The mountain city of Baguio in the Philippines has long been known as the country's Summer Capital. Generations of visitors make the long trek to Baguio in the summer to escape the stifling heat of the lowland cities.
It's not just the soothing climate, though, that draws the tourists in. Great food? Panoramic landscapes? Good accommodations? Check, check, and check.
Memorable festivals? Check.
The Panagbenga Festival beats them all as Baguio's top attraction. This so-called “flower festival” was first held in the early 90s to lift the people’s spirits after a devastating earthquake. The ensuing festival was so successful, they brought it back the year afterward, and the year after that… and never stopped.
Over time, the festival format evolved and expanded to cover an entire month's worth of festivities. The event now promotes commerce and cultural development for both Baguio and the surrounding areas.
The Panagbenga Parade
The parade is the Panagbenga festival's main event, held at the end of the month-long celebration period. The word "Panagbenga" literally means "season of blooming", so expect to see floats liberally decorated with blossoms, like those you’d find in Pasadena’s Rose Parade (the scale is smaller of course, due to Baguio’s tight streets).
Costumed revelers and lively dancers also weave their way down the parade route, with marching bands heralding the parade’s presence.
If parades aren’t your thing, or you’d like to make the most of your stay in Baguio, the Panagbenga event schedule offers plenty of other entertaining options.
Trade fairs and bazaars are a constant presence, where artisans and entrepreneurs from Baguio and the surrounding territories display their products. These can range from special foods and custom clothing to gadgets and novelty items.
Big name bands and celebrities share the spotlight with local talent in a rolling schedule of concerts and variety show events. Many of them are free, held in prominent locations like SM City Baguio (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.
The actual events change from year to year, but a full schedule is usually provided by the Panagbenga organizers. Most hotels display the schedules in their lobby. You can also visit the Baguio tourism council's website for details.
Getting to Baguio
Tourists traveling to Baguio from Manila can take advantage of several options: driving, hiring a van, or taking the provincial bus.
Driving: If you’re feeling brave, or you know the country well, you can drive to Baguio yourself. Just to be safe, you may want to bring along a friend who knows the route (and for company — it’s a long drive). The route, however, is fairly straightforward. There are signs everywhere, and the locals that live along the route are accustomed to tourists asking for directions.
If in doubt, ask a tricycle or jeepney driver. They drive much of the same route and go further from their hometowns than most of the other residents.
If you’re driving from Metro Manila, you can follow the guide below. The guide will only refer to main roads and general directions, but it’s a very straightforward route. The new Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) is a huge time-saver.
- Go northbound along EDSA and enter the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX).
- Exit at the SCTEX off-ramp (signs are posted along the highway).
- Enter the SCTEX (do NOT exit at the Mabalacat off-ramp, the SCTEX tollway is after this off-ramp), and turn right at the fork. Turning right goes to Tarlac, which is on the way to Baguio. If you’re still concerned, ask the tollway attendant. They also provide a handy map of the SCTEX and the surrounding highways.
- Exit at Tarlac. This is the very end of the expressway. The off-ramp deposits you on a country road. Turn left and drive straight until you reach MacArthur highway, then turn right.
- Keep driving until you reach the town of Rosario, in La Union. From there you have two choices to enter Baguio:
- Kennon Road – the quickest road, but not the best. It’s prone to landslides during the rainy season, and is twisty, with many blind corners.
- Marcos Highway – the easier road by far. It’s well-maintained and has several rest spots where you can take photographs.
Rental service: Most hotels can arrange for a van and driver upon request. You can source one yourself but beware of companies that don’t properly maintain their vehicles.
By bus: Manila has many bus services that go to Baguio, but terminals for the different services are scattered around Metro Manila. In addition to the Baguio route, the buses go through several other provinces, so they take a lot longer (7-8 hours) and need more patience. They make a couple of comfort stops, but the frequency and location depend on the bus service. Keep in mind that these buses can get cramped, so sensitive travelers may prefer the other options.
There is, however, an express luxury coach for those willing to spend for comfort. Victory Liner’s Luxury Coach features 29 reclining seats (the bus version of a La-Z-Boy) with TVs and a toilet. The trip is faster by about 2-3 hours. This coach service is available both ways (going to and coming from Baguio).