Museum.
||Ride a jeepney to Maligcong.
||Arrive in Maligcong. Explore the town for a bit and take photos of the rice terraces.
||Have lunch at a local eatery.
||Start trek to Maligcong Rice Terraces.
||Arrive back in Maligcong. Ride a jeepney back to Bontoc.
||Have a late check-in at your chosen accommodation.
||Go on a walking tour of the town.
||Have dinner at Caja.
Day 2 (Sagada Itinerary)
||Have breakfast at Misty Lodge and Cafe.
||Visit the Tourism Office and avail of the services of a tour guide for the Cave Connection activity.
||Pay a visit to the Episcopalian Church of St. Mary.
||Visit the Ganduyan Museum and Sagada Weaving.
||Go on walking tour around town. Hunt for the best pasalubong centers and shops.
||Have a late lunch at Yoghurt House.
||Check in at your chosen accommodation.
||Start spelunking at the Sumaguing and Lumiang Caves.
||Grab some dinner at Lemon Pie House.
With its location in the highlands, Mountain Province experiences a cool climate all year long. Don't forget to bring jackets and blankets during your visit.
If you find yourself in need of any medical assistance during your vacation, there are some clinics and hospitals in the Mountain Province that you can visit.
Make sure that you're not late for your scheduled trip. Transportation in the Mountain Province is sometimes hard to come by so remember to always be on time.