This is a guest post from my wonderful friend Angel. I’ve never had the opportunity to travel to Asia (yet) so I was honoured when she offered to write a post about her life-changing hike to the top of Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines. If you’re in that neck of the woods, I definitely recommend checking out this hike because it seems seriously worthwhile!
The last time my family visited the Philippines was six years after Pinatubo’s historic eruption. Although I was young and I don’t remember much, my family would tell stories of the damage done by this volcano. During our first visit in 1997, the roads of my mom’s hometown were still dirt from the volcanic ash and the main part of town had to be moved. 20 years later and we finally came back and dared to climb the volcano.
As my parents and I tried to do some research, we realized that there wasn’t a lot out there about this hike. In addition to sharing what ended up being the craziest hike/vacation stop I’ve done, I hope this will inspire you to be a bit more adventurous in your travels.
Starting your journey
There are two ways to get to Pinatubo: one in Tarlac province and one in Zambales. We went to the one in Tarlac since it was close and, conveniently, is the one with the shorter hike. Since it had good reviews, we decided to book a tour for the hike through Casa Hermogina. We were fortunate to have a rental car but you can also bus/jeepney and then take a tricycle to get to the town of Santa Juliana, Tarlac where you can find someone to take you to the hike location. You MUST do the tour with a guide for reasons that will become clear later.
All tour groups leave around 6-7am so plan on going to bed early for what will end up being an all day adventure. To get to Pinatubo you have to take a 4×4 to the site location. They charge by jeep but if you don’t have a group of four you shouldn’t have a problem finding fellow travellers to fill the vehicle. For 3 people (with a 4th in our car) it was around 2,200 pesos per person which included the tour guide, water, and lunch.
Before you can start the climb, you have an hour journey through a canyon between volcanic ash which is full of rocks and deep creeks. The landscape is full of tragically beautiful scenery. It’s one of those places that, despite all of the pictures, you know can only truly be seen in person.
The ride itself is somewhere between a fun fair ride and an earthquake simulation. The drivers are incredibly impressive and I have no idea how they were able to drive over and through that terrain. Just make sure you hang on to the jeep and to your camera if you think you can manage not to drop it while taking pictures.
The hike is about a 1-1.5 hours up to the crater lake. Since this hike hasn’t been as commercialized as other volcanos like Taal, you’ll be climbing mostly over rocks and not a clear path. Before you start the hike, you’ll see a tiny sari-sari store (you can buy some souvenirs here later if you’d like) and a tent where you have to sign a waiver before going up. The people who run this area are part of the Aeta, a group indigenous to the mountainous parts of Luzon.
The first part of the hike is the easiest because it’s not as steep. The second part starts when you arrive at a rest stop where you’ll probably be in need of a break. There you will see a sign where the old hike used to start. The second part is a bit trickier since you’re close to the top and the path is even less defined here. I recommend bringing a pair of backup flip-flops in case you slip into one of the creeks (like I did).
To be frank, this was the most difficult hike I’ve ever done. It’s definitely a workout and a lot of the rocks you are stepping on are slippery. There are some parts where a makeshift path has formed, but be sure to follow your guide. (The guides, btw, all manage to do this hike in flip flops?)
The beautiful Crater Lake*
Alright, this view is out of this world. I think part of the reason it’s so beautiful is that it is still so untouched and not very many people get the chance to see it. Plus, after the long journey and difficult hike (it’s possible I’m just really out of shape), you’ve earned this magnificent view.
While you’re up there, you’ll see that an entrepreneurial soul has carried up some drinks and snacks (in flip flops!?) just in case you need something. You can climb down some stairs to the lake where there’s a tiny beach and plenty of hermit crabs to observe. Unfortunately, you can no longer swim in the lake but the view from down there is superb.
The tricky part about getting back is the timing. Earlier, I mentioned that this was an all day adventure and those of you who calculated the total jeep + hike time are probably thinking I’m terrible at math (which is also true).
The timing issue is that the land you have to drive through is a military testing/training ground. This means that the guides/drivers have to plan around the military’s schedule to drive through safely. Usually, the military takes a break for lunch and you’ll get to the jeep around noon to head back to basecamp. That means you’ll have about 1.5 hours to chill at the top. Our trip was a bit more complicated but I think it’s due to the current political situation which had the military training on a more intense schedule.
Another thing to be aware of is the weather. If you visit the Philippines during the rainy season, you’ll notice that it rains almost every afternoon. Depending on when you visit, those little creeks you drive through might actually feel like rivers so just be prepared. I’d bring flip-flops, a rain jacket, and an extra set of clothes just in case.
I would definitely recommend this hike to anyone up for an adventure. This historic volcano has left some breathtaking views that are worth the journey and the experience. I’m sure in no time this hike will become more commercialized but where’s the fun in that?
P.S. Shout out to my parents for letting me bring a little bit of craziness and cardio to our vacation.
*This is actually a caldera