There’s more to Baguio City than meets the eye. More than the strawberries and the cool climate, this city reflects a rich cultural heritage that is both personal and transcendent.
Baguio City has been referred to as the Summer Capital of the Philippines almost a gazillion times. But this little heaven in the northern tip of the archipelago is more than just cool breeze, warm sunrise, rice terraces, and sweet strawberries. There are numerous things to learn, explore and enjoy in probably the Philippine’s coldest city.
A misspelled tale
“Baguio” originated from the Ibaloi word “bag-iw” which means “moss”. Ibaloi is the native tongue of the residents in Benguet Province. The city was named after this small plant due to its abundance in the locale, encouraged by the cold and moist weather.
But before it was even called Baguio, it was first known as “Kafagway,” which means “wide open space.” Kafagway was then a rancheria (small rural settlement) originally occupied by the tribes of Kankaney and Ibaloi from the Cordilleras. When the Spanish came, they organized Benguet into 31 rancherias, which included Kafagway. The term “bag-iw” was then misspelled by the Spaniards as “Baguio.” It eventually served as the name of the rancheria ever since.
Another version would claim a misunderstanding between the Americans and the natives. When Americans asked the name of the locale while pointing to the ground, the natives thought they were asking for the name of the plant. They answered “bag-iw”, referring to the mossy foliage covering the soil, which the colonizers spelled as “bag-i-yo.”
Fast-forward to the present, the once small rural settlement has developed into a highly urbanized city and is now one of the most visited places in the Philippines.
A world-renowned Creative City
Last October 31, 2017, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized Baguio City as one of its 180 Creative Cities all over the world. This is the first city in the Philippines to be included under the craft and folk art category of such a prestigious organization. Baguio City joins the spotlight alongside the world’s most idyllic places such as Seattle, Kansas, Mexico, Cape Town, Dubai, Manchester, and Milan.
A city with many names
Baguio City is not just Baguio City. Sadly, there’s not one description that could capture the immortal beauty of Baguio, hence, its many nicknames.
Aside from officially being the Summer Capital of the Philippines where many Filipinos take refuge from the scorching heat of the summer sun, Baguio City is also known as the City of Pines. The many pine trees and luscious green overgrowth along the curvy roads and valleys of the Cordillera region makes the city more attractive to nature trippers and tourists.
Because of the jovial atmosphere during the Panagbenga Festival and the multitude of colorful flowers, Baguio has also earned its reputation as the City of Flowers. In fact, Bahong Rose Gardens, located in Baguio, is tagged as the Rose Capital of the Philippines.
But aside from these monikers, Baguio City is also labeled as the “Little America” of the Philippines. Not just for its cold climate, but the city’s rich history and connection with American colonizers back then make it so reminiscent of the western country. It was the only hill station of the United States in Asia and the only hill station in the Philippines. No wonder most of the main tourist attractions in Baguio reflect a strong American presence — Camp John Hay, Burnham Park, Kennon Road, Session Road, and Mines View Park just to name a few.
A shopping district for the financially prudent
Baguio City is also one of the busiest shopping districts in the Philippines. Don’t confuse this with high-end shopping malls found at Mandaluyong City. Rather, what people find here are thrift shops Filipinos call ukay-ukay. Unofficially, this city is referred to by some as the “Ukay-Ukay Capital of the Philippines.” Anyone can easily find signature clothes, shoes, bags, and other items sold at extremely marked down prices. From being a resort city, Baguio has transformed into a night market of bundles upon bundles of used clothing found in almost every canto.
A place to bury negativism
An image of Baguio City always evokes a positive memory of fresh air, panoramic view of valleys and ragged mountain ranges, the sweet taste of strawberries and the glorious scent of countless flowers. But one particular tourist attraction literally buries all the bad vibes in the world. The Cemetery of Negativism is a graveyard (not for corpses) but for negative thoughts. Headstones are each engraved with negative thoughts accompanied by childlike cartoon drawings to remind people that negativity should be buried six feet under the ground. A sample epitaph reads like this: “Conceived 11 Nov. 1905. It’s not possible. Still not born.”
The next time you take a trip up north to Baguio, you’ll come filled with more wonder as you escape from city life and relax in the cool environment.