Our Caving Adventure in Sagada

How do you fancy squeezing through narrow gaps deep underground, wading through waist-high, dark water and slipping on slimy rocks with only a kerosene lamp and a local guide for comfort? Well that’s what we signed up for when we took on a dangerous but exhilarating caving adventure in Sagada, the Philippines.

Amy in Sumaguing Cave, Sagada

The Dangers of Sumaguing Cave

As well as hanging coffins, waterfalls and awesome hikes, Sagada is famous for its impressive cave networks. We opted to take a four-hour tour from the popular Sumaguing cave through to the Lumiang cave which takes you hundreds of metres underground through a labyrinth of spectacular rock formations and underground rivers. Enter without a local guide and you’d likely get lost forever in the cold, dark stone depths.

Entrance to Sumaguing Cave, the Philippines

The tour definitely isn’t for the faint hearted; you need to be relatively fit and unafraid of being trapped miles underground in confined spaces wading through water which, at times, reaches as high as your chest. Back in the UK, Andrew once took some kids from his school on a caving trip; for safety reasons everyone wore boiler suits, helmets, head torches, boots and knee and elbow pads. By contrast, we headed down to Sumaguing cave in shorts, vests and flip flops with our local guide, Virgo, who was carrying only a kerosene lamp.

Andrew in Sumaguing Cave, Sagada

If you think I’m exaggerating the dangers, a few days after we left Sagada a group of tourists and guides were trapped in the cave by rising underground water for two days before being rescued. One member of their group slipped and was washed away by strong currents; the cave was  shut off for weeks afterwards while they searched for her body.

Climbing Down Rocks into the Sumaguing Cave

It’s no wonder I was feeling nervous as we approached the mouth of Sumaguing, which was surrounded by stone hanging coffins with hundred-year-old bones encased within. Here are some video clips of our exciting caving adventure:

The Cave Connection Tour

Virgo cranked up the lamp while Andrew strapped on the single head torch and I tried not to panic as we picked over rocks and began the long descent down into darkness. Within minutes I saw what we were up against as Virgo disappeared down a tiny hole in the rocks, beckoning me to follow. I hesitated at the mouth of the drop, the flickering orange of the lamp illuminating Virgo’s kind face below:

Give me your foot Miss,” he said calmly, pulling it down onto this knee and supporting me as I squeezed through the dark gap into the unknown.

Andrew Caving in the Philippines

The journey continued ever deeper into the blackness. Virgo instructed us to take off our flip flops so we could grip the slippery rocks more easily; even with his help holding my arm, telling me exactly where to step and when to sit and slide down the most dangerous rocks, I was struggling to stay upright. I couldn’t stop imagining myself slipping over, my head cracking against one of the jagged yellow-brown rocks as I went. The only way to tackle the cave was to go one careful step at a time, testing each foothold before putting your weight down. To keep the panic at bay I tried to concentrate only on Virgo’s instructions and to copy his footsteps exactly.

Sumaguing Cave, Sagada the Philippines

I was doing alright until we reached a sharp drop down a steep crevis.  A rope had been attached to the top of the fall and the only way to get down was to dangle from the rope and lower yourself to the bottom. I happen to have pretty scrawny arms so relying on them to hold my entire body weight was terrifying; while Virgo stood below, waiting to catch me and Andrew stood behind urging me on I hesitated, unable to let myself slip into thin air. Slowly I inched my way off the edge, crying out in alarm as my legs scrambled blindly for a foothold and I gave in to the heart-pounding panic. I slipped clumsily downwards, crashing into Virgo at the bottom, my arms shaking with adrenaline.

Chocolate Cake Rock Formations in Sumaguing Cave

I barely had time to recover as Virgo was now standing below a huge rock, slick with running water, gesturing for me to climb up onto his shoulders and hoist myself up into the narrow tunnel above. Pulling myself shakily onto his shoulders I clung to a rope, my knees scraping wet rock as I heaved myself upwards, cold cave water soaking through my clothes. It was a huge relief to slip through to the next part of the cave system, a series of high-ceilinged, echoey caverns filled with massive stalactites and stalagmites and vast underground pools and rivers, which Andrew dove eagerly into.

Climbing up a Rock on the Cave Connection Tour

Virgo led us up a gentle incline to a large open space; the light of the lamp threw crazy shadows against the walls, which were carved with the names of people who’d passed through over the years. We became aware of a slightly sweet, earthy smell and the sounds of high-pitched squeaks and tiny wings beating the air – Bats. Virgo angled the lantern upwards and we could just make out the darkened shapes of furry bodies hanging from the ceiling and soaring high above us.

Andrew in an Underground River

As the journey relaxed Virgo pulled out his iPhone and treated us to such musical delights as Uptown Girl, Gangnam Style and unidentifiable country and western tunes – things couldn’t get more surreal.  As we neared the end of the cave Virgo began pointing out all the different cave formations; a frog stone, huge pillars of chocolate cake, a dinosaur’s footprint, lions, tigers and elephants. Virgo was in his element now, laughing and telling us stories about the formations, making us pose for pictures.

Us on the Cave Connection Tour

Frog Rock Formation, Sagada, the Philippines

Going Deeper Underground

Now,” Virgo said, becoming serious again, “There is a third optional part of the tour,” he paused for a moment before warning: “But it’s more adventurous.”

Turns out ‘more adventurous’ meant descending further into a narrow underground river and submerging up to my chest in dark, icy water. So did we want to do it?

Of course we did.

Rock Formations in Sumaguing Cave

Virgo wasn’t lying when he said this part would be more difficult; we followed the river downwards, clinging to ropes as we descended down the sides of the steep stone tunnel. The water below us was so deep and dark you couldn’t see to the bottom and I clutched the rope harder, unwilling to surrender myself to the unknown depths. There came a point though where I had to simply let go of the rope and plunge downwards, crashing into Virgo as I slipped into the icy blackness, screaming out as I fell. We waded through the tunnel in silence, concentrating on clinging to the wall and stepping carefully from one smooth underground rock to the next.

Wading through an Underground Cave River

Eventually, soaking wet with shaking muscles we climbed out of the river towards the pinpoint of daylight signalling the cave exit; relieved, exhilarated and exhausted we emerged into the sunlight – we’d survived our underground adventure.

*Our cave connection tour cost 800 Pesos (£11.50) for two people; we loved Virgo so much though we paid an additional 200 pesos as a tip.

Our Caving Adventure in Sagada

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32 thoughts on “Our Caving Adventure in Sagada

  1. I have realized during our trip that barring a few exceptions, I am just not a cave person. It was cool getting to check out the largest cave system in the world when we were at Mulu on Borneo and we did a nice cave walk while we were in northern Thailand, but the thought of squeezing through tiny damp openings or splashing about in cold cave water in the dark just doesn’t appeal! I’m glad you guys had a nice time though and that Vigo took such good care of you!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..The Secret to Happiness: Savor the Small StuffMy Profile

    • I can totally see why caving wouldn’t appeal to lots of people Steph. I was dubious at first but ended up having a great time; not sure whether I’d put myself through it again though! I really wish we’d checked out the cave system in Mulu, it looked brilliant from the pics you posted on your site.

    • It was amazing Kerri and a bit scary too; our guide was brilliant though and really put me at ease.

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  3. Oh you are brave souls! I am claustrophobic just reading about it! I would have done this 10 years ago without hesitation, but the past 4-5 years I am not liking the enclosed places. Alan and I went scuba diving in an underground cave in Yucatan, Mexico a few years back, Dos Ojos. It was spectacular, but when it was pitch black it wasn’t easy figuring out which way was up and which was down, not to mention avoiding a collision with the stalagmites and stalactites. Kudos to you, let me see the day light and I am much better. 🙂
    Heidi Wagoner recently posted..How to Save Money! – Tip # 4 “Cut Your Food Waste”My Profile

    • That scuba story sounds pretty terrifying Heidi; kudos to you for that. I have yet to tackle diving, hopefully one day I’ll be brave enough (and have the cash) to do so!

  4. Those are some awesome photos and the video is great! – kudos to you for taking it on but I agree with Kerri – I don’t think I could brave that! I love your sense of adventure!
    Patti recently posted..Freedom of Speech ~My Profile

    • Before this trip I never would have thought I’d be able to take this on Patti, my sense of adventure is growing the more we travel! I have to admit that this was pretty scary though!

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    • This definitely wouldn’t be good for you Alyson; perhaps Chef and the boys would like it though 🙂

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    • Hi Martin, Virgo was great and he knew the caves like the back of his hand too, we felt perfectly safe with him. We walked down to the SAGGAS office (there are two in town – either would be fine I expect) it’s the official office to get a guide for the caves and we found him there. 🙂

  9. I just got home from my trip to sagada & I’m so glad I did the Cave Connection! I think my adrenaline level is now fading because I’m starting to feel the muscle aches 😀 I’m happy you’ve enjoyed your stay in sagada! Proud to be a Filipino!!!

    • Glad you enjoyed the cave connection Jessalyn. We are going back to the Philippines in a month and are looking forward to revisiting Sagada – we might even try the crystal caves tour, which is supposed to be even more challenging! We love the Philippines! 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed the cave connection Jessalyn. We are going back to the Philippines in a month and are looking forward to revisiting Sagada – we might even try the crystal caves tour, which is supposed to be even more challenging! We love the Philippines! 🙂

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  11. You described the experience very well! We just had this adventure during the December break. In the first hour of the tour when we had to insert our bodies into very tight spaces and do yoga-like poses while following the instruction of the guide to the letter, what went to my mind was : my God, my mother-in-law would never forgive me if something happens to his son! I have to tell him every time to follow strictly the instruction of the guide (my husband is athletic and all but I might as well tell him to ensure everyone of us comes out in one piece). The most scary part was coming down a side of a 90 degrees boulder face using only a rope only to find out once you reach down that the next way is up the facing boulder whose right side is water but left side is total darkness! I actually thought I did this cave 16 years ago but nothing looks familiar except the entrance and then finally when we came to the exit … oh, so I actually just visited a few meters down the exit cave as well at that time! There were no foreigners back then now the whole tiny town was full of them 🙂

    • Hi Meg, thanks for reading and commenting. It’s interesting to hear your experiences for 16 years ago compared with today, it sounds like you had a great time! Our caving experience remains one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done and I absolutely love Sagada and the Philippines 🙂

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