Baguio is a city built from its contrasts—its vestiges of American colonialism against its indigenous heritage, its bustling urban sprawl, its immense green spaces, its earthquakes, and its sunflowers.
Originally known as Kafagway, Baguio became the country’s summer capital in the early 1900s thanks to a few white men who couldn’t handle the Manila summer.
It’s a city that I grew up going to because my mother had grown up there. Every chance we got, we took the long drive up the mountain to her old house near the airport. Childhood staples were the classics: horseback riding in Wright Park, mini golf and bump cars in Camp John Hay, rollerblading (and many a sore knee) in Burnham Park, bowling in Baguio Country Club. Something about Baguio remained wondrous to me throughout that childhood, lingering like the smell of fresh pine.
Today many things have changed in the city. Subsequent trips have come to show a grittier city, worn down by time and tourism. Still, Baguio is full of life if you only know where to look.
Casa Vallejo, an old house-turned-hotel houses Hill Station, named in the Miele Guide as one of the best restaurants in Asia. The food is gourmet fare done with the heart of anything out of your mom’s kitchen. Next to Hill Station is Mt. Cloud Bookshop, an independent bookstore selling mostly local titles. In the same building, you have Baguio Cinematheque, which has regular screenings of local independent titles.
A 30-minute drive out of the city brings you to BenCab Museum, established next to the artist’s home. It houses a yearlong collection of contemporary Filipino art, indigenous art, as well as some seasonal exhibits.
Baguio is a city best explored by walking. Session Road still teems with surprises. Favorite places include Volante for their pizza and Solibao for their longsilog. There’s even a Jollibee as well that’s remained frozen in the 90s.
Ukay-ukays such as the three-story Skyworld are fantastic for those one-of-a-kind finds. A further walk down takes you to Burnham Park where you can take a rowboat in the lake, get your fortune told, or rent bikes and rollerblades (don’t say I didn’t warn you).
The Magsaysay Market is still the perfect place to buy fresh vegetables and strawberries. My favorite thing here is actually the Benguet lemons which are massive and incredibly juicy.
Though much has changed in the last several years—traffic, pollution, fewer trees—Baguio retains a certain charm. Though there is definitely work to be done for the city, Baguio’s lifeblood is too potent for it to be killed so easily. Its contrasts linger and give it its gritty, contradictory beauty.
Sometimes if you’re lucky, you’ll wake up to a perfect day in Baguio, the sun hitting the mountainside, chill wind in the air, not a trace of fog or smog, and it’ll look as wondrous as it’s ever been.
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