BAGUIO CITY, The Philippines – The end of the year often brings a cooler breeze into the Philippines. For a tropical country in the Southeast Asian region, having chilly weather can be considered a luxury – especially after months of heat and humidity. Those that can afford it hop on a plane and head straight to more temperate countries, taking advantage of their winter season. Most Filipinos, meanwhile, prefer the easier (and more affordable) option – one of the most loved cities up North: Baguio.
Tagged as the country’s Summer Capital, this city is geographically located within the province of Benguet and is a couple of hundred kilometres away from Manila. It is highly accessible from the metro as several bus lines are available almost every hour – a growing testament to it being a favourite destination. The trip takes about 4-5 hours, depending on traffic.
The last few years have seen an explosion of different cafes, restaurants, and art galleries – each one with their own unique offerings. It must be the cold weather, or there must be something in the water in Baguio, as artists thrive and often decide to make it their home.
One such artist is Benedicto Cabrera, popularly known as Ben Cab, who is a Philippine National Artist. His interest in the arts and culture of the region made him decide to seek residence in Baguio after living abroad.
The BenCab Museum showcases his artworks, as well as that of other contemporary Filipino artists. It has become a must-visit destination within the city, successfully marrying art and nature.
This is evident throughout the vicinity, which not only houses a four-storey museum, but also a garden with a pond, and an organic farm with an aviary and a mini-forest.
After taking in all the different artworks, make sure to stop by Café Sabel to sample dishes made from the garden’s very own, organic produce.
Another must-visit spot is located in the most popular (and equally iconic) street in the city called Session Road. Oh My Gulay is a vegetarian restaurant and is the brainchild of Kidlat Tahimik, an artist and film director who hails from the region.
His love for the arts is quite evident in Oh My Gulay which sits within a huge area, complete with art galleries, an indoor koi pond and a stage for performances.
Truly, Baguio has a penchant for anything healthy and artsy.
Once you’ve feasted on some nutritious yet delicious treats, it’s time to fill your mind and tickle your imagination by visiting a famous bookstore also located on Session Road. Mt. Cloud Bookshop is located in the Casa Vallejo building and was opened by Baguio-born sisters Padma and Feliz Perez, six years ago.
You will find Mt. Cloud to be a quaint bookshop that highlights Philippine literature, even boasting a special section dedicated to books about Northern Luzon and those by writers from Baguio. The small space presents a charming addition for any book lover, as one can just cozy up in a corner and spend hours reading their new found Filipiniana book. Mt. Cloud also holds events like talks, storytelling for the kids (and kids at heart), open mic sessions, and many more.
When one decides to grab a snack and temporary escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, a fifteen minute trip from the city proper will bring you to Arca’s Yard in Ambuklao Road. This charming place is a museum, library and café, all rolled into one.
It has a very homey feel and one can yield easily to its charm that makes you want to pick up a good book and spend the whole day there.
The view is breathtaking as well, adding to its appeal. One of their specialties is the camote (sweet potato) pie topped with a scoop of ice cream. Couple it with a good cup of brewed coffee, and you’re good to go.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a different kind of adventure (probably not for the faint-hearted) as the sun sets, why not head back to the city to visit one of Baguio’s haunted locations, the Laperal White House.
Built in the 1920s by one of the oldest families in Baguio, the Laperals, the Victorian style home withstood the test of time and was unharmed during the devastating 1990 Baguio earthquake.
Today, the house is owned by one of the most successful businessmen in the country who also converted a part of it into a Bamboo Foundation Museum. Up to this day, caretakers of the house have reported experiencing unusual sightings and disturbances even in broad daylight. An entrance fee of about USD1 can give you access to the Bamboo Museum and an opportunity to explore the whole house.
Consider yourself warned: Even skeptics cannot deny the eerie feeling they got when they stepped inside.
If the Laperal White House didn’t scare you enough, you can head on to Diplomat Hotel over on Dominican Hill. What used to be a summer retreat house in the 1900s for Dominican priests and nuns was eventually turned into a hotel in the 1980s, and was later on abandoned. The majestic structure overlooks part of Baguio City to this day.
Macabre stories of headless apparitions and strange noises are associated with it, but tourists still flock to catch a glimpse and experience a thing or two at this haunt. It is open to the public and is a favourite venue for photoshoots and photography classes due to its rustic appeal.
These are just a few things (both old and new) that make a visit to Baguio worth it. Whether you’re looking for a place to enjoy the arts, fill your tummy with some mouthwatering finds, or race your heart rate by going on a ghost hunting trip, then this city up North is an excellent choice any time of the year – whether it’s summer or not.