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Baguio - Cool Weather Getaway

High in the mountains of the central Philippines island of Luzon, in the province of Benguet, is a town unlike any other in this thriving archipelago of over 90 million people.  Baguio has long been consider a cool weather getaway of the Philippines.  But this town is different in many other ways. 

Cowboys and Country Music?

Consider the laidback cowboy hat cab drivers you’ll interact with as you tour the town.  What about the many country western radio stations you’ll find on the car radio dial as you traverse the winding mountain road leading to the town.  There is something amiss here, something far different from any other Philippines or Southeast Asian towns for that matter. 

Courtesy Flickr - CC License - baguio wright park 2

Mile High City

Baguio has a look and feel reminiscent of a mountain town in Colorado or Oregon in the U.S.  With almost 320,000 people living on the steep hillsides and backcountry of Baguio, this town is much more heavily populated than most mountain getaways in those places. But the charm and fascination of the place is second to none.  The welcome cooler weather is due to the very high elevation of the town which sits at over 5,000 feet or 1,500 meters. Even though high in the mountains, this bustling city is now the center of business, commerce and education in the entire Northern Luzon region. 

American Respite

After the Spanish/American war, the American’s took over the Philippines and developed and designated this mountainous facility as John Hay Air Station.  It was officially considered a communications station but it became an installation of much more recreational aspirations.  Baguio was officially designated “The Summer Capital of the Philippines" on July 1, 1903 and the American’s would move their entire governmental operations from Manila to Baguio during the tortuous Philippine summer months of March to June. 

Camp John Hay

Today’s Camp John Hay is a tourist attraction with many luxury facilities that will satisfy even a high ranking U.S. military officer. The former military installation formerly off limits to civilians, has turned travel destination featuring fancy resorts, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, golf courses and more.  Some of the accommodation facilities include the Forest Lodge at Camp John Hay, Manor Hotel, and The Mile-Hi Recreation Center. For the sporting bunch there is a Par-69 golf course Scout Hill baseball Field, and a Main Clubhouse or Officer’s Building. 

Courtesy Flickr - CC License - Jun's World

Camp John Hay Forest Lodge Hotel

This hotel is reminiscent of an American lodge in the mountains of a cold weather ski resort. The Forest Lodge features Log cabin style architecture with dramatic, expansive rooms showing off their endless wood walls and ceilings and their fine craftsmanship.  T/he views of the surrounding forests of Camp John Hay are spectacular and available from just about all of the common areas and guest rooms. 

Coffee shops, fine dining restaurants and traditional Filipino food is available all at this beauty in the forest.  If you are looking for the perfect American style escape from the heat and humidity of Manila then the Camp John Hay Forest Lodge offers an experience that will be remembered for years to come.

Courtesy Flickr - CC License -Sir Mildred Pierce

The Bell House

An important part of history in Baguio is the Bell House named after General J Franklin Bell.  Bell was Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1906 to 1910 and sent to the Philippines during the Spanish American War and becoming the Commanding General of the Philippines after the war.  He was the highest ranking official during that period of history.  His residence has been preserved and transformed to a museum as an example of American colonial architecture.  Outside the residence is an incredible amphitheater that now features an incredible garden area.

Courtesy Flickr - CC License - Shubert Ciencia

Panagbenga Festival

The Panagbenga Festival is the Philippines answer to the Pasadena California Rose Festival except it lasts an entire month.  From floats made with flowers to brightly dressed dancers and musicians this festival will lift anybody out of the doldrums.  Many other music concerts and exhibitions punctuate the festival. 

February is the month to make your plans for accommodations if you plan on experiencing this wonderful Filipino tradition.
The work Panagbenga comes from the Kankanaey term meaning “season of blooming” from the Cordillerans, the people from the Mountainous and Northern part of the Benguet Province.

The organizers, operators and managers of the festival are The Baguio Flower Festival Foundation Inc. This group is responsible for the success of the festival that brings tourists and seekers of native from the Philippines, Southeast Asia and the world to this Philippine mountain town. 

The festival maintains an earth first and sustainable perspective while it promotes the history, traditions and values of Baguio and the Cordilleras people.  The organizers go all out to put on a festival that is driven to become the best festival in all the Philippines. 

Courtesy Flickr - CC License - Maxi Adrian San 

Courtesy Flickr - CC License - lolay

SM City Baguio

Located at the site of the former Pines Hotel, perched high up in the upper district of Baguio overlooking wonderful mountain and tree filled vistas is an SM Mall unlike any other.  Boasting as the largest shopping mall in all of the Northern Luzon Region at almost 1,200,000 square feet, this mall represents the pride and joy of SM Corporation. No air conditioning system is required for this shopping center as it is designed to take advantage of the almost mile high elevation of Baguio along with an open passageway design.  A cool and invigorating breeze is usually realized at this refreshing and modern mall. Additionally, there are many environmentally friendly and sustainable designs incorporated into the Baguio SM Mall. Massive pine trees and incredible green gardens surround the mall on the outside, while environmentally correct practices embrace the mall on the inside. 

Courtesy Flickr - CC License - Kuha Mula

Gateway to the Banaue Rice Terraces

Baguio is the launching point to the highly improbably and popular tourist spot called the Banaue Rice Terraces, located further north of the city.  These are amazing works of both art and agriculture carved into the side of mountains largely by hand more than 2,000 years ago by the Ifagao natives of the region. 

The Philippine people like to refer to these as the Eighth Wonder of the World.  Located at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, where rice otherwise doesn’t grow, the ancients of this region must have been determined to eat the staple of the lowlanders in the rest of the Philippines.

Typically, rice fields are found in lowland areas that allow flood irrigation.  These fascinating rice farms are irrigated by a system from rainforests above the terraced region.

The youthful and modern-aged native Ifugao people of this region today are turning away from rice the farming roots of their ancestors. They are becoming more entrepreneurial in nature and cashing in on the huge tourist industry these unique landmarks attract.

One issue they are having is protecting and maintaining these terraces from erosion and degradation.  It is a full time job simply to maintain the landscape of their lineage.  While their tourism monetization efforts are paying off, it will take constant work to maintain the 2000 year old Eighth Wonder of the World that generates their income.



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