Baguio: A City on a Mountain
by Danny Tariman
Baguio City as the Philippines’ summer capital, has always been the favorite vacation destination for many Filipinos who want a respite from hot temperatures of summer months. The weather in this city has always been cold, being located on a mountain 5,000 feet above sea level.
This city is about 5 hours travel from Manila. If you bring your car, I suggest that you leave Manila very early in the morning to avoid the vehicular traffic which is a usual scenario when you pass by the cities and towns along the way during daytime.
Taking bus, I had tried Victory Liner from Pasay. We left at late night at 11pm, arriving Baguio by about 5 in the morning. I normally sleep when traveling by bus in the night, so I really don’t count the hours while traveling. The good thing is when you wake up, you are in Baguio!
There are plenty of accommodations in Baguio. You will never run out of options: from deluxe hotels to economy hotels, from apartelles to home-stay. It is your choice. But one thing is important: make sure to book the unit before you go up to the city. During certain festivals however, with a deluge of tourists going to Baguio, you have to book at least 4 weeks in advance.
I had been to this city many times already; I had lost count. But I am always attracted by its cool weather, the coldest being the weeks from mid-January to late February. It is nice to sniff the clean cool air in the morning. It is a specially a different kind of experience during the coldest weeks when you notice a cloud of vapors from your mouth as you speak. Hahaha!
The easiest to go and the most popular due to its proximity to city central is the Burnham Park. It is I believe, the center of the city. It has a man-made lagoon where you can take an easy 30-minute boat ride, it has also bicycle lanes where you can take a bike or a trike for a ride. All these rides are not free. At night time, there is a night market along one street adjacent to the park. You can get a lot of bargain items and street food.
Mines View Park
Another very popular park is the Mines View Park. It is about 15 minute drive from Session Road. The park is actually a small viewing deck overlooking a ravine or valley which used to be a mining site, thus the name. Hundreds of souvenir shops line the park entrance and exit. Make sure to use your haggling skills when you go to these shops.
Apart from the viewing deck, which is a good spot to take photos, you can also have some pictorials with dressed-up horses, tamed giant dogs, and also have a photo of yourself in tribal attire. For a few pesos rent, you have the photos which will give you memories about Baguio.
One of the most photographed place in the city is “The Mansion”. It is the official summer residence of the President of the Philippines, hence for security reasons, tourists are not allowed to go inside. You may however, just take photos in front or near the gate.
Camp John Hay
The is the former “R&R” camp of the American armed forces. There used to be log houses in this hilly camp; only few remains today. The city’s top deluxe hotel is in this place – the Manor.
There is a golf course here, if you play the game. There are many mini-parks and hilly & grassy areas in this place where you can spend time with kids – playing in its vast grounds.
You can also try in this area the Forest Park Adventure. Get some adventure on zip-line. I got tired here walking uphill to return to the base. Hehehe.
Lady of Lourdes Grotto
This is a replica of the Grotto in France where the Lady appeared. At the top, you can spend some time in quite prayer – that is after climbing the 252 steps! Caution for those with weak heart. From the top, you get a good birds-eye view of the city.
We had the opportunity to go even beyond the Grotto, the top of the hill. This place, though, is restricted. It is a convent and a retreat house of a religious order. [We were just guests of a “member” of the congregation.] It seems you are on top of Baguio when you reach the peak of this hill.
There are a lot of others Baguio City has to offer: the Philippine Military Academy where you can see the cadets is their military formation, and also some old armory inside the complex, the Wright Park (with horseback riding) just in front of the Mansion, the Botanical Garden right inside the city, the strawberry fields in Benguet (about 30 minutes away) where you get and even pick fresh strawberries direct from the vine, the Tam-Awan Village, an Ifugao-themed park in front of the BenCab Art Gallery (another place of interest), the Chinese Buddist Temple, and many others.
We had been to a number of good dining places in Baguio. We had tried a dinner-buffet at the Manor, the Forest House Bistro, the 50s Diners – serving is really big here, of course the Manila-based Barrio Fiesta, and so many others. It is really your choice.
If you want to take home some of Baguio’s favorites like purple yam, peanut brittle, strawberry preserves and other sweet delicacies, buy these from Good Shepherd Convent (yes, made by nuns!). The outlet store is near the Mines View Park, about 300 meters away.
For fresh vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, fresh strawberries, potatoes, and others, do your shopping at the public market. Do it deep inside the market, not at the entrance shops. You will find really good bargains on the freshest veggies and fruits.
I always love this city, so comfortably cool plus the freshest veggies from the market!