Spelunking in Sagada Caves

by Sally Taylor
A head lamp is the only light you should take to a cave. You will need both hands free while inside.

A head lamp is the only light you should take to a cave. You will need both hands free while inside.

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Sagada lies in the northern part of the main Philippine island of Luzon, approximately 275 kilometers north of Manilla. People are drawn to Sagada by the province's peaceful culture, its history and the beauty of the forested mountains. There are also some 60 caves under the Sagada region, a few of which are open for public exploration by those looking for a spelunking adventure.

Sagada Cave Systems

The Sagada caves are limestone, carved by erosion. While some are now dry, many still have streams and water channels running through them. Strange rock formations and stalactites are common, as are the marine fossils embedded in cave walls. Some of the caves are yet unexplored, while others, such as the Crystal Cave, have been closed because of the ecological impact of growing numbers of spelunkers. There are a few caves open for spelunking, but you must register at the Municipal Hall Tourist Center and hire a guide to take you through the caves.

Spelunking Tours

Don't be fooled by the word "tour." These caves do not feature the well-constructed pathways and lighted tunnels of large American caves. You are actually going spelunking. That means you will be in challenging, sometimes dangerous, terrain. You will be wading or swimming in underground streams, climbing ropes with drop-offs next to you, walking on bat guano, squeezing through tight spaces and walking on slippery rock with light only from your own and your group's headlamps. You'll need to follow your guide's instructions closely when in the caves. Guides can explain the wonders you're seeing while they keep you safe.

Tour Choices

The main cave is Sumaging. It's the largest of the Sagada caves and perhaps the easiest for those who are nervous or not fit for a rugged adventure. The tour is two to two and a half hours long. The Cave Connection tour starts at Lumiang Cave and connects to Sumaging. This tour is rugged and dangerous. You should be reasonably fit to choose this strenuous four-hour tour. Balangagan Cave is less frequently explored because of its distance from Sagada -- a 2-kilometer hike -- yet it's large enough to require three to four hours to explore. The cave is filled with interesting rock formations.

Costs

By American standards, prices for guides are inexpensive. In 2011, the average conversion rate is 42.5 Philippine pesos (PhP) per U.S. dollar. Spelunking prices start at 500 PhP for Sumanging Cave and at 800 PhP for the Lumiang Cave and Cave Connection. The more people in the party, the higher the costs and the more guides that are needed.You will need to check at the Tourist Center at Sagada for the rarely requested Balangagen tour. Be prepared to walk to the caves, and check ahead to see what you should wear and take with you. Remember, you're spelunking, and will need both hands free to maneuver through the passages.

About the Author

An honor graduate of the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and linguistics, Sally Taylor has contracted research and writing services since 1986. She has worked with organizations such as US West AT, and SW Bell Silver Pages.

Photo Credits

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