The mountain city of Baguio has long been known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines because generations of visitors make the long trek to Baguio from Manila in the summer to escape the stifling heat of the lowland cities.
It's not just the soothing climate, though, that attracts the tourists. You'll find great food, panoramic landscapes, good accommodations, and even memorable events.
The Panagbenga festival beats them all as Baguio's top attraction. The word panagbenga means "season of blooming," and in the early 90s this “flower festival” was first held to lift the people’s spirits after the destructive Luzon earthquake. The ensuing event was so successful that the founders brought it back the next few years, and never stopped.
Over time, the format expanded to cover an entire month's worth of festivities, also promoting commerce and cultural development for both Baguio and the surrounding areas.
Event Specifics for 2020
While 2020’s Panagbenga officially begins on February 1, the real crowd draws happen between February 29 to March 1, beginning with two back-to-back parades down Baguio’s main streets.
February 16: Handog ng Panagbenga’s Family-Friendly Activities
A family-friendly celebration held the week before the grand parade's kick-off, the Handog ng Panagbenga sa Pamilya Baguio (Panagbenga’s Gift to Baguio Families) takes place near Burnham Park, at the Melvin Jones Grandstand and football grounds.
This day indulges the little ones’ creative impulses with a series of art activities and the keynote activity, “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom”, puts kids to work painting banners used at the Grand Street Dancing and floral float parades later in the week. Kite-flying challenges and acrobat shows provide the rest of the day’s entertainment.
Booths all over the grounds offer free face painting and henna tattoos, games, photo walls, film showings, and even free mocktails for the parents. The day ends with a special concert and fireworks display.
February 29–March 1: Flower Parades
Two parades represent the Panagbenga festival's main event, held towards the end of the month-long celebration period. Expect to see floats liberally decorated with blossoms, like those you’d find in Pasadena’s Rose Parade (the scale is smaller due to Baguio’s tight streets).
- The Grand Street Parade takes place on February 29. Costumed revelers and lively dancers also weave their way down the route, with marching bands heralding the parade’s presence. The dance groups compete for cash prizes. This parade starts at Panagbenga Park and ends at Baguio Athletic Bowl near Burnham Park.
- The Grand Float Parade is on March 1, visitors will see about two dozen flower-covered floats going down Baguio’s main streets, sponsored by Philippines companies and local city organizations. Beginning at the Department of the Interior and Local Government on Upper Session Road, the route terminates at the Melvin Jones Football Grounds.
March 2–8: Session Road in Bloom
Session Road will be closed to motorized traffic for a week after the parades. Cars will give way to artisans and entrepreneurs from Baguio and the surrounding territories, who display their products on stalls along the street.
The souvenir shopping scene draws from the best of the Philippines, ranging from special foods and custom clothing to gadgets and novelty items. This is a great time to wander down Session Road at your leisure, stopping by once in a while to try some Filipino food, even the scary-looking balut, a fertilized duck egg.
Certain stalls will let you haggle the price down, but do it only for fun. Some of the vendors carry their wares from far-away provinces to get to Panagbenga, and it helps them to earn a profit at the end of the day.
March 7: Pony Boys' Day
At their home turf of Wright Park, the “pony boys” are a Baguio institution, leading tourists and horses on scenic rides down a set route.
On March 7, the pony boys get a day on Panagbenga’s festive calendar to show off their riding skills. Ranchers, riders, and other equine professionals troop in from all around to join in the day’s competitions, including barrel races, flag, and barrel relays, and other tests of skill and speed. Spectators can come and watch (but not join) the festivities.
March 8: Grand Fireworks Display
On the evening of March 8, Panagbenga officially closes with ceremonies at the Baguio Athletic Bowl near Burnham Park.
But you don’t have to troop there to celebrate the festival’s closing in style. Fireworks will go off throughout the evening, launching from five stations throughout the city to give most visitors a ringside view of the airborne spectacle, wherever they are in Baguio.
Other Panagbenga Activities and Events
With a whole month of celebrations planned, Panagbenga also offers many other activities. The events change from year to year, but a full schedule is usually provided by the Panagbenga organizers and most hotels display the schedules in their lobby.
Big-name brands and celebrities share the spotlight with local talent in concerts and variety show events. Many of them are free, held in prominent locations like SM City Baguio shopping mall (though there’s still a charge for the best seats, usually bought in advance).
Local organizations also host special events like paintball tournaments and art competitions, as both fundraisers and to promote their cause.
Panagbenga Visitor Tips
- Book transport and accommodations in early January (or prior) for the city's biggest event; the weekend before the big parade sees a massive influx of visitors from nearby provinces and from Manila. Get seats on Philippines bus booking sites (PHbus.com|pinoytravel.com.ph|biyaheroes.com).
- Check the weather a few days before your trip so you know what to pack. While the Baguio “dry” months tend to be pleasantly crisp, the local climate has a capacity for surprise showers.
- Prepare to walk everywhere. Baguio will be crowded, and city transportation can be hard to find.
- Arrive early to get a prime parade viewing spot. The route will be packed for both parade days; some viewers arrive before dawn to secure a prime seat.
- Set aside a few extra days to explore. From Baguio, Sagada and the Banaue Rice Terraces, the "Eighth Wonder of the World", are just a few hours away by bus, and there are plenty of other places to visit in the Philippines.