Header image courtesy of John Lorenz Tajonera (via Unsplash)
When most people think of the Philippines, they may imagine tanning themselves on white sandy beaches and diving into a crystal cobalt ocean. But while island getaways such as Cebu and Boracay are certainly stunning, we recommend taking a break from usual tourist destinations and heading up north to explore a unique city hidden in the mountains. Located in Northern Luzon, Philippines, Baguio City is commonly dubbed as the "summer capital of the Philippines" due to its cool climate. With breathtaking sceneries and an incredible wealth of culture to explore, the city is a popular day trip or weekend getaway for many Filipinos. From strawberry picking to mountain climbing, here are our top picks of the best things to do in this hidden gem.
The easiest way for you to get to Baguio from Hong Kong is by plane to Manila, Philippines. Once you've arrived at the airport, take a taxi to either the Cubao or Pasay bus terminal, where you can purchase a ticket to Baguio via any of the bus services mentioned below. The five-hour drive will take you through winding roads and pine-clad hills, but the stunning views along the way will make the journey well worth it.
Escape the city centre as chaos gives way to a thick blanket of towering pine trees rising from green hills at Camp John Hay. Formerly a rest and recreation station for the US Armed Forces in the Philippines, the camp now serves as a recreation centre for both tourists and locals alike. Meander through the forest in the two-hour-long Yellow Trail walk, get your adrenaline going with zip-lining adventures, or bury any melancholic thoughts six feet under at the Cemetery of Negativism.
Not dissimilar to what Central Park is to New York, Burnham Park is one of Baguio's main tourist attraction. Located in the heart of the city, the park was designed as a place of retreat during the American military occupation, featuring twelve main areas of activity. Its main attraction is a picturesque man-made lake with swan rowboats for hire, but there's also a children’s playground, ice-skating rink, flower gardens, and more among its clusters. Stroll around the park’s paved walkways or rent a bike for a more active way to enjoy the view.
Make your way to Mines View Park to catch the sunrise from Baguio's most picture-perfect vantage point. The observation deck boasts panoramic views of the majestic Cordillera mountains and the abandoned gold and copper mines below. After sunrise, tourists can shop for souvenirs at the countless small stalls in the area, or dress up in indigenous Filipino clothing bahag (a loincloth) – which includes a spear and shield for men, and tapis (a decorated cloth for covering) for women – and take photos with people from the friendly indigenous Cordillera mountain tribes, the Igorots.
If you're interested in learning more about these ancient Filipino highland tribes, then head to Tam-Awan village in the outskirts of Baguio. Tam-Awan village is a unique place dedicated to the promotion and preservation of indigenous Filipino arts, heritage, and culture. The village has seven traditional Ifugao huts and two Kalinga houses (Ifugao and Kalinga are subgroups of indigenous Igorot people), all laid out in the design of a traditional Cordillera Village. Art lovers will be delighted to learn that most of these houses are filled with incredible local art that is for sale. Visitors can stay the night and learn more about how the Cordillera people through art exhibitions and workshops that foster a deeper understanding and respect of the tribes' cultural heritage.
Standing proudly at 2,922 metres high, Mount Pulag is the highest mountain in Luzon island and third highest in the Philippines. Hiking up this mountain isn't for the faint of heart, but if you can handle the arduous trek, the views alone will make it worth every breathless moment. The mountain's phenomenal "sea of clouds" and view of the Milky Way Galaxy at dawn allures visitors from all over the nation. Apart from its other-worldly views, the revered mountain is also considered the "playground of the gods" as indigenous tribes native to the mountain believe it's a sacred ground guarded by spirits called "tinmongao". Because of this, members of these tribes (the Igorots) would mummify their dead and house them in caverns in the mountain since they believe their spirits will rest peacefully there after they pass away.
Apart from being known as the country's summer capital, Baguio is also known as the Philippines' strawberry capital. Within the city, you can enjoy strawberry delicacies such as the famous strawberry taho (silky tofu pudding with tapioca pearls), strawberry ice cream, and other tasty treats. For the freshest, juiciest strawberries, head to one of the nation's most visited strawberry farm, La Trinidad Strawberry Farm, located just half an hour away from Baguio. From November through to May every year, the countless rows of green bushes are covered with bright red strawberries waiting to be picked. You can buy freshly picked strawberries for 250 to 300 pesos per kilo, but if you want to try your hand at picking the berries yourselves, then prepare to shell out an additional 200 pesos.