Forest-bathing: Your La Trinidad, Benguet weekend itinerary
If you've already travelled to the vibrant StoBoSa Hillside Homes Artwork three kilometers away from Baguio City and the Strawberry Farms, three kilometers further, then you have already stepped on La Trinidad in Benguet.
Known for its strawberry fields and its beds of crops — Romaine lettuces, carrots, tomatoes, and beans, among many others—nestled upon proud, verdant mountains, La Trinidad is literally a stone’s throw from Baguio City. One short jeepney ride away, it may as well be Baguio City’s younger sister.
Benguet is known as the Salad Bowl of the Philippines because of its rich agricultural produce, and it's also the portal to other exciting destinations up north. La Trinidad is the entrance to Benguet and has managed to maintain both its foliage and natural charm over the years. Citizens oppose the idea of building a mall in the municipality, and they continue to champion organic vegetation.
As you clamber off the highways and explore other paths, you will see that there is more to La Trinidad than its farms and produce. It is an accessible destination up north to get in tune with nature and as an exciting detour (and detox) from your usual Baguio itinerary.
The green living room
The Japanese has a practice called "shinrin-yoku," where literally, “shinrin” means “forest," and “yoku" means “bath." Forest-bathing is a process of rejuvenating one’s senses with nature, and as a calming practice for the spirit.
The trails of Camp John Hay decked with pine trees and the pulsating Botanical Gardens in Baguio City plus the Strawberry Farm in La Trinidad are ubiquitous tourist stops that can offer such an experience, aside from being Instagram-worthy backdrops.
If you go deeper in La Trinidad, you can find that there are other destinations where you can linger longer to forest-bathe.
If you are traveling from Baguio City, you can take a jeepney that can take you to Puguis Road or Kilometer 5 (barangays in La Trinidad are identified by its number; just add one for every barangay as you move away from Baguio City or Rizal Park near Burnham Park) to see Mount Costa, which dubs itself as a "Green Living Room."
It is a privately-owned land carpeted with grass, pebbles, and vines and festooned with various flowers of the season. It is a mix of natural and constructed elements, some gardens taking inspiration from other cultures or practices.
The land is owned by the Acostas (thus the name) who were one of the first families to plant strawberries in La Trinidad for wines and preserves. By the early 1990s, the market collapsed due to a plant virus. By 2015, the family decided to develop the land to what is now equal parts ecotourism, Cordilleran local color, and forest-bathing park.
It offers 24 uniquely-themed gardens with 5,500 meters of walking trails conveniently marked with yellow and blue to signify the two trail divisions.
From the entrance, you can climb the blue trail from the Outdoor Musical Garden decorated with wind and brass instruments to the Reflection Pond. There is a Koru (spiral) Garden representing a fern frond that represents tranquility.
The Mirror Garden uses mirrors to reflect subject and nature, and nearby is a Twig Garden, where animal shapes are carefully made from branches — a scenic juxtaposition of brown on green.
A few feet up is the Zen Garden. Like shinrin-yoku, Zen gardens are part of Japanese practices of relaxation and meditation. Instead of a pond, you sit on a bench facing an open space filled with pebbles or rock formations to think and ponder.
At the topmost spot, you can find an Outdoor Lounging area with cushioned seats that is essential for rest or reading.
The lower half is the yellow trail. It boasts the Inca Garden, inspired by South American culture. Incan legend has it that life started in Lake Titicana.
There is a photo-perfect pattern that builds the Bud Garden. Beside it is the Enchanted Garden, and the Grid Garden where the flowers serve as a soft balance to the rough edges of concrete.
The Maze Garden is a tourist favorite. On a frame, the thickness of the flora designates texture, color, and mood.
Between these two trails is the Formal Garden that can accommodate around 150 people for ceremonies like weddings and debuts. You can arrange with the management for events or pre-nuptial photo shoots, especially because they have make-up rooms that can accommodate patrons’ behind-the-scene needs.
On one side is the Al Fresco Dining Area, and the food stalls or kiosks on the other. The nachos and fruit shakes are irresistible after hours of exploring the gardens.
Going there, you can take a taxi to Mt. Costa, or ride a jeepney to Jollibee at Km. 5, and take another jeepney to Puguis. The ride back to town can be quite difficult. Sharing a taxi is recommended (meeting new tourist-friends is a bonus).
The whole park may take around four hours to explore when you take your time with the gardens. Entrance fee is at P350 for adults, and P250 for senior citizens and students. Tickets may also be booked online with a 5% discount.
Off the beaten path
When you are at the Strawberry Farm, look up at the highway’s direction and you will see huge rocks sitting atop the nearby mountain. This is Mt. Kalugong, and “Kalugong” is a local term for hat or sombrero.
Mt. Kalugong can be accessed through the barangay road in Cruz.
If you are travelling from Baguio City, take a jeepney in the Dangwa Station near Baguio Center Mall marked Upper or Lower Tomay or La Trinidad. It is the same jeepney you can take if you want to go to the Strawberry Farm first. Do not take the Buyagan jeepney.
Ask the driver to drop you off at Cruz, at the Benguet Memorial Services. Follow the road beside the establishment. The trek up can take less than an hour, and the road is concrete.
Mt. Kalugong, however, can be muddy in some areas, and the rock formations in the park can be very challenging to climb. Put on your sturdy rubber shoes.
There is a P100 entrance fee. There is a nearby café that serves gourmet coffee and refrigerated cakes, but you may bring your own snacks to enjoy in the park.
In Tawang lies the majestic Mt. Yangbew, also known as Mt. Jumbo. On top, you can get a good panoramic view of La Trinidad stretching to a glimpse of Baguio City.
Again, from Baguio Center Mall, take a jeepney marked Upper Tomay, and ask the driver to drop you off at Tawang Road, around 10 kms away from the city. You may take this road which doubles as a market road shortcut to Baguio City, but it can be an hour and a half walk to the foot of the hill.
You may hire an unmetered taxi — called “garage” by the locals — for P100-150 to bring you to the foot of the hill. From there, you can clamber up Mt. Yangbew in less than an hour.
Mt. Yangbew is apt for camping. To regulate the number of tourists and to help maintain safety in the area, tourist guides are required at a fee, on top of the entrance fees.
You can maintain night accommodation in Baguio City, and trek these mountains in La Trinidad during the day.
If you scheduled just two days for La Trinidad, seeing Mt. Costa, and the smaller detour sites like the Bell Church, StoBoSa Hillside Homes, and Strawberry Farm can fit in a day.
Along the way are fast foods and local restaurants like Calajo Restaurant and Al’s Restaurant.
On your second day, take a morning walk in Mt. Kalugong, then move to Mt. Yambew for the sunset before heading back to your home city.
Park your cars in your hotel or homestay accommodations, and roam around Baguio City and La Trinidad like locals do. Walking is the perfect activity in Baguio and La Trinidad, provided its cool climate. The commute is also cheaper, but very accessible.
Baguio City has a strict plastic ban, so make sure to travel with your own eco-bag for pasalubong, and a garbage bag to carry your plastic wastes and leftovers with you before you leave any tourist site.
Remember the travel rule of thumb: Always leave a place much better than when you first found it. – Rappler.com
Ian Layugan teaches Art History and Qualitative Research at the University of Baguio. An alumni of the Philippine Center for Gifted Education, he writes about science, community, travel, and culture.