By Lawrence Casiraya
SAGADA, MOUNTAIN PROVINCE - Thanks in part to the Internet, more tourists have discovered this Cordillera town famous for its hanging coffins and many natural wonders.
It’s nice to know, however, that despite the influx of tourism, locals remain accomodating to guests.
Sagada now attracts some 300,000 tourists a year, according to the local government, including European backpackers spending weeks exploring the Cordilleras, including the world famous Banaue rice terraces.
Tourists began pouring during the late 1990s as more adventurous travelers began reading about this so-called “Shangri-la of the North”. Moreso in the last few years with Filipinos blogging about their Sagada experience.
In short, if it’s your first time to visit, everything you need to know can be found in websites like VisitSagada.com (maintained by a Manila-based group). The Sagada Genuine Guides Association also run a blog that serve as a one-stop resource for tourists.
I first visited Sagada in the mid-90s, back when traveling there on a shoestring budget meant hoping there’s room at St. Joseph (an orphanage converted into an inn for travelers) or otherwise go “homestay”.
The number of inns have increased significantly, sprouting all over town in recent years. Tourism has become bread-and-butter for most locals.
“We try to provide them the comforts of home. More than 80 percent of our guests here find us on the Internet. So my advice is to book in advance,” says Joanne Tauli of George Guest House.
Dorm-type lodging catering to backpackers costs P250 a night per person. These are mostly located along Dao-angan, down the road from the municipal hall in the town square.
WiFi is now common (the town gets Internet access via satellite). Also, if you book early, try to get a room upstairs so you get a veranda view of Sagada’s limestone cliffs.
Unless you’re a first-time visitor, it is interesting to note that room rates have not really increased much despite the tourism boom. I’ve been the Sagada thrice and I cannot recall spending more than 300 pesos a night.
Apparently, the owners of inns and other business establishments themselves think this is detrimental.
When the local government raised plans to increase the tourism fee to 100 pesos per person (from 20 pesos at present), inn owners like Mary Daoas of Residential Lodge was among those who marched to the town square to protest.
“If the local government wants to build a better road going up Sagada or make infrastructure better, why charge tourists for it? It is for everyone’s benefit,” she says.
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