EXPLORING BENGUET: Traversing Mt. Ulap, Visiting the Valley of Colors and Touring Baguio

Reflecting in Benguet
At 5000 feet above sea level, Benguet is characterized by rugged and sloping mountains and valleys.

Ever since I was a small child, I already knew that Baguio is one of the most popular travel destinations among the people in Metro Manila and nearby places. Decades have passed and visitors in the City of Pines haven’t declined. In fact, droves of people still go here during long weekends and breaks. But do you know that aside from the City of Pines itself, there are more places you can explore in the province of Benguet? This blog post is going to guide you through hiking Mt. Ulap in Itogon, visiting the Valley of Colors in La Trinidad as well as touring Baguio for 2 days!

BENGUET

Location of Benguet.
Location of Benguet in the Philippines. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Located at the southern end of the Cordillera Mountain Range, the province of Benguet is bounded by Mountain Province and Ifugao in the northeast, La Union and Ilocos Sur in the west, and Pangasinan in the south. At 5000 feet above sea level, the province is characterized by rugged and sloping mountains and valleys. This elevation gives the province a generally cool climate. While Baguio is geographically a part of Benguet, it has its own administration apart from the province. Benguet’s capital is the town of La Trinidad.

According to the 2015 census, Benguet has a population of 446,224 people making it the most populous in the region of Cordillera. The three major ethnolinguistic groups of the province are the Ibaloi, the Kankana-ey and the Kalanguya who may speak different languages but share similar cultures and beliefs. Major sources of income of the people of Benguet are agriculture (especially vegetable/cutflower farming), mining and tourism.

WHAT TO EXPLORE IN BENGUET

Mt. Ulap Eco-trail (Itogon, Benguet)

Mt. Ulap!
Mt. Ulap!

Standing at 1,846 MASL, Mt. Ulap is a relatively easy hike compared to the other mountains found in the Cordillera region. According to Pinoy Mountaineer, its trail difficulty is 3/9 with a trail class of 1 to 3. This means that climbing this mountain may range from easy stroll to occasional scrambling. It is a minor climb, which is why it is recommended even for beginners.

Three shembots in Mt. Ulap!
THREE SHEMBOTS IN MT.ULAP! With me in Mt. Ulap are my good friends, Brye (IG @bryehero) and Carlo (@carloenriquez210).

We chose to do a traverse of Mt. Ulap, which means we’re going to start from Brgy. Ampucao and exit at Bgy. Sta. Fe. Other mountaineers choose to do a reverse climb, meaning they went back to Brgy. Ampucao after reaching Gungal Rock, the second peak of the mountain.

 

It is necessary to register at the barangay hall and secure guides before climbing. Registration fee is P100 while guide fee is P200. You can also buy food and drinks at this area before heading to the mountain.

The most popular site in Mt. Ulap is its second peak called GUNGAL ROCK.
The most popular site in Mt. Ulap is its second peak called GUNGAL ROCK.

Mt. Ulap has three peaks, each one exposing scenic views of the Cordillera. The most popular one is the second peak which features the Gungal Rock. Being the most popular one, lines of people wanting to take a picture here are expected. It is surprising and rather amusing that a strict 10-second rule is being implemented while taking pictures in Gungal Rock. Yes, a mountain guide is tasked in timing the climbers on their picture-taking here! So better be prepared with your poses because you won’t be having a very long time doing your Instagram shots here. Haha!

On our way to the third peak, we saw these rocks stacked on top of each other.
On our way to the third peak, we saw these rocks stacked on top of each other.

I was not feeling very well when I climbed Mt. Ulap but it didn’t stop me from appreciating the views along the trail. Featuring beautiful pine ridges and savanna-like trail, the mountain was easy on the eyes while one is climbing its slopes. While we were not able to see the sunrise atop the mountain (we only saw it while boarded in the taxi going to the barangay hall), it can be expected to be very beautiful here!

The sun has already risen when we started climbing Mt. Ulap and yet its rays are still beautiful to look at.
The sun has already risen when we started climbing Mt. Ulap and yet its rays are still beautiful to look at.

Take your time while climbing. Appreciate everything around you while waking. Breathe in the fresh air. The long walks and the climbing the peaks could be tiring, but they’re worth it considering the beauty that you would see. Don’t forget to take pictures!

Another beautiful view in Mt. Ulap!
Another beautiful view in Mt. Ulap!
Gradients of green.
Gradients of green.

There are a few stores about a hundred meters away from the third peak where you can buy and consume your food and drinks, use make-shift restrooms as well as take shade. This is a place where mountaineers can gather and share their stories while climbing.

This is on our way down the third peak of Mt. Ulap!
This is on our way down the third peak of Mt. Ulap!

Here are more of pictures in Mt. Ulap:

 

Valley of Colors (La Trinidad, Benguet)

The Valley of Colors
The Valley of Colors!

Found in the town of La Trinidad, the Valley of Colors is one of the most recent attractions in Benguet. People are encouraged to visit this place, which comprise the houses of STOBOSA (the sitios of Stonehill, Botiwtiw and Sadjap) in Barangay Balili, La Trinidad, as a side trip from Baguio. It is located near near the welcome arch of La Trinidad as well as the Bell Church.

The Valley of Colors as seen from the opposite side.
The Valley of Colors as seen from the opposite side.

Aimed to promote a more sustainable tourism in the region, it is a project of the Department of Tourism (DOT) Cordillera that adapts the Favela Painting Project in Rio de Janeiro in the country of Brazil. The Valle of Colors was designed by the Tam-awan Village artists led by renowned Igorot solar artist, Jordan Mang-osan, and it was the residents themselves (with help of volunteers) who painted their houses. It is said that about 150 houses covering 18,000 square meters are involved in this project.

 

Different livelihoods such as stores selling various flowers and plants can be found near STOBOSA. Ask around to locate them and purchase your choice of flowers and plants at a good cost.

BELL CHURCH

The Bell Church.
THE BELL CHURCH. Here’s the small pond where water lilies thrive. My other Shembot friend, James, is seen taking shots of the beautiful flowers.

Said to be a Taoist temple, the Bell Church is located in the boundary of Baguio and La Trinidad. Adorned with colorful archways, small pagodas and a beautiful pond, the Bell Church can be reached by walking for several minutes from the Valley of Colors.

The water lilies
The water lilies in Bell Church.

MINES VIEW PARK

One of the most popular sites in Baguio City, the Mines View Park offers a breathtaking view of Itogon, including its gold and copper mines as well as the Amburayan Valley.

Sunrise in Baguio!
Sunrise in Baguio!

Aside from the view the park offers via its observation deck, it also has other draws for people to visit such as riding a pony with pink hair and taking a picture with a humongous but adorable St. Bernard.

Arf! Arf!
ARF ARF! Isn’t he adorable?

Souvenir shops selling ref magnets, wood carvings, jewelries, key chains, sweaters, blankets and other clothing items are present in the park. There are also vendors selling flowers and plants. Stores selling food and beverages are also available.

Strawberry taho.
Strawberry taho. Don’t leave Baguio without eating strawberry taho, okay? Btw, ube taho is also already available!

SAMPLE ITINERARY

Here’s a sample itinerary of a 2-day Benguet trip. You can do a lot in two days and I hope this itinerary that I would be sharing to you now would help  should you decide to travel here in Benguet.

Native costumes.
NATIVE COSTUMES. After eating our breakfast during our second day in Baguio, we bore witness to these young ladies and gentlemen as they perform native dances while wearing the native costumes.
SAMPLE ITINERARY: BENGUET TRIP FOR TWO DAYS
Night before DAY 1
8 PM –ETD in Manila Ride a Baguio-bound bus in Cubao or Buendia. We rode the bus in Victory Liner Cubao at 8 PM and arrived in Baguio at 1 AM.
DAY 1
1 AM –ETA in Baguio You can stay and take a rest in the two-story Victory Liner bus terminal in Baguio. While many of its stores are already closed, a few are still open even during the wee hours of the morning.
4 AM –Head to Itogon, Benguet via taxi As there are no jeepneys available yet, we rode the taxi instead going to Itogon.
5:30 AM –Register in the barangay hall of Itogon, Benguet As mentioned earlier, it is important to register at the barangay hall and secure guides before climbing. Registration fee is P100 while guide fee is P200. You can also buy food and drinks at this area before heading to the mountain.
6 AM –Start climbing Mt. Ulap Take your time to breathe and just take all in while hiking. Of course, take pictures as well! The trail of Mt. Ulap is definitely gorgeous so you better take snaps while you’re at it!
10 AM –More than halfway through the climb Take a rest after reaching Mt. Ulap’s third peak. There are a few stores about a hundred meters away from the third peak where you can buy and consume your food and drinks, use make-shift restrooms as well as take shade.
10:30 AM –Start going down towards the Sta. Fe exit. The climb down is going to be easier than the climb up but it is not as easy as it sounds. It can be tiring as you’ll be walking down a steeper slope. The good thing is, many parts of the path going down are cemented.
12:30 PM –ETA at the Sta. Fe exit. Manage to ride the jeep that is waiting at the exit.
1 PM –Ride the jeepney going to Baguio Fare is P50 each.
2 PM –ETA in Baguio. Check-in to your hotel/ hostel/ homestay. Wash up and take a rest.
5 PM –Roam around the city of Baguio. Eat at your favorite restaurants or try new ones. We tried out the Hawaiian BBQ restaurant found in the Igorot Stairs in the Upper Session Road. The meals were a bit pricey but they’re definitely delicious!
10 AM –Lights off. Sleep tight, guys!
DAY 2
4 AM –Wake up time! Prepare to go to Mines View. Are you willing to take a bath this early despite the presence of the heater in the shower? Good luck then!
4:30 AM – Head to Mines View Park Call a taxi.
5 to 6 AM –Sunrise chasing in Baguio Photo sessions in Mines View. Buy souvenirs. Try out the strawberry or ube taho.
6:30 AM –Breakfast We went to Session Road for breakfast. We tried out Session Hill and it was awesome! Aside from the great ambiance, Session Hill also provides delicious yet very affordable meals. Their coffee is good, too!
8 AM –Head to the Valley of Colors in La Trinidad You may ride the jeepney or hail a taxi. In our case, we chose to travel using a taxi as we were already four in the group.
8:45 AM –Explore the Valley of Colors Take pictures, appreciate the view, visit the nearby stores and buy their products.
9:30 AM –Head to the nearby Bell Church. It is only walking distance from the Valley of Colors.
10 AM –Head back to Baguio Commute time can take about 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the traffic condition.
11 AM –Early lunch Once finished, check out of your hotel/ hostel/ homestay. Ask the receptionist if you can leave your belongings in the hotel lobby  so that you won’t be carrying them around while you’re touring the city.
12 NN – Choose your next activities. From here on out, you can choose to roam around Baguio’s famous spots (Burnham Park, Tam-awan Village, Our Lady of the Atonement Cathedral, Ben Cab Museum, etc.) It should be noted, though, that you can’t visit them all in just half a day. It would be wise to just choose two to better experience them. Are you in for some culture learning and art appreciation? Go to Tam-awan Village and Ben Cab Museum. If you just plan to take it easy, go to Burnham Park and the Mansion House. If you’re up for some challenge, visit the Diplomat Hotel.
8 PM –ETD from Baguio After eating your dinner, head to the Victory Liner bus terminal to secure your ride going back to Manila.
1 AM –ETA in Manila Welcome back!

***

I hope this blog post has inspired you to visit and explore Mt. Ulap, the Valley of Colors, the Bell Church and the numerous travel destinations in Baguio. Thanks for reading, guys!

Mt. Ulap can be picturesque, too, even with silhouettes
Mt. Ulap can be picturesque, too, even with silhouettes
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