Though Japan is still the best place to see cherry blossoms, other countries have their own hanami spots too. In the U.S. alone, you can see sakura in Buffalo (New York), Salem (Oregon), St. Louis (Missouri), Macon (Georgia), and Washington DC.
Lucky for Filipinos, they no longer have to fly north just to watch sakura bloom. If you're looking for a place to celebrate your own hanami, look no further than these cool cherry blossom spots in the Philippines.
Cherry blossoms didn't come to the Philippines until recently. In fact, the country didn't even have a single sakura park, until a hundred cherry blossom seeds were planted in Atok, Benguet on November 2015. Unfortunately, most of the seedlings died, since they weren't planted in the right season.
The planters weren't deterred, though. In June 2016, over half a year since the last planting attempt, officials from Atok, the Japanese embassy, and Kochi Prefecture seeded 30 cherry blossoms to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the symbolic sisterhood between Atok and Kochi. Other Japanese plants were seeded in Atok as well.
The second planting coincided with the Philippines' rainy season, so the seedlings are expected to fully mature within 3 years. There were also plans to plant sakura in Benguet's other nature parks such as Mt. Pulag and Mt. Timbac.
How to Get There: Take a ride to Baguio City. From there, ride a bus, jeep, or van bound for Halsema. Ask the driver to drop you off at the KM 55 waiting shed, then hike to Atok. If you're unfamiliar with the place, ask the locals for directions, or take a guide with you.
La Castellana, Negros Occidental
Like the Ayala Triangle in Makati City, La Castellana is famous for its annual Festival of Lights a.k.a. "Bailes de Luces." However, the Negros town has another claim to fame — namely, as the second known site of cherry blossoms in the Philippines.
When Alain Borja uploaded her photos of La Castellana's sakura, she didn't expect them to go viral. But that's exactly what happened: Her photos spread like wildfire on social media, until they caught both local and international attention. It came to the point where the mayor of La Castellana petitioned the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to help research and grow the trees, so they can be converted into another tourist attraction.
You can watch the trees bloom near the foot of Mt. Kanlaon, the highest peak on the island of Negros. Aside from cherry blossoms, La Castellana is also blessed with waterfalls, springs, and other beautiful nature spots.
How to Get There: Go to the South Terminal in Bacolod City. From there, ride a bus or jeep going to La Castellana. The trip takes an hour and a half for public utility vehicles (PUVs) and an hour for private cars.
Puerto Princesa, Palawan
To date, Puerto Princesa is the third (and last) place to look for cherry blossoms in the Philippines. You can find these blossoms — known as balayong in the local dialect — right in the middle of Palawan's capital city. They line the sidewalks and backyards near the center of Puerto Princesa, transforming the area into the literal heart of the city.
According to local tradition, the balayong are planted every early summer during the aptly-named Balayong Festival. The festival is meant to commemorate the founding of Puerto Princesa, and is celebrated a la Mardi Gras, where people try to outdo each other in terms of how colorful their costumes can be. Similar to their Japanese counterparts, the balayong bloom between April and June.
As of this writing, there haven't been any official (read: government) efforts to turn the balayong into a tourist attraction. There's also been some speculation as to where the balayong came from: According to the late botanist Leonard Co, the balayong isn't actually native to Palawan. Instead, the plant came to the Philippines via Borneo, an island shared by Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
How to Get There: Ride a plane towards the airport in the center of Puerto Princesa. Ask the local multicab/tricycle drivers to take you to the best spots to see balayong.
Who says Japan is the only place to see sakura? The Philippines has its own share of cherry blossom viewing spots too. Even though they're not the same species as their counterparts in Japan, they're still worth a look for their beauty and the peaceful feeling they grant onlookers.
At any rate, make sure to schedule your trip to the abovementioned spots before summer ends. Otherwise, by the time you get to see them, they'll no longer be in season! For questions, suggestions, and other comments on this article, sound off in the comments below.