How “tita” in Baguio: tourist guide in the event of a pandemic
Baguio is full, but there is a way around that if you really want to go on vacation.
The COVID testing requirement was dropped for fully vaccinated visitors in October, and there were (supposed to be) âthree easy requirementsâ that had to be met to get there. The first was to get a Visita QTP, a QR tourist pass that shows where you’re staying and for how long – it’s practically a visa.
Baguio only accepts 2,000 tourists a day, so requesting a Visita code online (visita.baguio.gov.ph) was difficult, especially when my friend Kat and I had already booked a hotel for the second week of November, after All Saints’ Day but before payday – to avoid the crowds.
Visita’s website required basic information, valid ID, and digital copies of vaccination cards, but booking a piso sale on Cebu Pacific was easier. There have been dates blocked which, according to the Baguio Tourism page on Facebook, means that the cap has already been reached. Our hotel, Azalea Hotels & Residences, luckily helped us get our QTP Visita on time.
Baguio is strict with tourist arrivals, and AzalÃ©e chief executive Elisa Escobar said a thousand slots were recently opened for December, but those were also filled quickly. The good news, she added, is that âhotels that wish to set up their own triage will not be included in the 2,000 tourist cap.
âWe were forced to cancel reservations this weekend because guests could not get a Visita pass,â Escobar added. Anticipating revelers, Azalea will soon have her own yard to greet guests.
So, what exactly is a Baguio yard?
Baguio Visita explains on Facebook: Yard staff scan QTP to check travel status. If the travel status is pending or rejected, the tourist will be returned. For approved trips, a health check (temperature check) and document validation (vaccination card check) will be performed. If visitors converge during peak hours, expect a longer wait time.
The marshalling area was on the grounds of the Baguio Convention Center, but we ignored it and instead did a surprise ‘drive-through’, which apparently was protocol when picking up a bus.
Kat and I had been planning our trip to northern Luzon since the start of this year. We wanted to go back to Sagada, maybe get a tattoo in Whang-ud in Buscalan and eat an authentic pancit batil patung in Tuguegarao, but we realized that the pandemic is already tiresome, and we can skip all that and stay in the cool and the comfortable City of Pines to titillate it. The ‘adventurous’ part would be taking a bus, but that also didn’t happen as we booked the JoyBus Premiere online (iwantseats.com.ph), a non-stop luxury bus with its own attendant, toilets and its sorting.
Instead of sorting on arrival as in private vehicles, we did a sorting in Cubao before boarding. It was pretty quick, and we didn’t have to go down to the convention center. The attendant gave us a small piece of paper that served as a âtriage passâ (keep it). JoyBus also maintained a limited capacity and some seats were empty.
Nostalgic and new Baguio
My Baguio vacation was cold but still fun, like this previous trip when, after one too many drinks, my friends and I decided to get on a bus the following Sunday just to get boating to Burnham Park as neither of us are had done before. .
This time, we rediscovered the nostalgic and explored the new Baguio.
We ate at Baguio classics: Volante for the cheese pizza and the chicken and pesto pasta, and Good Taste for the butter chicken, the chopsuey lechon and the cheap dessert. This was our umpteenth visit, but it was our first time trying Vizco’s popular pandemic strawberry shortcake (tastes best at the source, as expected). We even went to the Misty SM Baguio for the ‘looking out’ terraces and supplies.
The Home Sweet Home Chapel on Governor Pack Road was always a good alternative for Sunday Mass when Baguio Cathedral is full. Hill Station’s fine-dining restaurant on the century-old Casa Vallejo road on Upper Session had a pianist and families for Sunday lunch, a good sign that business is back.
A nice find was Secret Garden, an Italian restaurant hidden away on Paterno Street. The staff said the items were ‘good for one’ so, accustomed to the Makati portions, we each ordered the Baguio ‘solo’ vegetable and prosciutto salad, the thin crust pepperoni pizza, the cream of seafood and aglio olio pasta. It was a party.
The number of lawyers and informal vendors who make their way inside establishments, even reaching weird places like the Balai Studio CafÃ© on the second floor near the Prime Hotel, where we were having a nightcap, is one problems encountered in Baguio. Always remember to be mindful and take care of your business.
“Snowy” Christmas Village
Next stop was the Baguio Country Club Christmas Village, which had a dress code: âNo rubber slippers, regardless of brand and price, are allowed. It sounded arrogant, but I understood why when the “snow” fell.
It was slippery, but the kids playing with snow foam and couples taking pictures of Korean dramas didn’t seem to care. The ticket was at P100, and it was a good call for us to book slots online (they asked for the “yard pass”) as the queue was long.
We had bibingka, puto bumbong and brewed coffee while watching the Nativity skit. The famous country club raisin bread was also sold there.
Escobar recommended visiting Mirador Jesuit Villa and Retreat House. You have to pay an entrance fee of 100 P to go around the mountainous park of heritage and eco-spirituality of the Mirador to get there. If you’ve been to the famous cave before, this is exactly the region.
It was a scenic hike, with stops at rock gardens and places with a Japanese vibe like the Arashiyama-inspired bamboo forest and the Mourning Garden that led to a Torii gate, a peace memorial. We were supposed to have snacks at CafÃ© IÃ±igo but it was full.
In between activities, we stayed in Azalea and saw “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” again. Kim Seon-ho also kept us company before going to bed.
The steampunk Ililikha Artist Village on Assumption Road is free and an Instagram favorite. A project by national director and artist Eric de Guia, aka Kidlat Tahimik, it’s a colorful maze of cathedral windows, vintage artifacts, indigenous art, mismatched chairs, and numerous mosaics made from broken artifacts . The bohemian free-form aesthetic extends to mini-cafes that open at 11am and a florist.
We took the University of the Philippines tour and after another sorting (of course!) We stumbled upon the ‘Batok: Tattoos of the Cordillera’ photo exhibit, a celebration of tattoos. traditional of the region. It is part of the Ibagiw festival running until November 30.
The Kordilyera Museum charges a nominal admission fee, but opt ââfor the textile exhibit, âHandwoven Tales: The Warp and Weft of Cordillera Textiles,â which explains regional fabrics and their purpose. We found a staircase leading to the basement, which displays beautiful yards of handcrafted fabrics. At the gift shop I bought a blingy Patis Tesoro mask, my only memory. Well, apart from the Sagada cafÃ© from the palengke and the Bon Pasteur candies.
We celebrated our birthdays (Kat is late and I’m early) at trendy 113 Wagner CafÃ©, a cozy garden restaurant in a residential neighborhood, and probably the only place in Baguio that requires a deposit to reserve. It was a pretty pretty marriage proposal, with ambient light and landscaping by Francis “Kiko” Villalba.
Chef Rudolph Cabuay created the menu and we opted for the six-course steak and seafood set. I heard the next table (probably from Manila too) say they had a month’s reservation at the advance for a seat.
We can no longer go to Baguio on a whim, preparation is necessary for the pine-scented air.
With the exception of an unsatisfactory cocooning package at a trendy spa and Marcos campaign posters everywhere, the Baguio experience with reasonable prices was great. Our last meal was a lugaw with egg at Goto Baden House, an essential and heartwarming finish to an enjoyable trip.
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