Sagada’s Cave Connection

Tony enters a chamber while spelunking in Sagada

Sagada, a cool mountain station in north-central Luzon, is a restful escape from the tropical heat of the Philippines. The destination offers up forests full of pines and tree ferns, exotic burial rituals, a once grand head hunter culture, and gorgeous slopes filled with extreme rice terracing.

Our principle reason for coming here was to bone up on our spelunking skills by doing the famous Sagada Cave Connection, a four-hour cave crawling tour linking the Lumiang and Sumaging cave systems. This tour requires its participants to repel down vertical shafts, crawl, squirm, dangle off of ledges, slip, slide, wade waist-deep through underground streams, and clamber over wedding cake cave formations – in other words, it’s serious food for your inner child.

The Sagada Cave Connection starts with a short walk through the somewhat contradictory tropical-evergreen landscape and quickly descends into the dark Lumiang cavern. Visitors will get an up-close look at piles of ancient carved coffins that line the entrance walls. It’s all very mysterious and enticing, but the trip is not for the faint of heart.

Thomas squeezes his way through an opening in the rocks

When we did the Cave Connection Tour in 2010, no safety equipment was provided and the entire tour was conducted by the light of a gas lantern. Twenty minutes into the tour, our gas lantern started to malfunction and our guide was forced to return to town to get a replacement leaving us sitting deep within the cave in pitch-black isolation with bats fluttering around our heads for more than 45 minutes. I thought it was hilarious, but the wait was a bit of a challenge for Thomas who suffers from mild claustrophobia.

Further on, as we were exploring the lower sections of Sumaging cave, I was slightly behind Thomas and the guide because I had stopped to examine a formation. Evidently, the guide had carefully directed Thomas through a pool, but nobody had thought to tell me. I stepped into what I thought was shallow water, but in reality, I was stepping into the mouth of a water-filled vertical tube.

Thomas, who at that very instant was asking the guide to come back with the lantern, said that one moment I was walking through the cave and the next I had vanished. Not realizing I was stepping into a bottomless pit, I simply dropped straight down into the tube miraculously not touching any of the jagged rocks along the way.

Tony descends into an underground stream

The effect was pretty much like being swallowed by a giant. Thomas said he was scanning the cave trying to figure out where I had gone when, all of a sudden, I reemerged from the flooded floor. First lesson of spelunking, don’t assume shallow water conceals a solid floor.

Technical difficulties during the Sagada Cave Connection aside, working our way through the cave system was a real adrenaline kick. The first half felt like we were hamsters crawling through the ultimate tube maze. Later it opened into larger karst caverns.

In the deepest portions of the cave, far from both the entrance and the exit, we discovered animist faith healers chanting at the base of a monolithic pink stalagmite, which looked like some prehistoric altar. Our guide had never seen such faith healers before and all three of us sat off in the distance curiously listening to the mysterious chanting.

Thomas repels down into a chamber while exploring Sagada caves

The highlight was certainly exploring the underground stream that flows through the lower reaches of Sumaging. Elaborate waterfalls of stone, beautiful calcium terracing, glittery walls, water-logged stalagmites and glistening multi-hued stalactites greeted us at every turn.

The Cave Connection in Sagada was the perfect opportunity to practice our caving skills and learn some lessons, like how to look before you take a step. We are already searching the web for other caving possibilities here in the Philippines and further south in Indonesia. Stay tuned for more caving adventures!

Spelunking between Lumiang and Sumaging caves

Note: Caving enthusiasts might worry that it looks like we are climbing all over the formations. All of these pictures were shot on the main path through the cave and nothing was unnecessarily touched.

Sagada Spelunking Tips

Sumaging (also written as Sumaguing) and Lumiang cave systems are located just outside Sagada in north-central Luzon, Philippines. We did the Cave Connection Tour in 2010 for 800 pesos ($17 at the time) for two people. More recently, tours have been priced at 1,400 pesos ($64). For larger groups, additional guides must be hired. Cheaper and easier tours to Sumaging cave are also available.

8 responses to “Sagada’s Cave Connection”

  1. avatar Tom Volpe says:

    That sounds absolutely unreal! Really interesting and inspiring post. Do you have the contact details for the guide / company that you used? Would you recommend them?

  2. avatar Tony says:

    Go to the central tourist office in Sagada and they can arrange for a guide. We used Wendel, he was pretty good. Normally, I think you are just assigned a guide so that they can distribute the guiding income.

  3. avatar Thomas says:

    Tony mentioned my claustrophobia issues but considering where we were, I was pretty much in control.

    15 years ago, this would have been a completely different scenario. I was terrified of closed spaces and heights – and I would have clawed my way out of this hole instead of patiently waiting for our guide to return. (Actually, I wouldn’t have been there in the first place).

    Luckily, I was fed up with my irrational fears. So, over the years, I confronted my phobias again and again. Spelunking trips, hiking over mountain ridges, driving along drop-offs. This has helped a lot. And even if I do get a mini-freak-out every now and then, I can quickly think my way out of it.

    Just thought I wanted to share this.

  4. avatar bodeswell says:

    very cool! We’re going caving next week in Oaxaca and looking forward to it!

  5. avatar Thomas says:

    Good luck, Jason! Make sure you have some extra batteries for your flashlights to avoid unnecessary black-outs.

    Let us know how it goes.

  6. Go Thomas! From one recovering phobic to another, CONGRATULATIONS. I can imagine the conversations you’ve had with your inner demons.

    I think I could talk myself through an experience as cool as that.

  7. avatar Thomas says:

    Actually, my inner demons weren’t the problem. I would point my finger at my outer demon, Tony. He thought it was hilarious to re-enact a scene from the movie The Blair Witch Project. With a flashlight under his face, he started doing freaky voices. Very funny!

  8. avatar dc saligumba says:

    hello there thomas, I have read your post and it excites me more to visit sagada this summer, I am from the PH and been wanting to go there to check out the sumaging cave and be amaZed more than I already am everytime a tourist just like you is sharing such a very great experience when you were in sagada.. 😉 goodluck. you might wanna check out a heavenly/undiscovered island beach from pagbilao in quezon provice in the PH too!I bet, you will like it more than the famous boracay beach. the name of the said island is POLO ISLAND. ;-)more power!

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