Most visitors to the Philippines tend to stick to well trodden paths - the hustle and bustle of densely populated Manila or flocking to the infamous beach destinations in Palawan, Boracay, or Cebu. If you are lucky enough to have exhausted your time in those spots and looking for something unexpected then head to Baguio in Northern Luzon, famously known by Pinoy’s as the “City of Pines.” Formerly a lush mountainous forest, it’s current position in the country has transitioned in the past 60 years from almost exclusively a cool, highland vacation destination for Filipinos to a dynamic and bustling city nestled high in the mountains.
Sas has a special connection to Baguio, our main reason for visiting, as it is home to the Uy’s and where her Mother was born and raised. While things have changed since her Mother’s childhood, the charm and appeal of this city remains. Our most recent trip to Baguio happened after as part of our honeymoon.
Getting to Baguio, when you don’t have an uncle to come pick you from Manila, requires either a private car or bus (Genesis or Victory Line). The trip from Manila is roughly 4 hours as you slowly wind your way up from ground zero to over 5,000 feet above sea level - pack a sweater as you will migrate from the typical humid temperature of much of the Philippines to the arid, cool air of the mountains.
Once in Baguio, Sas and I checked into the Grand Sierra Pines Hotel nestled up in the trees in a quiet location outside of the main city center - a modern interpretation of a classic ski lodge, replete with pool, gym, and an art exhibition space for local talent. Once settled in, be sure to make your way to the main street - Session Road - which is reminiscent of a classic American mainstreet (thanks in part to the legacy of Baguio as a long-term American Military base). If you are hungry and want to sample a mainstay, swing into either Jolly Bee or Shakey’s for a decidedly American infused Filipino fast food. But if you are craving something more interesting (we typically are!), then head to Ili-Likha Artist Village near Session Road. Founded in 2014 by Eric De Guia (Kidlat Tahimik), this amazing tree house is completely unexpected - housing multiple contemporary artists’ studios, a movie theater, and several healthy restaurants under the vegetarian/healthy food collective Kiwing na Kahoy Kommunity Food Hub (KKK), with spots like Cafe Cueva and Urban Kamote - don’t miss this thriving counter culture scene.
For a similar concept, but slightly more elevated, head down the road to the Victor Oteyza Community Art Space (VOCAS) on Session Road, an engaging arts space that plays host to excellent art and the delicious and healthy Oh My Gulay Cafe. We found some surprising artists, such as Kawayan de Guia or Louie Cordero, which are well worth the visit. Taking it up a notch for the most sophisticated cultural experience in Baguio, make your way to the famous Ben Cab Museum - showcasing some of the best Filipino art in the country.
When you are done exploring the cultural scene, don’t forget to pay your respects to the Sister-Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration - aka “the Pink Sisters” - the only convent in the world to dress in all pink. But don’t let the fashion trend fool you - these Sister’s faith runs deep. Our family has been sending prayers to them for years and their parishioners are fiercely loyal / swear by their abilities to get your message to the man upstairs.
To close out the perfect day in Baguio, head to the Manor at John Hay Camp - the holiday piece de resistance of Baguio - located in the remaining protected forest outside the city (the former American military base). Have dinner in the formal dining room and be transported to a time (almost) long gone.
Oh My Gulay - The first and most famous vegetarian-friendly restaurant in Baguio, serves up every type of dish you want with killer coffee. Set in the VOCAS Art space.
Cafe Cueva - Located in the dense tree house of Ili-Likha Artist Village, fresh and delicious fare.
Good Taste - A classic standby since the 1970’s, this popular fast food destination serves up local and chinese fare for an easy meal.
Vincent’s Place - Adjacent to the John Hay Camp site, this charming comfort food place serves up a mean burger with a pleasant view.
Manor at John Hay Camp - Old school log cabin-esque manor nestled amongst Pine Trees in John Hay Camp. Definitely stay here for the old-school charm and to be at the epicenter of tourism in Baguio.
Grand Sierra Pines - More subdued, definitely less-touristy, and a lovely location with some modern touches.
VOCAS - If appreciative of contemporary art, this is your one-stop shop destination (depending on the exhibit). Sadly when there, my favorite artist showing was completely sold out.