For the past year and a half, I have called Baguio home. Previous to that, I have lived most of my twenty-odd years in the busy, frenetic urban jungle that is Metro Manila. I have visited the city as a child of seven, and dreamed to live and work here one day.
Making the most of my proximity to places I had merely read about or heard of, I have traveled to many parts of the Ilocos and Cordillera regions, spending a day or a weekend, sometimes more, to enjoy the beauty of the flora and fauna and the kindness of the people.
Here are a few must-sees and must-dos I’ve found:
1. Take a dip at the Mainit Hot Springs
Just half an hour away from Bontoc center, the Mainit Hot Springs draw many water-thirsty tourists the whole year round.
2. Cross the Amburayan River
Along the banks of the river in Kapangan, groups of friends and families spend their time cooking, eating, or talking. The cool waters flow all the way to La Union and Ilocos Sur.
3. See the Ambuklao Dam
Located in Itogon, Benguet, vehicles heading to Nueva Vizcaya and Kabayan pass by this humongous structure, where, when operational, waters from afar foam.
4. Go whitewater rafting in Kalinga
Traverse the raging waters of the Chico River through Tinglayan or Tabuk. Depending on the “level of difficulty or challenge,” you can choose your route. You will never be disappointed!
5. St. Joseph Church in Pindongan
From the vantage point of this church and the school are grand mountain views of all of Kiangan. The grounds around it are sprawling.
6. Kiangan War Memorial Shrine
This gigantic structure gives a breathtaking 360-degree view of the town proper and Lagawe, Ifugao. It was erected in memory of the Philippine and American soldiers who fought against the Japanese.
7. View Mt. Salukasok from Taba-ao
From different angles, this mountain looks different. But from the rice fields of Taba-ao in Kapangan, it looks like an almost-perfect cone.
8. Rice terraces of Battad
The awe- inspiring Banaue rice terraces are one of the most visited terraces. Those in Battad are definitely worth the torturous hike.
9. Climb Mt. Pulag
At 9,640 feet above sea level, it is the highest in Luzon. In January and February, temperatures drop so low that frost settles on the grass! Ambangeg is the easy trail, Akiki is for the more experienced.
10. Visit the Opdas Cave
Just a few meters from the main road of the Poblacion in Kabayan, Benguet is an ancient mass burial cave, where you will find piles and piles of skulls and bones carefully placed against a long wall.
11. Recline at the Four Lakes in Kabayan
Most noteworthy is the Ambulalacao Lake that boasts of being the cleanest in the Cordillera. However, there are concerns in the community that the lakes are slowly being neglected.
12. Besao Sunset
A hymn is frequently sung about the sunsets in Besao. The best time to appreciate them, from the top of a mountain when the sky is clear, is around February or March.
13. Masferre Café in Sagada
Eduardo Masferre took monumental photos of the Cordilleran tribes a century ago. This café is adjacent to a shop of merchandise built around his sought-after photos.
14. Cake in Sagada Coop
Eat chocolate cake, pineapple upside down cake, or lemon meringue pie. Absolutely affordable and delicious – you can’t just eat just a slice. Take home an entire box!
15. Eat curry at People’s Lodge in Banaue
The best chicken curry I have ever tasted. It certainly helps that the river hums sweetly in the background and that the view of the terraces surrounds you.
16. Sip Benguet coffee
I was never a coffee drinker, and still, when I am anywhere else, I never drink brewed. But wherever I am in the Cordillera, I always enjoy a cup (or two). Must be the crisp air.
17. Yacon from Kabayan
I have heard of the medicinal properties of the yacon, but never became a fan until I tasted the juicy sweet variety from Kabayan. To me, it's like a river in my mouth.
18. Ube jam from BSU
I regularly visit Benguet State University to buy ube jam. My mom, a connoisseur of sorts, says it’s the best. Most of my friends, who have tasted it, agree.
19. Go to Vocas/Oh My Gulay
A lot of Baguio citizens have never been to this place at the top floor of La Azotea. Friends that I bring here never fail to be astounded by the art and be satiated by the food.
20. O’ Mai Khan
Near Rizal Park, it’s best known for its Mongolian Barbecue. But I come here to enjoy one of the more than a dozen different desserts. I haven’t tasted all of them yet but I’ve eaten the strawberry cheesecake many times already.
21. Have breakfast by the Ruins
Café by the Ruins is the most popularly known café among tourists from Manila. Can’t blame them. My favorites are the breakfasts that come with fresh fruits and brewed coffee.
22. Eat at Bliss Café
I call it a haven in the city. There’s a blanket of peace that pervades the café. Eating the vegetarian chicharon and mock duck makes me think I might be able to go vegetarian.
23. Devour Abra mangoes
These juicy, delicious mangoes don’t usually make it all the way to the Baguio City market. We’re missing a lot!
24. Reminisce at Star Café
Most of the “older generation” know only this place along Session Road to eat. Generations of men and women faithfully come back here to reminisce about the Baguio of long ago.
25. Buy pasalubong from Good Shepherd
The steady stream of tourists at this convent never wanes. The chicken empanada and strawberry juice, not to mention the take home strawberry jam, make the trip worth it. Plus their view deck shows a better view of the mines.
26. Dance at Ayuyang
Folk, rock, ska, and other genres are performed here. Something about the laidback atmosphere encourages dan-cing, singing, and, generally, just having a good time. Not to mention the visual artists who regularly display their craft here.
27. Scream at Echo Valley in Sagada
Walk up the mountain and hear your voice echo several times. Look closely across to the hanging mountains.
28. Explore Bell Church
Different sets of steps lead to temples and a giant Buddha in this large complex just between the Baguio-La Trinidad border.
29. Views from Panabungen
This hilltop town of Besao in Mountain Province yields views of farther mountains, as far as Ilocos Sur – including the historic Tirad Pass.
30. Read at Burnham Park
Never mind the vendors who will intermittently offer you their wares. Sit on a bench or on the grass and finish an entire book in just a few hours.
31. Go biking at Tiptop
Bikers are big fans of this winding road in Ambuklao, making their way from Pacdal. The view from the top is stupendously scenic.
32. Explore the Bontoc Village Museum
Possibly the most complete collection of artifacts from all over the Cordillera, the outdoor museum has different Bontoc structures where you can have photo ops.
33. Relax at Tomay Farms
Organic farming is growing in popularity in these parts. But this farm in La Trinidad not only grows fresh veggies, it has vast views of surrounding gardens and serves delicious meals too.
34. Pick strawberries at the Strawberry Farm
Baguio is sometimes equated to strawberries but rightfully so, it is La Trinidad, Benguet, which produces the succulent fruit. So it’s really an experience to walk down the patches and, with a basket on one arm, pick the strawberries yourself.
35. See the Rose Farms in Bahong
Although dubbed the “Rose Capital of the Philippines,” some of the plots of land here now also grow mums to address the demands of the market.
36. Go ukay-ukay shopping at Bayanihan Hotel
The old dilapidated floors and rickety stairs belie the signature clothing that each and every bargain stall carries. Dirt cheap and fabulous finds? Check.
37. Cross the Abra River (atop a jeep)
It’s not uncommon to have to ride topload on a jeep to cross the Abra River, coming from and going to Bangued. On clear, sunny days you can enjoy the clear blue sky.
38. Ride to Mt. Sto. Tomas
Curious about the two radars that can be seen from practically anywhere in Baguio? Ride a jeep (or truck) in under an hour to get to these “giant air conditioners” as residents joke. Or better yet, hike your way up.
39. Cross the Loakan airstrip
Although the airport can only be used on clear, sunny days, it’s still a heart-pounding experience when you have to cross the strip – you never know when a plane might land.
40. Photo op at PMA
The Philippine Military Academy complex is a sprawling marriage of pine trees and concrete structures, dotted with a tank or a fighter plane here and there. Get your photo taken with a cadet in uniform!
41. Crawl through Sumaguing
One of the most popular locations in Sagada, it is a physical feat to explore, and a mind-blowing experience that most people don’t take all in one gulp. So they come back for more.
42. Walk through St. Scholastica’s Convent
Walking through its gates is like being in the novel “The Secret Garden.” Well-tended flowering plants cover most of the area, with the concrete structures just dotting the landscape.
43. Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary
The environmental thrust of the place is echoed in its many structures. The most interesting are those that trace the development of our planet.
44. Art-trip at Tam-awan Village
Home to visual artists from all over the country, Tam-awan regularly hosts exhibit openings with cañaos! The South China Sea sunset can be viewed on a clear afternoon.
45. Watch the Weavers
Weavers at the basement of the Easter Weaving Room skillfully work the looms to produce different patterns – both traditional and modern.
46. Go to Tinongchol Burial Rock
This enormous rock in Kabayan, Benguet contains several remains that were somehow placed inside through a small crevice. Try to figure out how!
47. Catch a first in Embosi
In Gunsaran, Kabayan, you can find the first Ibaloi settlement. This is the cradle of the Ibaloi tribe, who mostly populate the province of Benguet and Baguio.
48. Visit the historical Ifugao Academy
This beautiful schoolyard is the first high school in Ifugao. Walk around their gardens and take photos with the classic American schoolhouse architecture in the background.
49. Step into history
Kiangan Central School used to be a Japanese garrison, wherein lies the Yamashita Surrender Site. Here, in September 1945, Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita finally surrendered.
50. Look at Ifugao artifacts
Outside the Ifugao Museum, a modest two-story building, is a stone hagabi (seat). It houses interesting items like instruments, weapons, baskets, utensils, and tools.
51. Meet tattooed Kalingas in Tinglayan
The gentle smiles of the Kalinga folk here reveal a softness that disputes the fierceness associated to the tattoos running up their arms.
52. Attend a Tingguian wedding
Interesting customs that are still well-preserved are a delight to observe during traditional Tingguian ceremonies – the dancing and playing of the gongs all throughout especially.
53. Order Bontoc weave
Samoki Weaving Village, just outside Bontoc, is a community of residences, most of whose women weave in the comfort of their homes. Their wares are made to order.
54. Have merienda at Ebai’s
Just near the Victory Liner terminal at Upper Session Road, the cakes here are moist and tasty – best paired with refillable coffee! The sun just streams in perfectly around 3 p.m.
55. Try some Dutch Pancakes
Just as you enter Lagawe, you are challenged to try all the dozens of varieties of Dutch Pancakes at this roadside café-cum-videoke bar. Adventurous? Try anything!
56. Take-home bilaos from Tea House
Whether it’s a bilao of sotanghon or palabok, every Baguio boy or girl knows to buy from Tea House. Chona will convince you to try her pastries, especially Chona’s Delight!
57. Get on the Arko
This artists’ workplace and gallery, where the Villanueva family of artists lives, draws in visitors because of their positive energy.
58. Reach for the Sky
Who knew traversing Tiptop would get you to the Sky? There, overlooking Baguio, you can set up camp or stay in one of their beautiful rooms. You’ll want to do yoga daily!
59. Walk on Sunshine
Sunshine Park may be a small strip, beside which vehicles regularly pass. But inside, from November to May, the sunflowers are in all their huge glory. De-stress here.
60. Read the 60th
Lastly, the most important thing to do is to get a copy of the 60th anniversary issue of the Baguio Midland Courier, the oldest newspaper in the Cordilleras.
The author, a UP alumna, admits that she has not been to all of the places in the Cordillera but she’s off to a good start and not showing signs of slowing down either! A new member of the Baguio Writers’Group, she writes for national magazines including Cosmopolitan, Entrepreneur, and Good Housekeeping.