The mountain city of Baguio has long been known as the "summer capital" of the Philippines, since people from all over the main island of Luzon flock there to escape the stifling heat and humidity. However, winter brings another reason to visit this alpine town, as Baguio's biggest annual event starts each year in February.
The Panagbenga Festival, which means "season of blooming," celebrates the local flora in a massive flower festival. It started after the 1990 earthquake as a way to lift the spirits of the locals and was so successful, that the organizers brought it back and it's only grown since then.
Over time, the format expanded to cover over a month's worth of festivities, also promoting commerce and cultural development for both Baguio and the surrounding areas.
Panagbenga Festival 2021
The festival in February 2021 has been postponed by the Baguio city government until a later date in the year that has yet to be determined. Keep an eye on the official event webpage for the latest updates.
Signature Events of the Panagbenga
There are daily events celebrating the flowers in bloom throughout the entire six-week festival. However, a few annual traditions stand out as the must-see events of the Panagbenga. If you can, try and make it to at least one of the highlighted activities.
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 creative impulses with a series of interactive art projects and the keynote activity, “Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom”, where kids paint banners used in the 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.
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).
- In the Grand Street Parade, costumed revelers and lively dancers 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.
- During the Grand Float Parade, visitors can see about two dozen flower-covered floats going down Baguio’s main streets, sponsored by 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.
Session Road in Bloom
Session Road is closed to motorized traffic for a week after the parades, when cars 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.
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. 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.
Grand Fireworks Display
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
Panagbenga is one of the busiest times of year to visit this small town, and if it's your first time or you aren't familiar with local transport, language, or customs, it can be overwhelming to get your bearings.
- Baguio is on the main island of Luzon, which is the same island as the capital city of Manila. Buses from Manila through private companies are usually inexpensive and comfortable, and the ride takes about five to six hours.
- Book your transport and accommodations as early as you can, since there is a huge influx of tourists from the Philippines and abroad for this massive festival.
- Check the weather a few days before your trip so you know what to pack. February is the dry season in the Philippines and temperatures are usually comfortably warm, but showers are always a possibility.
- 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 is packed for both parade days, and some viewers arrive before dawn to secure a prime seat.
- Set aside a few extra days to explore. From Baguio, tourist hot spots like Sagada and the picturesque Banaue Rice Terraces are just a few hours away by bus. There are plenty of other places to visit in the Philippines as well if have the time to travel.