Luzon,  Travel Guides,  Travels

Balangagan Cave: Southern Sagada’s Underground Wonder

I’ve been to some of the most renowned caves in the Philippines like Callao of Cagayan and Underground River in Puerto Princesa City and I must say, caves are a proof that nature is an unparalleled artist. These made me interested about caves that I wanted to see and experience more. Recently, we got a chance to explore another one found in southern Sagada, Mountain Province – the Balangagan Cave. For someone who has not really tried spelunking, the Balangagan expedition was quite an experience. Caves in the Cordilleras, including Balangagan, are fascinating in such a way and let me tell you why.

How Balangagan Cave got its Name

The villagers named the cave after the three Taccong elders, Bangcawayan, Lawagan and Nagayang, who entered it to hunt for kupti‘ or bats. However, they could hardly bring out the good catch as they seemed to get lost. The elders could not find their way out until they heard a timmek‘ or voice. The timmek‘ that they believed to be owned by a spirit dweller in the cave commanded them to free the bats and not to take its other ‘dwellers’ nor anything out. When they did, they suddenly found the way out. The three unscathed elders came back to the village and spoke of their mystical experience in the cave that was later named after them.

The cave was once supposed to be named as “Marcos Cave” – after the former Philippine President and dictator, Ferdinand Marcos with the villagers’ hope of funding and developing Sagada’s roads dating back to the 1980’s. A chamber was even named after his wife Imelda and the hall after former Minister of Tourism, Aspiras. However, it did not appeal to the villagers and they still decided to name it after the three elders.

The Trek

From Joan’s homestay along Mabisil-Payag-eo-Balili road, we took the a Nissan L300 tourist shuttle to the usual exit of the Balangagan spelunking activity at Suyo traversing to Taccong. The cave opening at Taccong where the blue lagoon is located is the usual starting point of the spelunking in Balangagan.

Kuya June, our tour guide, told us that the whole spelunking activity would take us 3 to 4 hours depending on our pacing. Despite the long trek, they told us to expect a “chill” one since the trail isn’t as difficult as that of Sumaguing-Lumiang’s and Crystal Cave’s. Regardless, we braced our sleep-deprived selves for the exciting adventure since it is the first time for the most of us. Three local guides accompanied our group (of 8). They brought flashlights and a fire lamp that were bright enough for us to take quality photos inside the cave.

The lagoon outside the cave. Special thanks to Jo Serrano for taking this photo!

Inside Balangagan Cave

Balangagan Cave as an Ancestral Burial Place

What’s interesting about Balangagan Cave is that, it’s also an ancestral burial place for Igorots. Just a few steps from the cave opening, we saw several coffins on the ground. Few steps away from it, we found more with some nestled up in highly formed stalagmites. Aside from coffins, there were also burial jars atop the formations. Sadly, some of the coffins that we found were burned and destroyed. Up to this date, they could still not tell who did it.

Formations and Stories

There are notable formations inside the cave that the guides managed to amazingly connect creating a fascinating story that will really tickle one’s imagination. Generally, it’s all about royal family with the cave as a palace. There’s a “dancing hall” where we all seemed to dance as we pass by the muddy floor. There’s a passage where there’s the prince, princess and queen where the formation actually resembled male and female genitals. We also passed by the “garden” where the formations looked like plants. There were also whale’s tale-like formation that our guides had puns about – and many more. The majestic formations of the draperies, flowstones, columns and pillars distracted us from the challenging trek. We went through low-beamed, slanted passages and crawled our way through slippery chambers.

Sagada Caving Activities’ Rates and Fees

As of November 2022, here are some important notes, guest-to-guide ratio, shuttle capacity and their corresponding rates based on Executive Order No. 55 S. 2022 and Sangguniang Bayan Resolution No. 215, s. 2022 of Sagada:

  1. For caving activities, the ratio of guide to guest is 1 to 5. A shuttle service can accommodate a maximum of twelve (12) guests.
  2. A guide’s rate on caving activities is at Php 800.00 for 1 to 5 guests/tourists.

Take note: the shuttle will pick you up from your accommodation and take you to the jump off.

Things to Remember When Visiting Balangagan Cave

  1. Follow Sagada Tourism and stay tuned on their announcements regarding tours. Some activities, especially spelunking, get suspended especially during wet season or when there’s a recent earthquake.
  2. Bring dry bags for your valuables.
  3. Bring flashlights.
  4. Wear comfortable clothes and a pair of trekking sandals or shoes. The tour guides would highly suggest you wear a pair of leggings to protect your legs from scratches.
  5. Bring water for drinking and some trail food. However, make sure that you’re going to take your trash with you when you leave.
  6. Prepare to get soaked at least up to your shin especially when visiting during the wet season.
  7. Always listen and follow your tour guide.
  8. Do not just touch nor take anything from the cave.

How to go to Sagada

From Manila to Sagada

From Cubao, take a Coda Lines bus to Sagada. The first trip is at 8:00 PM and the last is at 11:30 PM. The land trip would take you around 13 hours and a ticket costs about Php 1,090.00++ per way.

From Banaue to Sagada

Option 1: From Banaue Bus Terminal, look for jeepneys, vans or minivans that travel to Sagada. The trip may take three hours. Take note though that there’s a minimum number of passengers for it to go. Fare may range from Php 250.00 to Php 300.00.

Option 2: From Banaue, take a van going to Bontoc. From Bontoc, take a jeep going to Sagada.

From Baguio to Sagada

Make your way to Dangwa Terminal. From the terminal, take a bus going to Sagada. The trip may take 5 to 6 hours with the fare ranging from Php 220.00 to Php 250.00. The first trip is at around 8:00 AM and the last trip departs at 1:00 PM.

Sagada Tour with Travel Now Asia

We visited and experienced the best of Sagada with Travel Now Asia. Everything was just smooth from Manila to Sagada. It was all hassle free and fun as well with our tour coordinator, Ms. Ronna and driver, Kuya Marlon. They brought us to the not-so-new BUT soon-to-be the next big thing especially in southern Sagada. For inquiries and booking, you may reach them at:

Phone: 289847213
Facebook page: Travel Now Asia

Special thanks to Jo Serrano and Sir Ted Claudio for the photos that I used in this blog! Xx

You may also want to read:

Anne Elizabeth Gumiran, also known as Queenie, is a 20-something, full-time public school teacher, a part-time travel blogger and a freediver. She started putting her stories of adventures and misadventures into words and pictures in 2017 and continues to do so as she shares her advocacy, Sustainable Traveling.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *