City Guide: Baguio City

Despite rapid urban modernization, the charismatic city of Baguio way up in northern Luzon has managed to retain its old-school charm and cool climate, traits that still make the city a highly-popular destination for locals and tourists alike.

Also known as the City of Pines or even the Summer Capital of the Philippines, Baguio City is geographically nestled within the Cordillera Central mountain range, enclosed by the province of Benguet. Located around 5,000 meters above sea level, Baguio’s high altitude blesses the city with its famed cool weather all year-round, with temperature rarely bobbing over 26 degrees Celsius.

As Baguio City slowly evolves into the center of business, tourism and education in northern Luzon, the community has become an attractive destination to simply visit as a tourist or for those looking for a new place to call home.

 

Dynamic business and retail landscape

While Baguio City may be relatively small in size, the increasing development of shopping centers and malls in such a short period of time can easily rival even metro giants such as Manila and Cebu. These malls include: SM City Baguio, Baguio Center Mall, Cooyeesan Hotel Plaza, Abanao Square, The Maharlika Livelihood Center, Porta Vaga Mall and Centerpoint Plaza.

Boasting a massive retail industry, shoppers are treated to a diversity of competitively-priced commercial, local and international products from suppliers all over the country. Apart from big-name stores, Baguio’s ukay-ukays or thrift stores are held in high regard. Perhaps the most famous location for thrift shopping is the Baguio Night Market, where a major roadway is closed down for the night to allow vendors to set up their wares.

Baguio’s City Market, a thriving tourist destination, meanwhile offers a wide selection of locally-sourced fresh goods and products. Fruits, vegetables and other natural produce retain competitive prices compared to other Philippine markets while still being of higher quality due to the cooler climate. The region’s strawberries and string beans (more commonly known as Baguio beans) are shipped to major urban markets across the country. Baguio’s City Market is also where you’ll find colorful woven fabrics and hand-strung beads to primitive wood carvings and beautifully-arranged flowers.

 Fresh air, green spaces

Tourists, particularly those from Manila, often retreat to Baguio City to escape the capital’s highly polluted atmosphere and grey, monotonous skylines. Arguably the only city in the Philippines with the most public parks and pocket gardens with unique plant and flower varieties found nowhere else, Baguio City is the perfect getaway to appreciate nature and wildlife at various locations such as: Burnham Park, Sunshine Park, Botanical Garden, Wright Park, People’s Park, Mines View Park and Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary, among others. As part of honoring the city’s affinity for nature, the Panagbenga Festival, the annual flower festival, is celebrated every February to showcase Baguio’s rich cultural heritage, its appreciation of the environment, and inclination towards the arts.

 Young student culture

Over the years, this mountain city has grown into a university town with almost half its population considered students in local institutions, statistics showed. As the center of education in the North Luzon region, Baguio is home to a number of major higher education hubs such as: the Saint Louis University, University of the Philippines Baguio, Philippine Military Academy, University of Baguio, University of the Cordilleras, Baguio Central University, Pines City Colleges, and Easter College.

The youthful culture of the large student population has rubbed off onto Baguio City’s own social landscape, which is immediately noticeable by the mushrooming coffee shops, niche hobby stores and trendy foodie hole-in-the-walls.

 A hot spot for the arts

The cool air, lovely natural environment and rich cultural heritage that inspires creativity has always drawn veteran and budding artists towards the comforts of Baguio City. Since the 1970s, Baguio was considered a refuge among artists, especially to the likes of National Artist Ben Cabrera and even filmmaker Butch Perez. Even a number of local artists, such as Santiago Bose and Kidlat Tahimik, continue to promote the art culture that the vibrant city has to offer. Apart from a Baguio Arts Festival that is held annually to showcase the cultural diversity of the Cordillera region, the city is home to hundreds of art spaces and galleries, most prominent being: BenCab Museum, Arko ni Apo, Tam-awan Village and the Victor Oteyza Community Art Space.

*Appeared in The Philippine STAR on March 29, 2017