Contrary to what others would believe, Baguio City is not as big as you’d think. It's a mountain city situated on a high plateau surrounded by hills and winding roads even in most residential areas. So technically, the landscape doesn't offer many areas for the city to expand. But no matter how small the city is, it is packed with so many tourist destinations that you'd love to go and see. And most of them are near each other that a simple jeepney ride or a quick taxi ride will get you to your next destination in a jiffy. And there are other towns right beside Baguio that offer numerous hidden gems for tourists to visit.
Just five minutes away from Baguio's Town center, you can easily find your way to the Botanical Garden; the start of a series of tourist spots in the area. Once you get down from your vehicle, you are greeted by Igorot Senior Citizens wearing their traditional costumes. You can take a picture with them, but like any business, you have to pay. You enter the huge gate towards the botanical garden and enter an enclosed park with beautiful flowers lined along the way. This is a simple garden filled with flowers and also a garden side restaurant. It's a perfect spot for picnics.
After the Botanical Garden is the Wright Park which is just a 5-minute walk away. Found alongside the road is a place where you can bring your kids to horseback riding. Wright Park is literally a horseback riding park for you and your family. I didn't like the smell though, my son definitely wanted to have a ride on the horses but a friend told me to go Camp John Hay for a better horseback riding experience. That's because the route they take is through the residential area right beside the park and around behind The Mansion and back up again.
Anyway, a few pictures wearing Igorot costumes surrounded by horses were fun. We walked up the hill towards The Mansion. Unfortunately, the only thing you can do here is taking pictures. The Mansion is actually the President's homestay when going to Baguio City—yes, I mean the President of the Philippines—so, it's definitely well guarded.
Back when I first came to Baguio City, Mines View Park was extremely popular. Back then though, it was just a rustic view deck with small stalls surrounding it. There were telescopes and binoculars for rent where you can see the mines actually being mined for gold. Now, it has become a tourist hotspot surrounded by food stalls and souvenir shops and the actual view deck is drowned by the bustle of tiny business owners. The mines have closed and all you can see are remains of open pit mines and a scenic view of the mountains nearby. Mines View is a short drive away from The Mansion but you can also hike your way up the winding road and find yourself in the Mines View Park.
These four places are great for picture taking and walking around the sidewalk seeing the pine trees around but it is not much you can see there, really.
We went back to town after seeing these four hotspots. After lunch, we walked from Session Road to Burnham Park; it is the city's main park. It is divided into sections like Melvin Jones. It is a popular place to hold concerts in but it is mainly a soccer field. Across Melvin Jones is Burnham Lake, of course, with our active little son wanting to try everything, we just had to go on a boat ride. His dad was doing all the hard work paddling us across the manmade lake.
After the hour long ride across the lake, my son spotted the go cart and bike rides. Of course, he didn’t let it pass and he’s already choosing his go cart before I even got near them. *sigh* Burnham has a lot of activities. It rents out bicycles which you can ride for at least 30 minutes. It also has a mini amusement park for kids under 10 and a small bumper car ride. It has it's Children's Park that my son find amusing as well.
Once drained, we sat on the grass by the lake, enjoying the afternoon with some Strawberry taho and sour mangoes. It's a nice day at the park, something that I can hardly enjoy because the Philippine weather is too hot to go outside. But as a mountain city, outdoors is really more of an ideal lifestyle.
I really can't help but experience the night market. As the ukay-ukay center of the Philippines, Baguio is known to sell the cheapest secondhand everything. We went around a little bit to kill off the time and found ourselves going to SM. Although this SM mall version is very small compared to malls in Metro Manila, I loved that it is open. It has a view deck, open air restaurants, and just a greatly designed mall. I'm just so used to the all-closed air conditioned malls around that seeing this open mall is a great break.
By 8 pm, stall owners begin putting up shop but none of them are willing to sell until it's 9 pm. But goodness, there are so many people! From the bottom of Harrison Road, right in front of Melvin Jones, all the way to its end is filled with secondhand shops. One lane is exclusively closed for this night market where you can practically find everything! I was surprised to find people selling Japanese Surplus thermos and chinaware at such a cheap price! Armed with only 500, I got myself 2 cute dresses, three-for-a-hundred blouses, and a pair of jeans. My son got himself quite a number of shirts and sweaters too because they are practically selling second-hand clothes for almost a throw-away price. Although there are shops that sell clothes a bit pricier, I was told I was lucky that I came to Baguio at the off-peak season. This season, the prices go as low at 10 pesos but during tourist season, it starts at around 50-80.
Weekends are supposed to be a sleep in day but not today. We woke up early today to make it for the early 9 am drills at the Philippine Military Academy. We were there early so we took a stroll around the PMA grounds. It's a wide area where numerous statues and real post World War machinery and even aircraft are preserved in display. Anyway, the morning stroll proved to be really nice, giving us that nice crisp fresh air before we took our seats at the benches. I've never seen an exhibition drill by the cadets of PMA but, oh joy! It was really exciting. I didn't really expect to be that thrilled but the drills were nice, following really disciplined routines with their uniforms. It's like a cheer dance with more disciplined military cadets. By the way, wearing slippers or even sandals is not allowed so you have to wear or bring shoes when going here.
In Camp John Hay, I noticed a lot of photographers lying low on the ground taking pictures of the pine trees and some other local models dressed in really odd clothing. Quite interesting but the highlight was definitely one that my son has been crying for! The horses! We decided to take a horse each and immediately the guides took us off and disappear into the evergreen forest. It was breathtaking; the cool air, the fresh breeze, and the gentle touches of sunlight peeping through the pine needles. We went around the park and going through nothing but rough terrain where we can also make our horses run. I really think it's a better way of going horseback riding than Wright Park.
After that, we went for a picnic at the Eco Trail. It's a hidden area where you can literally walk from Camp John Hay to the Main Road leading back to Baguio City proper. But we didn't go back yet. We had to go ziplining! We've gone ziplining before and this is just as thrilling and as exciting as everything else! We've zip lined over water, over rivers and other terrains but nothing like ziplining through an evergreen forest! Anyway, that ended our nice stroll at Camp John Hay. We passed by a paintball are where you can shoot paintballs at each other. I wanted to go try it out but with our boy tired from all that excitement, we might as well get back to that another time.
Our afternoon was nicely set at what they call, The Garden in The Sky. It's a bit far from town but it's definitely high up in the mountain. You have to pay an entrance fee though but it's not that expensive. Anyway, Tam-Awan Village is known to be the local artists' gallery. It is a place where notable local artisans make their works of art and leave it there at Tam-Awan for display. True enough, there is the whole hut dedicated as an art gallery for the chosen artist.
Tam-awan is filled with real huts from different parts of the Cordillera. It also flaunts a lot of sculptures and paintings and art of various media. We went up and up and up until we hit the last stretch of Tam-awan's decks. Luckily, we saw other tourists go off the path into a hidden trail. We followed them and found out that atop the hill is a clearing. It's a bit of a hike but with our history, this is no trouble at all. We did reach the clearing but I thought it was just a simple mountain top with plenty of grass and pine trees until we see a crystal clear view of the South China Sea! Whoa! I did not expect that at all! It was beautiful. You can even see a river winding its way towards a river delta into the sea. I didn't know how long it took us to stay there but we saw the clouds swiftly moving in. We made our way back down when the rain started to pour. Bummer! We didn't bring an umbrella.
We were sitting on the benches at the coffee shop until we noticed local women dressed in the Cordilleran Traditional Costumes but my son was more amused looking at the men practically butt-naked in their bahags. Apparently, during weekends, they hold performances doing traditional Cordilleran dances in the small area allocated for it. By the end of the dance, they also encourage tourists and local viewers alike to join them. This day is really full of surprises.
There isn't much to see in Lourdes Grotto. Honestly, I kind of felt disappointed because after walking up all those 252 steps, you only find a simple Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Not intending to be rude or anything but I was kind of expecting more. We did, however, light a candle before heading down. Further up the hill is a well-known place called Diplomat Hotel. It is what remains of the Diplomat Hotel. It has a deep history starting from the early 1900's. It was a home for nuns and priests until it became a Japanese headquarters in World War II. After the war, it became a hotel until the owner died and it was abandoned. It is very much known as a haunted place. I didn't see or feel any ghost but the mere thought of having them around sent chills down my spine. Still, it didn't remove the fact that we get to enjoy a beautiful view of Baguio City on its patio on the second floor.
BenCab Museum is a museum by the famous Filipino artist, Ben Cabrera. He isn't a native of the Cordilleras but knowing that Baguio was once known as the Center for Visual Arts in the Philippines, he created his Museum in Asin Road. It's a bit far from town and it's pretty cold there as well but it's worth it. It's afternoon when we got there and the fog was blowing in between the mountains. It was chilly and the pond and floating gazebo were slowly being drowned by the mist. I was filled with awe with the paintings and the sculptures but I did not expect it to be an X-rated museum. We started laughing upon seeing the sculptures. You have no idea how many phallic symbols are lying around and these are things I wasn’t prepared for my son to see--just yet or probably ever.
La Trinidad is the sister city of Baguio. Literally connected by a mountain road, you gain full access to the real source of Baguio vegetables. La Trinidad is a town mixed with residences and farming plots. It also houses Benguet State University that specializes in agriculture.
The Bell Church is a Taoist Temple right by the welcoming arch to La Trinidad. It's a real contrast to the traditional Baguio and is completely a Chinese looking town when you get inside. It is a small temple compound and only a few areas are allowed to be entered by tourists. There are also Tai Chi classes for kids there. Anyway, we just went for a short stroll around looking at the beautiful architecture of the Temple.
This is probably the only place popular to tourists but often times, mistaken as part of Baguio City. One of the things we love about the strawberry farm is the chance to pick strawberries. We went there when the fruit started to get ripe and luckily, we were able to pick some up.
The farm was huge! And when you turn, you can see residential houses lining the horizon and finishes off in mountain ranges surrounding the farm. Despite the lack of ripe berries, the area is filled with tourists taking pictures, some sitting comfortably in spots allotted for visitors to sit and rest. You do have to pay 450php if you want to go strawberry picking and they will give you a basket to fill-up. And you can fill it up to the brim or more but we opted to forgo the picking fee and just have a stroll. You can just buy some strawberries at the shops by the entrance for half the price.
It's not only strawberries in there, by the way, they also plant veggies and salad greens like different types of lettuce and also some flowers! You can buy them all, by the way.
Literally translated as 'Mount Hat', maybe because the mountain has a hat that looks like an odd rock formation only situated at the top of the mountain. It was year 2011 when I first went there and during that time, this isn’t a well-known place. No registration fees, no camping area. But when we went there year 2014, a lot has changed.
It's about a kilometer hike up a paved road and you enter the Kalugong Eco Park where we already saw people sitting down in picnic tables having coffee. It is near the road though but it was STEEP! It was incredibly steep and really steals your breath when hiking up the trail. Once we entered Mt. Kalugong, we can already see the rock formations that are really stunning. It looks like coral reefs on top the mountain. It is a really great park with playgrounds for kids to play in a log cabin cafe and restaurant and plenty of picnic tables to enjoy a cup of coffee and a scenic view of La Trinidad. We had to pay the 50 per person entrance fee before using all the facilities in Mt. Kalugong and believe me, it's a great place for families.
The first time I went there, we have to climb the rocks to get to the top to be rewarded with the stunning view of the La Trinidad Valley. But on my second visit, there are steps made out of rubber tires, so a lot of people can easily go up the rocks.
This is a newly opened park said to feature 24 beautifully crafted gardens. Well, I was all for it when I found out I had to pay 350php as an entrance fee per head and that we were not allowed to bring our food in! Are they crazy?! No way! I was about to turn back when I was sweetly persuaded to just close my eyes and give it a shot. If I hated it, I can simply bash it on my blog, right?
Well, it was a beautiful place. You have full access to all of the facilities inside. It also has its own kiosks selling various food but the food there wasn't that special. It’s a bit pricey but nothing out of the ordinary. I do not have enough words to describe the place because every after a landscaped garden is an even more beautiful one. My favorite was the Mirror Garden; it has wonderful flowers lined outside with huge mirrors lining the garden. It's like a house of mirrors, only it's in a garden. Great idea by the way! It's a real garden feel inside Mount Costa, surrounded by pine trees and butterflies. I really hope they lower the prices because 350 pesos for one person is just ridiculously expensive!
This is another town right beside Baguio. It is less known by most tourist but we went to three places that completely highlighted our trip to Baguio City.
Mt. Ulap is a good destination for mountain climbers like us. However, I was a bit let down because of the number of people hiking up the trails with us. Don't get me wrong, this is definitely worth a climb but I was so used to hiking up mountains with fewer people around because you get to enjoy nature more. Anyway, it is an eco-trail that is great for families to hike. But one thing I did love about this hike is visiting the burial caves. It speaks a lot about the Cordilleran culture that not a lot of people know about. It has climbed and rolling hills, grasslands filled with a mix of greens and browns. We spent a night there and it was really a chilly night. So, if you’re planning to camp there like what we did, make sure to bring sleeping bag, fleece and other clothes for layering.
Itogon is a hub for mining and Balatoc Mines is a real time adventure park to feel like Indiana Jones for one day. It's a bit far from Baguio but it is worth every bit of narrow winding roads with some parts being unpaved. Anyway, Balatoc Mines is an operational mine but they only open certain areas to the public. We paid an entrance fee of 250 per head for adults and 150 for students and children. We were first taken to a wooden shack for orientation before they gave us our protective gear.
To be honest, I was really thrilled to actually enter a gold mine. We went through the museum showing the history behind Balatoc Mines and finally, the mine itself! We were each given this 'chapa', a round coin supposedly with our names in it but as visitors, we had numbers. We dropped the chapa inside a box near the entrance to let others know that there are people inside the mines.
We passed through rail ways leading towards the entrance and found an interesting metal cart labeled as 'toilet car'! Hmmmm! no wonder miners can stay in there for long hours. They showed us how they dug the mines, and even have simulations. There were fake dynamites which can be inserted through cracks they made into the wall. You can go to the corner and click on the TNT button. We also got to see the metal buggies they use to haul gold ores out. They also show how they reinforce the walls before they continue bombing the mines deeper in. They show the processing of gold and have simulations of a burning furnace. There are more things to be said but I think I'll leave that for you to experience. We went out of Balatoc Mines really happy especially since we also came out with certificates and a 'bag of gold'. How I wish these gold bullion were real. My son held on to his bag of gold and was really happy that he 'mined for it himself'.
Crosby Park was nearby. Our ride dropped us off at the foot of the hill so we had to hike up the trail to get to the rustic evergreen forest with a park fit for picnics and family outings. We only stayed there for lunch though since our friend/tour guide is taking us to a place where we can 'wash off the mine dust, dirt and mud off.
Further on, we drove until we reached a place the locals call 'Trese'. At first look, I thought it was because there were 13 mountain pool resorts in the area, but it turns out that these series of resorts are located at 1300 meters above sea level.
Our friend took us to the furthermost resort called JJ Thermal pools. It was quaint and only had about four pools and the two are filled with flowing hot spring water. Two of the swimming pools were made for kids while one is for infants and toddlers--hmm, really made for kiddie fun. My son went straight for the octopus slide! He got up shouting and telling us that the pool water was WARM! Now, we get it—thermal pools. With the cold afternoon air blowing in, I hurriedly changed my clothes and took a dip, it was heaven! The water was slightly warmer than lukewarm—all of the pools, I mean. I was told that not all the resorts have thermal pools. The others were found way up the mountain and the hot spring water is pulled down by gravity into these low lying resorts.
I just loved floating on the water, watching the green trees dance with the wind and birds flying above me. I'm completely surrounded by mountains all-around. It was a perfect way to end a tiring trip to Itogon. They also have a steam bath that is powered by fresh spring water flowing in through a pipe on the wall. In the middle is a small fountain filled with smooth rocks that we saw old people putting on their backs. Like a hot stone massage, we stayed there for about 15 minutes and went out. We went straight to the open hot spring pools right beside the steam bath and relaxed and talked about what a lovely day we just had.
It was too bad that we couldn't stay there any longer. They start draining their pools exactly at 5 pm so they can replace the water in time for their 6 am opening in the morning. Wow! At least I know I wasn't bathing in chlorinated water!
To be honest, going to Baguio for a City tour is something I've grown a bit underwhelming, but going to Baguio is a gateway for adventure to the nearby areas that feature authentic mountain life experiences that we won't ever find elsewhere. I've discovered new places and experienced so many new things I've never tried in my past trips to Baguio and the nearby towns are really the cherry on top!
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