Manila residents take any chance to escape to Baguio, Benguet province’s capital. They come to find respite from the heat and breathe some fresh mountain air. But especially in February during the Panagbenga Festival — the “season of blooming,” celebrated when the region’s beautiful flowers are at their best — it can become harder to enjoy the area’s nature and quiet.
The solution is looking beyond the tourist-heavy Baguio spots, like Burnham Park, Camp Johnhay and Minesview Park. Use the city as a jumping-off point to head farther north in the Cordillera — the stunning mountain range crowning the northern end of Luzon island.
Visit La Trinidad’s strawberry farms
At 1,000 metres above sea level, the Trinidad’s Valley is Northern Philippines’ fruit basket. Famous for its strawberries and cool climate, it’s both a world away and short ride from Baguio’s hustle — a perfect day trip when staying at Holiday Inn Baguio City Centre. Visitors can pick the celebrated strawberries by paying a fee of Php 450, which includes a guide and one kilogram of fruit. The best time to visit is during the month-long Strawberry Festival, usually held in the first quarter of the year. Among the festival’s many activities is tasting an enormous strawberry cake that can feed up to a thousand people.
Garden-hop at Mount Costa
Just opened at the beginning of 2017, Mount Costa is a 15-acre collection of 24 different themed gardens encased by pine trees on a privately owned forest. It takes its name from Baguio pioneers and Mount Costa owner’s parents, Col. Voltaire and Cleotilde Acosta. They bought the property in 1978 to build a strawberry farm, which they discontinued because of a plant virus. It was a boon in disguise, as Mount Costa is now the quickest and easiest getaway from Baguio City. Equipped with a children’s playground, lookout spots, and the beautiful flowers that made Baguio’s name famous all over the Philippines, Mount Costa is a must.
Marvelling at the Hanging Coffins of Sagada
Sagada has been attracting visitors and adrenaline junkies for decades. The town is perched on top of the Cordillera’s mountainous tabletop and includes incredible hiking opportunities and a system of interconnected, underground caves. What’s more, within walking distance of Sagada’s charming main square are the enigmatic hanging coffins of Echo Valley, probably one of the Philippines’ most iconic tourist sites—one that always leaves travellers speechless.
Visit the Eerie Fire Mummies of Kabayan
When hearing the word “mummy,” it’s easy to think of the corpses wrapped in gauze made famous by Egypt and Hollywood. But between 1200 and 1500 AD, the Ibaloi tribe used a combination of salt and herbs to smoke their dead, creating the Fire Mummies of Kabayan. The slow mummification process, recognised by UNESCO as an intangible heritage of Benguet province, could take up to two years. Afterwards, the Ibaloi put the dried mummies into pinewood coffins, and laid them to rest in caves. The mountain slopes of Kabayan — around two and a half hours away from Baguio — have around 200 such dwellings, of which 15 contain Fire Mummy specimens tourists can visit.
Hike Banaue’s incredible rice terraces
The majestic, 2,000-year-old rice terraces of Banaue are five hours and a world away from Baguio, making it a dedicated, multi-day trip for visitors that’s worth scheduling in. The terraces were cut by the ancestors of the indigenous Ifugao people, largely by hand, and are often called the eighth wonder of the world. Today, the area is still inhabited by farmers who keep the century-old traditions almost intact. With a couple of days on your hands, it’s possible to hike through a backdrop of blue-green paddies to the beautiful village of Batad, which are not connected by road, and get a true feel for this region’s mystic, rural past.
While Baguio is an adventure in and of itself, there’s lots to explore beyond the fun of the city. These greener getaways will give travellers a well-rounded and serene view of Benguet province. And with all inclusive multi-day toursthat include several of the destinations listed above, this rugged region has never been more accessible.