Saturday August 18, 2018

Alcantara: Chillin’ out in Baguio’s Panagbenga

IF THERE is one place in the Philippines cool enough for “chilling out” almost all year round, Baguio City tops the list, long proclaimed as the original Summer Capital of the Philippines and at the same time a chartered city in 1909. It is also known as the "Cordillera Gateway," a melting pot of the natives and tribes people.

Perched atop Luzon’s hilly eco-region of pine forests, Baguio City was also called the City of Pines, referring to the perfect climate to grow beautiful flora, trees, plants and even animals indigenous to the climate. It is a land blessed with fertile hills and valleys with lush vegetation, while sitting at an altitude of 1,500 meters above sea level.

Today it continues to be a favorite vacation spot, as it rises into a highly urbanized town and government center of the Cordillera Administrative Region. Despite the tragedy experienced in the earthquake of 1990 which has destroyed much of the city, it has bounced back from recovery to enjoy an economic boom in recent years.

Baguio is most visited during its Panagbenga Festival, a month-long flower festival of Kankanaey (dialect) origin, meaning "a season of blooming". Celebrated annually every February to boost tourism after the Christmas holidays, the city gives tribute to its “flowering” and its resilience from the earthquake devastation. This festivity includes a colorful flower parade and street dancing, and a jam-packed open market in Session Road, featuring the best local products and other offerings.

It is quite exciting to see historic buildings and houses of antiquity still preserved, standing right next to posh, modern buildings. Even in the midst of commercial transition and proliferation of new residences, schools and businesses, it is still surrounded by green forests, parks and rolling hills. While issues of congestion, overpopulation, and environmental conflicts arise, Baguio still retains its old charm rich in pre and postwar history and culture.

Having visited Baguio in a record three times last year coming a long way from Mindanao, it became my favorite spot for reasons I will mysteriously explain in my next article. While accessible from different mountain highway systems, the most scenic called is Kennon ‘zigzag’ road which gives you a beautiful vista of mountains and rivers while snaking your way to the top. By private vehicle, you reach Baguio in half the time it used to take years ago, thanks to expressways and smooth roads.

There are many places to stay in Baguio from posh hotels to rustic inns and homestays with affordable rates. I highly recommend Azalea Residences Baguio along Leonard Wood Road for its proximity to major attractions within the area – Camp John Hay, Burnham Park, Mines View Park, The Mansion, public market and more. Apart from its location and great view from the balcony, there’s a kitchen and mini-bar in my room, a pampering that includes good food and services (special thanks to Marketing Manager Adrian Ramirez and staff), with amenities more catered to families and ‘barkadas’. It gets really cool in the evenings so there’s no need for air conditioning, just check out SM Baguio Mall as well.

There are many places to visit and experience in Baguio, but let me share my photos during the Panagbenga Festival where I ended up eating too much, shopping vintage finds and local artists’ creations, getting emotional over fireworks, strolling down a crowded Session Road without feeling claustrophobic, enjoying its laidback night life, and having yummy strawberries for breakfast on chilly, foggy mornings. (UP NEXT: Baguio’s Other Kind of Chill)

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(Jojie Alcantara is a long time writer, photographer, traveler and workshop speaker proudly writing for SunStar Davao for more than two decades. Email at or visit