“One Thousand Pesos,” that’s what I replied when a friend asked me how much his budget should be for a weekend in Baguio. “Food, lodging and everything to enjoy the sights, the taste and the cool weather of Baguio,” I added. My friend looked unconvinced. He is used to splurging every time he goes to the Summer Capital: staying in high-end hotels; dining at gourmet restaurants; and playing golf at the Country Club.
As a frequent visitor to this summer capital, I know that a thousand pesos are enough to have an awesome weekend. All you need to do is go where the locals go and do what the locals do.
How to get there
Whether you are going to Baguio driving a private vehicle or via public transport, it is advisable to leave Manila either late evening or early morning so you arrive in the city very early in the morning.
Taking an overnight bus is very convenient as it allows you to catch up on sleep as you coast along the MacArthur Highway.
When bringing a vehicle, designate at least two members of the group to be alternate drivers. Leave Manila after 10 pm to avoid the traffic along EDSA. Designate a specific place and time where everybody could assemble.
Driving north is now very easy. From Balintawak toll gate, it only takes about two hours driving through the Triple Xs (NLEX, SCTEX and TPLEX). From Urdaneta Exit, Baguio is just another two hours via MacArthur Highway and either Marcos Highway or Kennon Road.
Going to Baguio, many prefer taking the Kennon Road because it’s shorter and more scenic. It is particularly breath-taking at the break of dawn as the ray of light slowly peeks through the mountain peaks.
Once you reach Baguio, just park your vehicle and move around the city using public transport. Baguio is such a congested city that it has become even more difficult finding available parking space almost everywhere.
What to see, what to do
There is no better way to explore the city than to do it on foot.
Start the day with an early morning run at Burnham Park. During weekends, Burnham is filled with locals who come to exercise. It is the best way to warm up in a cold city. But if you prefer not to do anything physical to warm up, you can look for the ambulant coffee vendors there. They roam around the park with their kariton (carts) with a display of all types of 3-in-1 coffees, chocolate drinks and several thermos of hot water.
Those who wish to do more physical activities can join the free aerobics classes on the east side. After doing your exercises, you can reward yourself with a cup of strawberry-flavored taho.
Continue your walk along Session Road to watch the city as it slowly comes to life. From Session Road, walk straight to Leonard Wood until you reach Wright Park. At Wright Park, spend a couple of minutes walking around the lagoon to get a fill of the sweet scent of dew-covered pine needles. Cross the road and visit the Mansion House before it gets invaded by a crowd of tourists with their customary “jump” and “wacky” shots.
Continue walking towards Romulo Drive until you reach the road going to Mines View. Many of the shops there are quite happy giving buena mano (first purchase) discounts to early shoppers. Of course, no visit to Mines View is complete without trying the inihaw na mais (roasted corn) with salt and butter.
If you wish not to spend any single centavo, there are many things you can do in Baguio for free. You can collect fallen pinecones at Wright Park and make your own Christmas tree. You can spend an afternoon just trying out second-hand designer clothes at the wagwagan centers. You can bring out your blanket in any of the open parks and catch up on your reading. You can count the stairs at the Lourdes Grotto or also count the number of Volkswagen Beetles you see on the road. You can spend the evening drinking coffee while trading ghost stories. Best of all, you can just enjoy the company of your family or your friends, and create your own happy memories together, and this is simply priceless.
Where to stay, what to eat
It is now easier to find clean and decent accommodations in Baguio. When traveling in a big group of at least eight people, it better to find a fully-furnished transient house (with kitchen of course) that rents out for P2,000 per night.
There are also many budget hotels that offer overnight stay for P500 to P600 for twin accommodation, with P100 additional for extra bed. Stay at St. John’s Inn along Dominican Hill Road or at Baguio Village Inn at Magsaysay Road. Both have ample parking space and are very quiet at night.
But nothing tops staying at government-run dormitories when it comes to getting inexpensive accommodations. Baguio was built as summer capital and during the 1930s to the 1950s, many government agencies built their own extension offices in the city. The Teacher’s Camp, which was built in 1908, is the best and most known government-run lodging facilities that allows even private visitors to rent out dormitory beds for as low as P200 a night during off-peak season.
Trying out what the locals eat is an adventure in itself, and discovering culinary treasures rich in culture and traditions is among the many reasons why people go to Baguio.
The Baguio market is also the cheapest place to get a good meal. The fast-food center on the second floor at the back of Maharlika Livelihood Center is the favorite among the locals to get budget meals. Your P35 will give you a cup of rice, a vegetable dish and free soup. The dishes are always cooked fresh from the market every day.
Other good places to have breakfast for less are Dane’s Bakeshop at Lower Mabini Road and Pizza Volante at Session Road. Dane’s, aside from selling yummy pandesal (P2 each), pan de coco (P3) and cinnamon twist (P3), serves breakfast meals of brewed coffee, fried egg and a choice of tocino, longganisa, corned beef or tapa for as low as P60.
For lunch, the locals of Baguio as well as those coming for the rest of the Cordilleras would patiently wait to get a table at Good Taste Restaurant. Tucked in the corner of the Dangwa Bus Terminal at the back of the City Mall, this Chinese Restaurant serves the freshest but affordable vegetable, meat and noodle dishes.
There are many more you can try at the City of Pines. All you need to do is get out of your comfort zone and chill.