Starting from the day I was fascinated with traveling and journeying, there were several destinations that my inner explorer wanted me to go. This famous tri-province trail is one of them. For me, the trail is exotic, fun and none-of its kind – one that communes you with nature. If Vietnam-Cambodia-Thailand have their “Banana Pancake Trail,” the Philippines has “The Pine Tree Trail” up North.
The three provinces you’ll get to hit with one stone are Benguet, Mt. Province and Ifugao – each one boasting a different experience. And for 4 days and 3 nights, we unbelievably traversed the “The Pine Tree Trail” (albeit with crazy amount of bus travel). Below is how we did it:
Baguio City, Benguet
The first of the pine tree trio is Baguio City, Benguet. My first experience of Baguio was way back 13 years ago. My memories there were fond as I remembered Baguio to be unPhilippinely clean, beautiful and relaxing. It’s been branded “Summer Capital of the Philippines” and for good reason. But news of overpopulation, slow degeneration, increase in temperature has slowly mopped out Baguio from being one of the go-to Pinoy destinations. The fear that Baguio was not anymore what I remembered bugged me during the 8-hour bus ride from Manila. That fear almost came to fruition as a crowded, wiry place greeted us. Thankfully, deeper into the heart of the city, we discovered that Baguio is still one of its kind in the country.
We arrived at the bus drop-off point at 8:00 AM, picked up a quick breakfast in Jollibee and for one day and a half, explored Baguio as much as we can.
Below are the quick overview of our trip:
- From the Bus Stop, we walked our way to the Baguio Cathedral. We paid respects and gratitude for the safe ride, and took photos of the picturesque Holy Place. Aside from Php20 strawberry taho that Baguio is known for, we shelled out no penny.
- Next, we hailed ourselves a taxi and went to Mines View Park. If you see solo pics of Baguio in an overlooking view, most probably the shot was taken at the Mines View. Taking pics are free so take all that pose you want. The only cost we paid at the park was P25 for renting an Igorot attire to don our photos.
- From Mines View Park, we walked kilometers to our next destination. Gladly, walking in Baguio is not difficult because of the fresh, cool air, clean place and lesser vehicles. Walking the highways of Baguio felt like walking in a giant park.
- We stopped by at the The Mansion, the official residence of the President of the Philippines in Baguio.
- Walk more and you’ll see yourself at the entrance of Wright Park. It’s the best park to take your family, have that strawberry ice cream for your kids, take photos of everyone surrounded with tall pine trees.
- Further along the way, you’ll be at the Baguio Botanical Graden where you’ll be welcomed with flourishing flowers Baguio is also known for.
As you may have noticed, the leisurely and relaxing walk from Mines View Park to Wright Park didn’t cost us more than P300 (well, if not for the souvenirs and other things we bought). By the time we finished Wright Park, it was almost 12 noon (it was not hot at all!) and we decided to ride a jeepney to SM Baguio for that hearty lunch (we think) we deserve. But even the jeepney ride is just P8.
- By 12 noon, we ate lunch at SM Baguio and rested ourselves in the hotel until 3 PM. The hotel was the costliest we had in our Baguio trip, for P2,300/ night. If you want to spare yourselves few bucks then you should book way way way ahead of time (we booked a night before haha).
- By 3 PM, we walked (seriously, you should just walk around Baguio) to Burnham Park. We rented a small boat for P100/hr and kayaked arouns the giant pond in the middle of the park. Afterwards, we treated ourselves with variety of snacks: ice cream, sliced unripe mangoes, shawarma, deep fried chicken skin and more for almost P200.
- It was 6 PM when we called Burnham off since the time calls for dinner already. We headed to the famous Session Road for food trip. I bought a packed meal of sisig with hotdog and generous serving of fried rice.
Sagada, Mt. Province
Approximately 6 hours of bus ride from Baguio, you’ll find yourself in Sagada, Mt. Province. The place rose to fame thanks to the local film “That Thing Called Tadhana (Destiny).” Parting off Baguio at 9:00 AM, we arrived at Sagada by 4 PM. That’s 7 hours of delving into the scenic mountains and view of the Cordillera Mountain Range. By far, it is the most outstanding mountain range I’ve been, with the numerous pine trees, mountains with detailed ridges and the fantastic rice terraces of local farmers every now and then. After arriving, we bought a Marlboro Sunrise Trail and Sagada Adventure Trail for P2,500.
Our alarm rang at 3 AM. We had to wake up early since we had to leave by 4:30 to Marlboro Country to witness one of the spectacular sunrises in the country. It didn’t disappoint us. Or to better say it, it even exceeded our expectations. The first crimson rays of the sun awed every onlooker present; and its beauty even magnified by a sea of clouds beneath. I looked at it for as long as I can, hoping to etch the breathtaking scene into memory.
Walking along the Marlboro hills, you get to have a better view of the beautiful Sagada.
Down the trail, we enjoyed the pine forest we didn’t actually see going up since it’s still dark. We ate freshly picked wild strawberries and took photos of vibrant flora around.
By 7 AM, we drank a hot cup of Sagada arabica coffee and ate breakfast to bestow upon us energy for the Sagada Adventure trail by 8 AM. The highlights of our 3-hour Sagada adventure trail follows:
- Guided by our 47-year old Igorot guide named Dangwa, we started the trail by splashing in a ice-cold waterfalls.
- Next, we followed through an underground river for 10 minutes, seeing stalactites and stalagmite formations and flying bats.
- Along the path, we talked with our guide – who by the way has 12 hand fingers! – as an opportunity to know personally how they talk, how they think and their culture. Igorot tribe is one of the famous in the country, but it will be my first time to encounter one.
- We learned that Dangwa’s name is in their language, as his Christian name is Pedro. But he preferred to be called Dangwa – it grounds him to his roots.
- The end of the trail was culminated with the Sagada Hanging Coffins. The word coffin will frighten you at first until you know the story behind the tradition. Igorots bury their dead inside a cave located along the slope of a towering rock formation. Dangwa showed us a video of the practice taken in the 1980s. They climb rocky mountains of hundred feet high – with nothing but their feet, hands a sturdy rope to cling for dear life.
- Igorots decide where they want to be buried while still alive. At present, there is now a semetery but the tradition is still being practiced.
After the trail, we walked around the town to buy local food and souvenirs before we hit our next destination – the Banaue Rice Terraces.
Banaue Rice Terraces
From Sagada, we took a 45-minute Jeepney Ride to Bontoc, Mt Province before 4-hour bus ride to Banaue, Ifugao. Needless to say, this is where the breathtaking Banaue Rice Terraces can be found – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 8th Wonder of the World, built by the hands of the genius Ifugaos, a masterpiece in a mountainous canvass, extraordinary, proudly Filipino and life-changing. To say its panoramic is common but it truly:” when at the right position, the rice terraces will engulf your whole vision, even the peripherals.
I also happen to encounter Ifugaos – young and old – along the way. It was heartwarming to see them give you their brightest smile. The Ifugaos were very hospitable to every tourist that comes over.