The Silver Surfer ride at Tree Top Adventure in Camp John Hay. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
BAGUIO CITY -- Baguio City may not be what it used to but the City of Pines is definitely back on the tourist map.
After several bouts with natural disasters, Filipinos are again lured to this mountain city that has long been considered the country’s summer capital. During the recent Christmas holidays, an estimated 1 million trooped to Baguio, braving long hours on the road due to several construction projects from Tarlac to Pangasinan. Last month’s cold spell, which saw temperatures dropping to a chilly 8 degrees C, made Baguio even more irresistible, helping extend the high tourist season well until the end of January.
Expect Baguio to be once again flooded with tourists for this weekend’s grand Panagbenga festival, as floats decorated with flowers and accompanied by costumed street performers parade around the city for the much-awaited annual flower fest.
Even if you haven’t been to Baguio in years, chances are the city would still feel familiar and nostalgic, with many of the city’s old haunts still intact -- from walking up and down the busy main street appeal of Session Road to boating at Burnham Park and strolling through the pine trees of Camp John Hay.
But there are also several new attractions that have improved on the city’s traditional charms.
If you're heading up to Baguio this weekend for Panagbenga for the first time in many years, here are six places that you may want to check out.
1. Take in the mountain view
The view deck of Tree Top's skywalk offers a near bird's eye view of the surrounding mountains. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Instead of going to Mines View Park, which has become crowded with stalls upon stalls of souvenir shops and restaurants, enjoy a more unspoiled scenery at Tree Top Adventure (beside Bell House in Camp John Hay).
Although this facility is targeted at adrenalin junkies – its main attractions are the 200-meter long, 150-foot-high zip line dubbed Superman, the 60-foot Tree Drop and the 70-meter long Silver Surfer zip line – Tree Top Adventure also offers a 600-meter trek through a trail amid old pine trees and the cool air, culminating in a “skywalk” with a 1,000-foot-high view of the still-wooded parts of Baguio’s highlands.
Another way of enjoying the scenery is by taking the canopy ride. With eight stations around this natural adventure park, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the view from up to 100 feet above ground. This also includes a connecting ride on a funicular.
2. Explore nature on horseback
Horses can be rented for a ride at the Shalan di Kabadjo. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
A favorite activity among kids – and even some adults – in Baguio is horseback riding, which is traditionally centered around Wright Park. While this is still around and popular among visitors, an alternative is Shalan di Kabadjo (beside Le Monet Hotel in Camp John Hay), which translates to “way of the horse.” Although this is a short trail (good for an hour), many families find the ride quite picturesque and certainly more relaxed.
3. Shoot the breeze
Vandolph and Boy II Quizon and their friends at Paintball Republic. Photo from the Facebook page of Paintball Republic
While Baguio is home to the Philippine Military Academy, most visitors are limited to watching the cadets do parade formations. Today, however, those with an interest in military warfare can indulge their soldier fantasies at Paintball Republic (beside Le Monet Hotel in Camp John Hay).
Like Tree Top Adventure, this also has a zip line plus a rappelling station and wall climbing. But as the name suggests, this facility is primarily for paintball enthusiasts as it offers woodland game scenarios amid John Hay’s forested slopes.
But if you don’t have a group to play with, you can just head to the firing range for some target shooting with paintball markers – which was what actor Gerald Anderson did, based on the photo pinned on Paintball Republic’s office.
4. Remember Mile Hi?
Outlet stores and souvenir shops can now be found at Mile Hi Center. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Back when Camp John Hay was still an R&R facility for the Americans, locals would make it a point to drop by Mile Hi to play bowling and other arcade games and eat American-style ice cream sundaes. After the camp was turned over to Filipinos, Mile Hi has been transformed into a large outlet strip mall.
Those looking for real bargains have numerous other options in Baguio, the city being ukay-ukay central for used clothes and bags. Mile Hi is really more of an outlet for export overruns as well as out-of-season products from top name brands like Nike, Adidas, Levi’s, Mango and even Crocs and Sanuk. I even saw bags from PacSafe and other brands normally found in Rustan’s and other upscale malls.
There are good finds here, especially sportswear, although locals advised to wait for the annual pre-Christmas sale at the Baguio Export Processing Zone where shoppers can enjoy really big bargains.
Those looking for souvenirs can also head here at Mile Hi instead of jostling with the crowds at the city market or SM City Baguio for items like sweaters, woodcraft, silverware, blankets, t-shirts and even some food stuff like jams and preserves.
Moreover, not many people are aware that budget accommodations can also be had here at the Mile Hi Inn
5. Find time for local culture
Despite the BenCab Museum's modern achitecture, the surrounding nature is always highlighted. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Instead of having your photo taken outside the gates of the Mansion, the official summer residence of the President, find time to visit the place of a true Baguio VIP.
The Bencab Museum (Km. 6 Asin Road) is definitely a must-see as it ranks among the best art venues in the entire country. The multi-level museum not only features works of National Artist Ben Cabrera but also paintings and sculptures of other Filipino artists as well. It also has a fascinating display of BenCab's collection of bulol collection and Cordillera cultural artifacts.
Even those who are not interested in art won't feel bored since the museum is also known for its restaurant Cafe Sabel, which serves light meals like pastas and salads, as well as snacks and coffee.
The restaurant also opens up to the artist's landscaped garden with a pond. The museum even offers hiking along its "eco-trails," where one can enjoy peaceful nature views.
The gardens at the BenCab Museum. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
If you're looking for unique souvenirs and pasalubongs, the interesting Museum Shop sells more than the usual postcards, t-shirts and trinkets.
The BenCab museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with an entrance fee of P100.
6. Return to Burnham Park
Ukay-ukay galore in Baguio's al fresco night market. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan for ABS-CBNnews.com
Burnham Park definitely brings back a lot of memories of the Baguio of old. But make sure to return at night as the area takes on a whole new atmosphere.
Every evening from 9 p.m. till midnight, one entire side of Harrison Road, which fronts the park, is closed to vehicles and is transformed into an exciting night market for Baguio's vendors.
Most of the items on sale come from the city's many ukay-ukay centers, which are usually found off Session Road and near the city market. But one can also find the usual Baguio souvenirs and some arts and crafts at the night market.
While it is sometimes difficult to really check on the quality of the garments, there are plenty of bargains here from used t-shirts for only P10 to flannel pajamas, sweaters and jackets to fight the biting cold.
One can even chance upon houseware like blankets and comforters, as well as shoes and bags.
Not all of the items on sale are second-hand as there are also plenty of export over-runs, as well as locally made products like knitted caps and gloves.
Hungry? Street food vendors are located at both ends of this pop-up shopping street that can rival the color and fun of Asia's more established night markets.