Benguet, a landlocked province in Luzon, sits at the southern tip of the Cordillera Administrative Region. As it’s located on the Cordillera mountain range, the province is characterized by its mountainous terrains of peaks and valleys, ridges and canyons, and cool weather all year round. It’s home to the popular “Hagdan-hagdang Palayan” or rice terraces found in Banaue. The richness of the land coupled with the cold weather earned Benguet its title as the “Salad Bowl of the Philippines”. Many of the country’s fruits and vegetables thrive in this region. There is also a wealth of flowers that end up being transported to different parts of the country. But if there’s one thing Benguet is known for, it’s strawberries.
Every 23rd of March, the capital city of La Trinidad brings out the best of its produce – strawberries. There are over 700 strawberry farms in La Trinidad alone. These farms produce over a thousand metric tons of the fruit every year. As a tradition in many parts of the Philippines, the Strawberry Festival is a form of celebration and thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest.
Former Mayor Hilarion Pawid established the first-ever Strawberry Festival in 1981. Pawid recognized the potential of strawberry farming and staged the first Strawbery festival to encourage farmers to plant the fruit. It proved successful as Benguet is also now known as the “Strawberry Capital of the Philippines”.
The timing was also perfect because only a week prior is the Flower Festival or Panagbenga in Baguio, which is a three-hour drive from La Trinidad. It has become a tradition for many Filipinos to make a festival-filled holiday, visiting both the Flower Festival and the Strawberry Festival in one trip.
Currently, the festival is still widely known as Strawberry Festival, but is officially known as La Trinidad: Panaspulan, which means “cultural gathering”.
The Strawberry Festival is much-awaited. It has won several tourism awards and has even managed to achieve a Guinness World Record. In 2004, local bakeries baked the biggest strawberry shortcake ever created, weighing at 9,622.23 kg.
La Trinidad offers a whole gamut of activities the entire month. The schedule of events change every year, but keep an eye out for announcements. It’s not always posted on the city’s official page, but newspapers usually post a schedule ahead of time.
The Strawberry Festival is an avenue for the local government and its partners to uplift the community. A massive job fair is held either at the beginning or towards the end of the festival, mostly offering agriculture-related careers. They also celebrate Caballero day, which is a music competition to promote the large pool of talented musicians in the region.
With an abundance of not just strawberries but tons of other fresh produce, the Strawberry Festival won’t be anything without its trade fairs and public markets. Kiosks and stalls set up at the Municipal grounds have vendors selling all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as products such as jams, tarts, and pies.
The people of La Trinidad are also creative when it comes to merchandise. You’ll find many kinds of handicrafts for souvenirs or home display. Hand-woven garments are also iconic in the region. As part of their commitment to preserving the environment, you’ll also find different kinds of repurposed materials turned into bags, shoes, and other items.
Long before the Spanish colonized the Philippines, early settlers in Benguet have already thrived off the rich resources of the province. Honoring this history, La Trinidad has several cultural shows and exhibits running throughout the month. A notable tradition is the “owik”, which is a ritual that involves piercing the heart of a sacrificial pig.
Of course, as this is the Philippines, these cultural displays also include street dance competitions, parades, and exhibits.
There are different sports events that happen throughout the month as well. The fun run is most common, but there may also be karate demonstrations, slow-pitch games, and basketball tournaments. Again, these activities change every year, but visitors are more than welcome to join in.
Farms are open for visitors any time of the year, and this is the best time to do some strawberry-picking. There’s also a competition for the best harvest. Farmers display their best picks where they’re judged for the heaviest and sweetest fruits.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!