Baguio has always been a far-off province I haven’t been willing to drive to. Although it’s known for its strawberries and cold weather, a much needed breather from Manila’s scorching heat, a five hour drive up mountains has never been appealing. My last memory of Baguio wasn’t all that pleasant either. When I was younger, being an only child, my mom and I were often invited to tag along on other families’ trips. I’ve never been close with my relatives in the Philippines and I distinctly remember going to Baguio on one trip with 3 older kids and their families. I don’t remember meeting them prior to that trip actually (but I was 9 so who knows) but I do remember feeling so out of place. I don’t even recall what I saw or did only how I felt. And for an only child to feel extra uncomfortable is unheard of.
Fast forward almost two decades later and I finally find myself back in the City of Pines. I was hesitant to go at first, as per usual. I usually get anxiety going anywhere remotely far plus memories associated with the place weren’t all that inviting either. So, with unbelievably low expectations, I made my way up the mountains.
I forgot that Baguio is beautiful. It helps that the pine trees remind me so much of my hometown but it truly is a picturesque landscape. The clean air was a welcome change too. I realized I should’ve brought a better wardrobe but bright ideas seem to come a little too late.
I’m pretty sure my readers are better-versed on all things Baguio but here’s a guide to Baguio in the eyes of a prodigal daughter that would hopefully inspire all you non-Baguio fans to have a change of heart.
Camp John Hay is the best area to spend your nights. I stayed at The Manor Hotel (which I happen to talk more about in the next issue of Explore Philippines Magazine) and it is gorgeous. I don’t think I ever want to stay anywhere else when in the province of Benguet. The bed is great, bathroom is great, and breakfast at Le Chef offers both native hot chocolate and strawberry taho (soy pudding). Quality breakfast buffets are high up in my hierarchy of hotel needs and this breakfast buffet was pretty awesome.
Unfortunately, it was raining a lot during my 2-night stay and I wouldn’t recommend anyone driving the steep roads at night when wet. So here’s are my tips for your next trip to Baguio. Feel free to steal my itinerary or embellish.
1. Play mini golf because why not.
This I have fond memories of as a child and it was still pretty awesome to try it with the agile limbs of a quarter-lifer. One con is that there’s no crowd control so kids are free to be rowdy and they always overtake! It was a light, fun challenge. I got a hole-in-one (three, actually) and if we get technical, I think I won.
2. Get your fill of native hot chocolate and strawberry-everything.
Drop by Choco-late di Batirol, a quaint little cafe that serves a variety of hot chocolate options and kakanin for the perfect afternoon snack. Baguio has a well-known strawberry farm so if you’re willing to get up real early, I suggest you pick some berries. If you choose to sleep in like I usually would, you can head to the market to buy bags of berries or just order a strawberry shake at local establishments or find strawberry taho for Php20 from street vendors.
3. Go to Craft Brewery for strawberry beer.
Did I mention there’s also Lagud or strawberry beer? While Lagud only has 5.4% alcohol, there are so many more options for a stronger kick. The place is known for creating its own native mixes which you can taste test via mini shot glasses. They also have a 6-piece sampler that includes the fruity and lager-based bestsellers. Munch on fish tacos if you’re hungry and don’t underestimate the Hot Chicken Wings. They are fiery. You’ve been warned.
4. Visit Ben Cab Museuem for #culture.
The museum is pretty far from the city but the trip to a museum that houses the work of national artist Benedicto Cabrera is well worth the drive. Hailed the master of Philippine contemporary art, the museum also serves as a gallery of pieces he’s curated and collected over the years. Check out his works on muse Sabel (said to be a random stranger he spotted once) and his other collections. Head down to Cafe Sabel for a hearty meal while overlooking Ben Cab’s farm sand garden. If you’re really lucky, you may even get the chance to spot Ben Cab himself. Just don’t be like me and chicken out. I missed my chance.
5. Eat, Eat, Eat.
Cafe By The Ruins is a great touristy choice with good food. The Bagnet is a winner. Ketchup Food Commmunity is a more approachable set up with a great selection of home-grown brands serving different cuisines. People in Baguio are pretty healthy so if you don’t want organic red rice, do mention it when you order. I hear Balbacua is also a pretty good choice unfortunately I wasn’t able to drive to it to tell you for sure.
Other friends who constantly go to Baguio advised me to hit Session Road for great vintage finds but I drove by and it was pretty crowded so I had to pass. There are so many more touristy things to do but this is my personal cheat sheet for when I go back.
Interestingly, I ended up right back in Baguio a couple weeks ago for the cover shoot of our February-March issue of Explore Philippines Magazine which will be released tomorrow. I can’t share the cover star just yet but what I can say is she’s a Mega Woman. I was there overnight literally for just the shoot and I do wish I got to stay longer but I just have to live vicariously through our next issue.
Can’t wait to share it with all of you!