Driving to Sagada: Directions and Driving tips

Last weekend, my friends and I took on the daunting challenge of going to Sagada. An extended weekend trip to Sagada is already a packed schedule but this trip (my 19th) was even going to be shorter. This was my shortest trip to Sagada – a trip that would require traveling time of 23 hours and a total staying time of just over 25 hours in town.

Despite the short time we spend in Sagada, it was still very enjoyable since the drive itself was quite an experience. The road to Sagada takes drivers and passengers alike through different topologies and landscapes that Luzon has to offer. Starting from the urban jungle of Manila, to the well paved North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), the vast plains of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija, the winding roads of Dalton Pass and the mountainous terrain of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), the 440-km drive sure takes one through a mini tour of the country’s largest island.

Since I mainly traveled via public transportation to Sagada and most of the traveling happens at night, I’m not really that familiar with the route. Luckily, my friend purchased the Papago Philippines app on the iPhone. With little research on possible routes, we trusted the app to show us the way and amazingly, through all the weird side roads and haystack-blocked paths, we were able to reach Sagada. The app was so impressive that all the major gas stations and banks were even plotted accurately on the app. It was so detailed that hotels in Sagada even showed up in the display. This app deserves a review and we will be coming up with one in the near future.
We took the Eastern route – the side that goes through Banaue and Bontoc. The Western Route is the one that passes the major hub of Baguio.
Here was our route to Sagada. Let me emumerate the towns that we passed:

1. Enter the NLEX
2. Take the Santa Rita, Bulacan.
3. Plaridel, Bulacan
4. Pulilan, Bulacan
5. Baliuag, Bulacan
6. San Rafael, Bulacan
7. San Miguel, Bulacan
8.  San Isidro, Bulacan
9. Gapan City, Nueva Ecija
10. San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija
11. Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija
12. Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija
13. Talavera, Nueva Ecija
14. The Science City of Munoz, Nueva Ecija
15. San Jose City, Nueva Ecija
16. Santa Fe, Nueva Vizcaya
17. Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya
18. Bambang, Nueva Vizcaya
19. Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya
20. Solano, Nueva Vizcaya
21. Bagabag, Nueva Vizcaya
22. Lamut, Ifugao
23. Kiangan, Ifugao
24. Lagawe, Ifugao
25. Banaue, Ifugao
26. Bontoc, Mt. Province
27. Sagada, Mt. Province

Whew, that’s a long way.

Here are some general tips:
1. Make sure your car can take the punishment of an almost 900km drive. We took a Honda Accord – a reasonably powerful car with a 2.4L engine that could make easy work of mountain driving. It did struggle in Staunton Road (the  last bit of road that leads into Sagada) due to the roughness of the terrain but it succeeded with flying colors everywhere else.
2. Try to leave at around 9 or 10PM the night before you wish to arrive in Sagada. This will allow you to do most of the flat driving during the night and around sunrise, you would be snaking your way up Ifugao.

3. Plan your toilet and meal breaks. Gas stations are quite ubiquitous up to Nueva Ecija but past Dalton Pass, you would notice that the distances between stations are far greater. When in Nueva Vizcaya, try to check out the rest rooms of the Total gas stations – they’re the quirkiest I’ve seen in the country. For had a midnight snack in the big Shell station along NLEX . We had breakfast at a very non-descript eatery at Lagawe, Ifugao.

4. Bring snacks and drinks to save on money. Drinks and snacks sold on gas stations tend to be more expensive than grocery bought goods so it would be better for you to have your own chips and sandwiches. Make sure that you have candies, caffeinated drinks and energy boosting beverages to keep your drivers awake.

5. Be very patient. This route is very popular for trucks that ply the route from Cagayan Valley to Manila. Some of them can be quite slow. There are also parts of the road in Mountain Province and Ifugao that could only fit one car at a time. Be prepared to give way.

6. Withdraw money in Manila. Don’t bet on withdrawing money from the sole ATM in Sagada.

7. If you want to check out Banaue, you may stop at any of the view decks at the outskirts of the town and admire the terraces from there.  You can pull out a 1000 peso bill to observe how the contour on the bill mirrors the actual shape of the real-life terraces.

8. If you want to do a day trip to Hapao, Bangaan or Batad, you would have to take a jeep to the more remote parts of Banaue. It can’t be a day trip anymore. We wouldn’t advise you to bring your car – the roads are just way too rough.

So yes, it’s possible to drive your own car (a sedan!) to Sagada. This is my 19th trip to Sagada, but this is the first time in 12 years that I took private transportation. The first one was my first trip up – with my parents back in 1999.

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