This city is one of the popular destinations in the Philippines. With the city located at 1,470 meters above sea level, it’s cool climate and rich history attract thousands of local and international tourists especially during the Christmas and dry season of the country. It has its own fare share of popular urban legends and stories that go with a visit to this tourist destination, the latest of which is the controversial meet-up with a “friend” by a celebrity after a highly controversial break-up. What’s the latest from this city? Let us go around and explore, as a friend, and discover what’s new in Baguio City.
Baguio City was once a rancheria or a rural settlement during the Spanish period. It was originally called Kafagway with its original community located along the area where Burnham Park is now located. It was the Americans that established the city as a hill station to escape the summer heat of Manila - a move that prompted the its development into a highly urbanized city. Baguio has grown from a simple community to a bustling and highly populated city. It has managed to fuse its colorful history with its advancement as a premiere urban center in the Cordillera.
The city has a collection of all-time favorite destinations - Mines View, Botanical Garden, Session Road, Wright Park, etc. But beyond the usual, there are also “subtle” attractions in the city that can spark a different way of appreciating the cool weather of Baguio City.
Kennon Road View Point
The Lion’s Head in Kennon Road is probably the most iconic image of Baguio City. Every tourist traversing this highway would always make a stop at this landmark for a quick photo op as a confirmation that they are already close to the City of Pines. Locals and Baguio enthusiasts have seen how the Lion Head have changed and shifted its look as efforts and attempts to beautify and give it a fresh look. Personally, I still prefer its original look.
Further up the road is another stop that is as interesting as the Lion’s Head Landmark, the Kennon Road View Point. The viewing deck gives you a panoramic view of the surrounding rugged terrains of Tuba, Benguet and Kennon Road. The view point is a multi-level structure that you can explore and enjoy the rustic views. I hope that the management can improve the facility like setting up a small cafe to make it more appealing. I mean it would be great to be sipping coffee while enjoying the view of Kennon Road snaking through the mountainside.
Baguio Orchidarium and Athletic Bowl
At the heart of the city is Burnham Park, famous for its iconic boating experience along Burnham Lake. The urban park, originally designed by Daniel Burnham, featured the century-old city pond (Burnham Lake), the Igorot Park, the Melvin Jones Grandstand, an Orchidarium, a Children's Park, and the Althletic Bowl. It is the “center of fitness” in the city where you can improve your fitness by boating, biking, walking, or running in open air. You get to breathe in the fresh air while working out in the open.
Baguio’s version of Central Park is not just for kids. There is a corner for green panthers, or what we know more today as plantitos and plantitas. The Baguio Orchidarium is an enclave located in one of the corners of Burnham where local plant entrepreneurs have their produce on display. The garden has gazebos where you can have a dose of plants of varying sizes and kind - from flowering plants to hard-to-find ones. Plant lovers need not go far from the city center to enjoy and get their hands on plants to add to their growing collection.
Fitness enthusiasts can also have their field day in the Burnham Park area. We are not talking about the Melvin Jones grounds but we are referring to the Athletic Bowl located on the other side of the park. The compound has a track oval, tennis courts, volleyball courts and a swimming pool that is open to the public with minimal fees. The great thing about this city is you can start your daily runs from your hotel to the sports compound, do your usual workout routine at the Athletic Bowl, and walk your way back to where you started. If you are still up for it, you can still rent a bike and enjoy a leisure ride with kids and kids-at-heart at Burnham Park.
Baguio Bamboo Sanctuary
The east side of the city is home to another cluster of the city’s tourist destinations. Mines View Park, The Mansion, Baguio Botanical Garden, Wright Park, and Good Shepherd are all located on this side of the city. Apart from the city center, this area is probably the most visited by new and returning tourists here in the city.
The Baguio Bamboo Sanctuary is a new destination to add to this group. Located at the St. Francis Xavier Seminary in Pacdal Liteng, the bamboo garden is a collection of different types of bamboo species that line along a series of trails within the seminary grounds. The growth of the plants created an amazing garden that refreshes your mind and spirit as you walk along the trails. The place is very photogenic that it allows your creativity to play with it as you take photos along the way.
The garden is a sanctuary and there are spots along the trail where you can sit down and just breathe in the tranquility that the place has to offer. There’s even a nearby hill that you can hike up where you can get a view of the community in its immediate area. The Baguio Bamboo Sanctuary is a perfect place to slow down and relax after hours of exploring.
Camp John Hay Forest Bathing
I remember Camp John Hay, when it was still an American Base, as a place where you catch a glimpse of the “American” lifestyle. You are talking about Sundays spent with Coney Island Ice Cream, fluffy cotton candies, picnics, and running around the nice children’s playgrounds inside the camp. However, the camp has changed much now that the Americans have left. It remains to be a good destination to visit and explore for its more laidback vibe.
There are a number of things that you can do in John Hay. It is a good place for a picnic because of its wide open areas. You can also go on a food trip in the area trying out the mainstream and local restaurants in the area. But did you know that John Hay is a good alternative to go horseback riding?
The Yellow Trail in the camp is a popular hiking trail in the area. It snakes through the forested area of the camp where you get to breathe in the fresh air and the beauty of nature. There are a lot of trails to explore and you can actually go from one spot to another inside the camp via the trails. You can enjoy Forest Bathing as you take on these trails, either on foot or on a horse.
Filipino-Japanese Park and Pine Trees of the World Park
Have you ever wondered what was the triangular park at the foot of the hill leading up to the Baguio Convention Center? It is that small space that you see on the left side as soon as the bus goes down from the flyover to turn right going uphill. That is the Filipino-Japanese Park.
The memorial stands to honor both Filipino and Japanese soldiers who fought for their respective countries in World War 2. The small tower stands as a reminder of the renewed friendship between the two countries regardless of the cruel war history that placed the two nations into different sides. It is one of the well-maintained Filipino-Japanese Memorials in the country.
Just right across the memorial is the Pine Trees of the World Park. I have heard about the area before because of a Peace Tower that serves as its focal piece. My curiosity got the best of me to discover a picnic place that is void of the crowd, especially during this time. The park sits within the Burnham Park Reserve and is a perfect spot for a picnic, without the usual crowd and under the shade of the trees that Baguio is known for.
Baguio Art Installations
Baguio City is a UNESCO Creative City so do not be surprised to find art installations in and around the city. Blank walls become canvasses of local artists where they get to showcase their creativity. While you get to see a great deal of history and culture at the Baguio Museum or the Museo de Kordilyera, artistry is infused in the daily lives of locals.
Session Road blooms into an artist and merchant haven on weekends with its regular weekend flea market. The whole stretch becomes a venue for artists and would-be artists, both young and old, to showcase their talents in music, movement, and art craft. Even the street becomes an art canvass where anyone can pour out their artist in them.
Art cafes and murals have become a common attraction in the city. Street murals is part of the urban scene that it challenges your own creativity to capture the image with your own flare. Art exhibits find their way in areas frequented by locals and tourists. Baguio City breathes creativity in every space available making it a huge canvass for self-expression.
Mirador Heritage and Eco Park
On the western side of the city is a small cluster of heritage attractions that includes the Diplomat Hotel, the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, and the Mirador Jesuit House. These attractions sit close to each other along one of the city’s highest points. Their location provides amazing views of the city and its surrounding areas.
The Mirador Jesuit House has taken steps to develop the area around their enclave. Officially opened in the last quarter of 2020, the Mirador Heritage and Eco-Park is one of the latest attractions to hug the limelight. The park sits on the Mirador hillside to showcase a rock garden, its own bamboo sanctuary, and meditation areas along its terrace that offers amazing landscape views of its surrounding areas. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes as going around its steep trails can be quite challenging.
Its main attraction is the Mirador Hill Peace Memorial that overlooks the western part of the city and Tuba. A Torii Gate was installed, facing the Lingayen Gulf, with its bell made from an unexploded bomb that landed on the grounds of the Jesuit House. It was installed to remind us of the horrors of World War 2 and to serve as a symbol of peace and spiritual healing.
The terraces, where the memorial stands, offer an amazing panoramic view of the rugged terrains of the western side of Cordillera. The views and the fog slowly reeling in gave a feeling of flight when I was there. I sat down by one of the benches to just enjoy and take in the fused beauty of nature and urban set-up. I plan to head back here just to sit down, read a book for hours, and hopefully to catch the sunset.
POST TRAVEL NOTES
Baguio City has been getting new monickers as a destination - ““Break-up Capital of the Philippines” and the latest being the “Friendship Capital”. These tags come with stories and urban legends that more often than not we just laugh at and shrug off. But the city is more than just these stories. It is an urban destination that is constantly moving to re-invent itself to provide something new while keeping its old charm. It is a city of pines that is an all year-round destination, not just for summer, that is best enjoyed with family and, of course, friends.
As the Philippines enters the longest Christmas celebration in the world, we all look forward to be able to travel again. Baguio is definitely on the list where we expect to see an influx of tourist these “ber months”. I understand that we all need to take a breather but that comes with a responsibility when we travel. The responsibility to keep yourself safe and the people around you. Follow local health protocols, mask up, keep your distance, and get vaccinated. Remember that the way out of this pandemic largely depends on our behaviors and discipline.
Getting there: Victory Liner, Genesis Bus Line, and Solid North have regular trips to Baguio City from Manila and vice versa. Although, only Victory and Genesis have limited trips as of this writing due to the national and local travel restrictions. Guests needs to register at Baguio City’s Visita App prior to their intended date. RTPCR test or proof of vaccination is required to be allowed into the city.
As of this writing, ALL non-essential trips to Baguio are NOT allowed.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.