Every February, one of the biggest and most popular festivals in the country takes place in Baguio City.
The Panagbenga Festival which was derived from the native Kankanaey term, “A Season for Blossoming,” is a month-long, flower festival that literally engulfs the city with the beguiling colors of nature, and the heady aroma of fresh flowers. But aside from the highly anticipated flower parade, tourists can also expect musical and artistic performances from the locals which further set the whole city in a festive mood. The legendary flower float parade and fireworks display make for one of the best local fiestas for locals and foreigners to enjoy in the Summer capital of the Philippines early in the year.
In 2013, an estimated 2 million tourists attended the Panagbenga Festival. This 2014, a new theme: “Inspiring the Community for a Greener Tomorrow,” lets tourists expect a bigger and better Panagbenga Festival focused on an earth-friendly and sustainable lifestyle for Baguio residents as it marks its 18th year.
TAM-AWAN VILLAGE: For the Love of Craftsmanship and Culture
A few minutes away from the heart of Baguio City, lays a peaceful place which reflects the true nature of the Cordillera – their deep rooted love for craftsmanship, arts and heritage.
Years ago, around 1998, with Tam-awan Village being a frequent hangout among Baguio’s local artists, National Artist BenCab and Chanum Foundation sparked an idea to create a model Cordillera village. The main goal was to allow both local and foreign tourist to grasp the concept of what a Cordillera community feels like, since going to the actual villages was difficulat as the places were not easily accessible.
Tam-awan which means vantage point or viewing point was created to hit two birds with one stone. It doesn’t only serve as a viewing point for the different Ifugao and Kalinga hut models; it is also a place where Cordillera-inspired heirloom artwork and artefacts made by local Baguio artists could be shown in an museum-like yet relaxing and rustic hang out. A place where the local artist community themselves were the same ones who enjoyed the place among themselves as a spiritual enclave for artists.
Exploring the village actually gave you goose bumps, because the place was breathtaking. First off, the model huts were made not only with the same materials as the actual ones in the far flung communities, but built with the same construction process too. That meant exacting architectural designs relying mostly on weaving and precise arrangement: no nails and screws were used to put together the local structures. Local practices were also observed in the village such as going barefoot when inside certain huts which are considered to be sacred. Since the village is located on the side of a hill, it required a lot of climbing up the steep steps to reach the top. But reaching the top is priceless, you enjoy the cool mountain breeze and the panoramic sights take your breath away. On a good day when the sky is clear, you can see the amazing sunset off the China Sea.
For a complete experience of the village, one can sign up for the short tour, where an actual Cordillera native facilitates the tour in traditional costumes. The tour guide shall explain the history and practices behind Cordillera mountain communities represented by each hut. Then, afterwards, he or she will put on a good musical show by playing different indigenous instruments and tribal dances. At the end of the tour, the tour guide will teach the right way of putting on their traditional tribal clothes – he/she will even let you wear it and have your photo taken in an outfit complete with head accessories, hunting gear and the like.
At the end of the exploration, guests can relax at the Tam-awan Café. Here, you may order some of the local dishes and even special local wines that the province takes pride in. You may also knock yourself by hoarding the magnificent display of artworks offered to village visitors. One can also enjoy sitting down and getting sketched by a local artist who regularly stays at the village.
For a classic tribal art and culture experience, the entrance fee is fairly affordable – just P50.00 for an adult, P30.00 for seniors and students (upon ID validation) and P20.00 for kids. The Tam-awan Village also offers overnight accommodation for as low as P500.00 per person.
To learn more about Tam-awan Village and how to get there, just visit their website at http://www.tam-awanvillage.com
OH MY GULAY Restaurant: FOOD FOR THE HEART
One of the most interesting finds in Baguio is the Oh My Gulay vegetarian restaurant owned by the renowned artist and film director Kidlat Tahimik (Eric de Guia). And as expected, the restaurant doesn’t only serve food; it serves inspiration because of the strikingly awesome space--yes, the whole place is living proof that Kidlat Tahimik is a rockstar when it comes to art.
But as groundbreaking as the design and artwork is, the food remains to be the best vegetarian fare around, and is just irresistible. The all-vegetarian menu of Oh My Gulay provides a Baguio twist to famous dishes like tempura, putanesca and even burgers. For a place where one would expect mostly salad-eaters, the restaurant is able to draw and captivate the hearts of all types of foodies including meat eaters through its delectable treats and affordable food. Dining at Oh My Gulay would only cost P200.00 to P250 per head for a full meal.
Oh My Gulay is located at the 5th Floor of La Azotea Building along the famous Session Road.
BAGUIO MOUNTAIN TRAILS: THRILLS ON TWO WHEELS
There was a time when a Baguio adventure meant horseback riding and picking strawberries. Well, there’s no doubt tourists still take much pleasure in that, but as more people are getting into adventurous nature treks, Baguio is still among the best places to explore– especially if you prefer a rough ride on two-wheels.
Biking or Cycling is becoming popular and even trending for its health benefits, although this type of sport or hobby is not for the faint-hearted. Ironman triathlons are popular among hardcore exercise buffs, and riding a bike strengthens your heart and improves your circulation as a great cardio work-out. And there’s no other place to test your dudebro than in Baguio.
There are two ways to enjoy the City of Pines on two-wheels – on the road or on dirt paths. Baguio has some of the most amazing winding roads to push riders looking for a challenge, you traverse a range of uphill and downhill pavements. The ride gives any biker a formidable challenge not only for their capacity to pedal, but with the technicalities of shifting gears and maneuvering. Truthfully, one of the best kept secrets to explore the city is by bike – not only can you contribute by being eco-friendly (pedals don’t release fumes); Cycling can also provide you with a better feel of the places you go to. You get the chance to enjoy the scenery that Baguio has to offer, and you can also feel the exhilarating mountain air as you ride against the wind – what more can you ask for?
But if scenery is just not enough, then it’s time to face a more challenging path – the Mountain Dirt Trails! Camp John Hay is one of the landmarks of the city, and yes, it still offers the same old, crowd favorite, horseback riding adventures. But thanks to these horses, biking in Baguio has never gotten any sweeter than ever for the trodden mountain trails.
Famously called the Yellow Trail, fondly named after the horses’ yellowish manure tracks, the bike trail requires minimal level of expertise to navigate and enjoy. For newbie riders, the main track may be the best way to go as it is levelled by well packed dirt and gravel, just avoid the usual fallen tree branch sticking out here and there, handle a couple of moderate to rough turns and drops, and you're on to the best sightseeing bike ride among the pines. Any mountain biker who has been on dirt trails at least once in their life can pretty much handle a Baguio bike path. Then there’s the DH (downhill) part that will make your soul jump. Since Baguio is still pretty much a mountain, the trails on the downhill tracks are expected to be steep and narrow. This part of the Yellow trail may not be suitable for new mountain bikers or beginning off-road cyclists – you can test your chops or just leave the trail to the more adventuruous and choose the safer trail routes.
No matter where you choose to ride, there’s only one thing you must remember wherever it is you are riding – always wear a helmet and protective gear. Always have your bikes checked as well for proper maintenance and oiled gear shafts, tightened screws and attachments, and tire pressure. A wild mountain ride will always be the best daredevil adventure for you, whether you choose a safe and easy going route or the seeming suicide run, a continuous downhill turn looks like, except that you can wing your iron like quicksilver down the slope. Enjoy your mountain biking adventure in Baguio!