How not to be a douchey visitor in Baguio City (and other tourist hotspots)

Photo: Jonathan Cellona of ABS-CBN News.
Photo: Jonathan Cellona of ABS-CBN News.

With the holidays around the corner, there’s no doubt that tourists are once again headed up north to Baguio City, where people choose to break from monotony and enjoy the mountain views and the cool breeze. Yet while Filipinos from Manila and different corners of the country have habitually made their way up to the City of Pines for the Christmas season, this has come at the expense of the locals who live there.

In the past years, complaints about the influx of large crowds, traffic, and the pileup of waste and pollution have plagued the city. In a tweet by Twitter user batchoooi, he pleaded non-Baguio residents to choose other tourist destinations to spend the holidays.

“Baguio isn’t the only tourist destination in the Philippines,” he wrote. “We Baguio residents can no longer take the traffic and hassle you bring.”

This was seconded by user maroontito, who shared: “Sorry but having experienced living in Baguio for six years, tourists are usually very rude, entitled, and leave their trash everywhere, even during off-season. They have no respect for the culture, ways and means of the people, and the environment. I totally understand why locals would hate on tourists.”

Meanwhile, users on Reddit shared the same sentiments, adding that Baguio is an overrated destination.

“Unpopular take, but Baguio is honestly pretty shit nowadays for tourists anyway. What does it have to offer aside from the cold climate? That fake-ass Igorot stone mountain? The underwhelming strawberry farm? The Christmas village filled with overpriced trinkets and disposable crap? The views aren’t what they used to be, too, because the trees and mountain sides have been obstructed by houses. I say if Baguio ‘locals’ (a lot of whom are only transplants) don’t want tourists anymore, let them be,” StubbyB wrote.

“The truth hurts. If not for the weather, I don’t know what’s in it. It’s good to visit at least twice in your lifetime. More than that it gets tiring. The travel isn’t worth it,” longtimenoisy commented. 

These criticisms against Baguio and the influx of tourists that have led the city to burst at the seams are valid. Yet call us biased, but Coconuts believes that like many other places, Baguio has more to offer should one know where to look beyond its tourist traps — and be able to navigate the city and its culture with respect. While many tourists know and love Baguio for the cooler weather, pine trees, strawberries, and its plethora of sites such as Mines View Park and Burnham Park, this UNESCO Creative City also boasts a rich and intact indigenous highland heritage, a tightly knit community, and a bustling creative scene.

Whether you are one of those making their way up north for the holidays, or you’re thinking about giving this city another chance in the near future, here are some tips on how to best enjoy the city — and be mindful of it as well.

Make an effort to learn more about the culture.

Sure, different strokes for different folks — there’s nothing wrong with wanting to visit the night market along Harrison Road or taking photos at Mines View Park. But if you’re looking for a more meaningful trip, start with genuinely learning more about the culture — and we don’t mean taking photos with folks in their traditional bahag or visiting the Igorot Stone Kingdom and calling it a day.

Scour the area for corners where craftsmen continue to do traditional woodworks, or do a deep dive into its history at the Museo Kordilyera inside the University of the Philippines Baguio Campus. The famous BenCab Museum also hosts a rich collection of indigenous artifacts that span centuries.

Make friends with the locals.

One of the most fulfilling experiences you can have in Baguio is by making friends with the locals. The Baguio community’s convivial and tight-knit vibe is part of the charm of this northern city. Baguio is a place where taxi drivers are unlikely to rip you off, where shop owners put heart in their services, and where people are generally more conscientious about the environment — traits that are rooted in their local heritage.

When you do get the chance to meet locals, striking up a rapport with them can clue you in on the local spots away from the tourist crowds. You can see the city the way they do through their eyes and gain an insider’s appreciation. And if you’re lucky, they could even invite you to a drinking session or a meal in their home — now that’s a one-of-a-kind experience.

Mind your own garbage.

As mentioned earlier, the locals tend to be more conscious of the environment as part of their cultural upbringing. Yet even so, it’s better to be an all-around good tourist and clean up after yourselves by disposing of your waste properly — yes, even if you think everyone else is making a mess.

Be mindful of the community.

Remember that as a tourist, you are a guest in someone’s home. The city you visit for a few days a year is someone’s lived reality each day. While tourism helps the city thrive, this is not license for you to act like an entitled a-hole and do as you please. Learn their customs and their ways; conform to what is acceptable or not. You will find that Baguio locals are generally open-minded and tolerant people, but don’t test their patience by simply doing as you please.

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