Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991 is one of the most devastating natural calamities in Philippine History. After 600 years of dormancy, Mt. Pinatubo’s erupted. Said to be the second largest eruption of the 20th century, the effects of the eruption were felt worldwide.
Nowadays, Mt. Pinatubo has become one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. The crater lake, formed from the 1991 eruption, has attracted many weekend warriors to visit the volcano. Riding on the bumpy 4 x 4 jeeps to get there will make you feel like you’re in a Mad Max film. All you need is a flame-throwing electric guitar and some rock music and you’re all set.
“Oh, what a day… what a lovely day!” — Nux, Mad Max: Fury Road
The most common route starts with a rough 1.5 hour long ride on the 4 x 4 jeeps slicing through dusty desert terrain crossing rock gardens and streams. Then, it’s a leisurely 30 to 45 minutes trek down to the crater lake. After climbing paved stairs, you reach a viewing deck where you can see Green Place in all its glory.
Most photos I’ve seen of the crater lake prior to my visit showed the water to be a beautiful shade of cyan. New visitors should know that the color of the water changes from green to blue to brown depending on the season. It was cloudy and overcast during our visit, so the water was not as vibrant as I thought it would be, but it was still an impressive sight. There was also a time when hiking to Mt. Pinatubo required a much longer trek under blinding heat and hiking through the river bed on foot in order to reach the crater lake.
However, the popularity of Pinatubo as a tourist destination means that treks have been made much easier now for most tourists. Mt. Pinatubo isn’t really considered a mountaineering destination, but more of a day hike.
The hike is very beginner-friendly and is ideal for those with no previous hiking experience such as families with children, and barkadas who want a unique outdoor experience. It’s a minor trek rated with a difficulty class of 2/10 and is a good introduction to hiking for newbies because of the photo-worthy landscape. The challenge lies more in waking up early for the van meet-up, dealing with the heat and the crowds of other tourists especially during weekends.
For those who want a real challenge, you can still opt to do it the “old way” which involves 5 to 7 kilometers of trail, with a trek that lasts 1.5 to 2 hours through Crow valley canyon (one way) instead of the “new way” which is just a 30-45 minute hike. Or if you’re a mountain biker, you might prefer to bike to Mt. Pinatubo all the way up to the crater lake!
But no matter the trail you choose, Mt. Pinatubo is a beautiful destination carved from nature’s fury and destruction worth visiting. The desolate landscape of lahar-filled boulders, towering valleys of stone and river streams offers a unique and memorable trip. There’s something alien-like and apocalyptic about the place.
Located between Pampanga, Zambales and Tarlac, Mount Pinatubo lies 87 km (54 mi) northwest of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The most common jump-off point is in Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac, which is about 28 kilometers from the crater lake.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Option 1: Package Tour
Many travel and tour agencies now offer hassle-free package tours inclusive of van transport to and from Manila. Make sure you book with a reputable agency, as some tend to overcrowd the vans so the ride there isn’t the most comfortable. Most tours depart as early as 2:30 or 3:00 am from Manila for the day trips. We booked our tour through Metrodeal, but were very disappointed with the service and van arrangements. The rate for “Pinatubo Day Tour with Exhilarating Trekking Adventure, Round Trip Jeep Transfer and Tour Guide was P849 (discounted from original price of P2500).
Option 2: DIY/Public Transportation
Its possible to do a DIY tour to lower costs. If you’re commuting, ride a bus going to Pangasinan, Baguio or Ilocos provinces (like Victory Liner, Partas, Farinas Transit, Five Star Bus) or a direct bus to Tarlac, Capas and get off at the Capas Public Market. Fare is about P200 and travel time is 3 hours. From the market, catch a jeepney or trike to Sta. Juliana where the Tourism Office and base camp of tour operators are located. Book a ride with a 4×4 jeep from here instead.
Option 3: By private transportation
If you’re driving a car from Manila to Capas, take NLEX. Drive up to the Sta. Ines exit in Mabalacat, Pampanga and continue driving north to reach Capas, Tarlac. Head towards the Capas Shrine until you reach Brgy. Sta. Juliana, where numerous billboards and road signs can be found pointing you towards the Mt. Pinatubo Trail. Travel time by car from Manila to Capas is around 2.5-3 hours.
WHAT TO WEAR:
Wear comfortable clothes suitable for the outdoors like cargo pants, shorts, dri-fit shirts and leggings. Jeans not recommended because it can get really hot during the hike. Shorts are better. Bring headware or a cap and shades for sun protection. Headware can also double as a dustmask as the open-air jeepney ride is very dusty in dry weather.
Group shot with Dandi, Faith, Sab, Me, Art & Edgar
Wear sturdy foot wear suitable for rugged terrain like outdoor shoes or sandals. Your shoes will probably get wet and/or very dusty. Bring extra clothes and a pair of slippers to change into after the hike. There’s a small shower area at the base camp where you can change.
WHAT TO BRING:
- Sun and Rain Protection (Sun Block, rain coat, shades, cap etc.)
- Headware or bandana to serve as dustmask
- Water (prescribed is 1.5-2L) and other energy drinks like Gatorade
- Packed lunch
- Trail Food and snacks
- Personal medicines
- Extra Clothes/slippers
- Optional: Trekking pole (sticks are sold near the start of the trek and base camp)
WHERE TO EAT:
Bring your own packed lunch, energy bars and snacks for the trip. There’s no place to buy food at the volcano itself. Some vendors and local village stalls sell drinks like Gatorade and cold softdrinks for a premium price (ex. P100 per bottle of Gatorade). Some package tours also offer meals as add-ons to the original price.
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- During dry months, Mount Pinatubo is considered a minor climb and is very beginner friendly.
- However, it should only be hiked when the weather is good. In case of rain, the terrain (lahar) becomes unstable. Several tourists died on the slopes of the volcano while attempting to trek to the summit during rainy weather.
- Rock falls and landslides can occur especially during heavy downpour.
- Pack light. A small daypack with water, food and snacks will suffice for the trip.
- The best time to go trekking in Pinatubo is during the dry season from the end of October to May, which can get very hot. Sunblock recommended.
- Avoid getting a heat stroke by hydrating. You will be sweating a lot and hydrating is a sure way to battle fatigue. Bring at least 1.5 liter of water for the trek.
- Since January 2013, swimming and other water activities at the crater lake are no longer allowed. The water has been found to contain hazardous substances that may affect human health and become fatal over time. There is no lifeguard at the crater lake.
- When we visited, boat rides on the crater lake were no longer being offered.
- Leave no trace!
Photo op with a dirt bike parked along the trail. Disclaimer: I have not tried motorcycling here. Kudos to locals who can navigate this terrain by motorbike!