Are you the type of traveler who loves to hike? With its breath-taking views of a volcanic lake and vast ash fields and lush rivers, Mount Pinatubo can be your next trekking destination. Located almost 90 km north of Manila at the borders of Pampanga, Zambales and Tarlac provinces, Mount Pinatubo used to be regarded as a negligible and almost-extinct volcano until it shocked the world with its devastating eruption back in 1991. The impact was felt not only locally but in other parts of the world. In the vicinity and neighboring town, people found their homes and cars all covered with powdery ashes. Billions of crops were also destroyed. The bizarre presence of volcanic ash in the air was felt for many months thereafter. In pictures, it looked as if a bad snowstorm just happened.
But that fateful event also put Mount Pinatubo on the map. Growing consciousness about the volcano attracted many tourists to explore the area more deeply, and it is now one of the most sought-after destinations in the Philippines. With the reward of viewing its picturesque crater after more than two hours of hiking, more and more people are now booking local tours to the area. Swimming and riding the boat is no longer allowed.
After paying a small fee and registering with the center, you will receive a briefing. It is also mandatory to hire a tour guide (see the fees below).
For more convenience, you can pre-book a tour where you’ll arrange to be picked up from a Manila location (or even at your hotel) by an air-conditioned van and taken up to the Sta. Juliana tourism office. The pick-up is usually scheduled in the pre-dawn hours of the morning, some as early as 3:00 AM. From the visitor’s center, you will board a 4×4 jeepney to go to the foot of Mt. Pinatubo.
Depending on the arrangements, the tour agency can already facilitate everything for you — the road trip, the guide, and any applicable fees.
The drive from Manila to the visitor’s center is roughly about 3-3.5 hours. From there, the ride on board a 4×4 jeep will reach the foot of the volcano in 1 ½ hours. It will then take another 2 hours of hiking to reach the crater. For more adventure, you can start hiking from the visitor’s center, but that’s about 3 hours or more, not to mention the heat and dustiness along the way.
What to Expect During the Trek
You can either hike all the way from the visitor’s center to the summit, but this will be a very dusty, hot, and dry affair taking about 5 hours to the crater lake. Another option is to hire a 4×4 jeepney to take you most of the way and thus shorten your trek to about 3 hours.
You will drive across Crow Valley, a terrain which resembles the moon’s surface because of its vast lahar deposits.
You will then hike towards the volcano’s summit via a single mountain trail. This takes another 2 hours before you reach the summit. If the skyway is available, it will only take you 30 minutes to reach the top.
Most of the trail is level and easy, with some rocky and sandy parts. But the last 20 minutes of the hike is more challenging as the path gets steeper.
At the summit, you will be rewarded with an awesome view of the crater lake. Colors of the lake vary each season, usually from teal to deep blue. You can hang around, take pictures, eat lunch, and go boating. There’s also a restroom at this point. To some extent and depending on current regulations, you may also be able to swim in the lake.
For the descent, you’ll go through the same route as when ascending. This takes about 2 hours or so. The 4×4 jeeps will be waiting right at the foot of the volcano. It should take another 1 ½ hours from there to the jump-off point / visitor’s area. Showers and restrooms are available there. You can also take meals of home-cooked food.
Depending on the tour, you might also stop by a local eatery or hotel (if you choose to do an overnight trip instead of heading back to Manila). On the trip back to Manila, some tours also have the option to stop by the Capas National Shrine, a memorial to Filipino and American soldiers who lost their lives during the Second World War.
Breakfast stop over – Sta. Juliana
with the 4×4 Jeep in Crow Valley. This is where the 2-3 hours trek begins.
The road to Mt. Pinatubo
Prepare to walk in this kind of landscape. I would recommend hiking shoes. If you’re only using trekking slippers, the sand would get stuck between your skin and slippers and will scrape your skin.
You will get wet!
Long walks.. Best to enjoy the view!
Sulfur deposits – Sign that you are near your destination.
15-20 minute mark. Almost there!
This magnificent view would welcome you!
Water is really refreshing but now I read that they totally prohibit swimming.
So tired from hiking up and down
After a long, hot, and adventure-filled day, the site of these Jeep which would take us back to civilization is priceless.
4:00 AM Departure from Victory Liner Cubao Bus terminal
6:00 AM Arrival Sta. Juliana Capas, Tarlac
*organize transfer to 4×4 off-road vehicles
7:00 AM Depart for Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake
*Journey across Crow Valley begins
8:00 AM Arrival at the trekking jump off point ( trekking starts)
11:00 AM First Sighting of the stunning beauty of Mount Pinatubo
12:00 PM Lunch time
2:00 PM Trek back down the mountain.
4:30 PM Arrival at Crow Valley Pick up point of 4×4 off-road vehicles
5:30 PM Arrival back to Sta. Juliana
*shower, snack time and buying of souvenirs.
7:30 PM Journey Back to Manila
9:30 PM Arrival in Manila
Summary of fees:
- 4×4 jeep – P3000 for 4 pax
- Tour guide – P500 per jeep
- Aeta Passway Fee – P150/person
- Conservation Fee – P500/person
- Shower after trek – P50/person
Tips for the First-time Visitor
- Do bring the following: at least 2 liters of water, towel, at least one change of clothes, personal medications and first aid kit, raincoat / umbrella and food for snacks and lunch (be sure it doesn’t easily spoil).
- Drink lots of water along the way, especially during the hike. There is a spring near the crater to refill your water bottles. I’m not sure if water is available all year round and how clean and safe it is but to be sure just bring adequate amount of water for hiking up and down.
- You may also need other provisions like toilet paper, and don’t expect toilets and showers to be spanking clean.
- While it’s rated suitable for beginners, the hiking trail may still be physically challenging to people with weak hearts or other health conditions.
- Follow your guide closely and listen carefully to instructions. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or to request stops if needed. And most of all, don’t be left behind by the group.
- Pack your things securely. Use belt bags to carry valuables such as phones or cameras. Bring very light and easy to dry garments.
- Do bring extra cash aside from the tour and registration fees. You might need to buy extra food or other provisions.
- Wear sports shoes of sturdy material and good traction to avoid slipping. Those rocky parts can hurt your feet if you don’t wear the right shoes.
- Use sunblock, hats, scarfs and/or arm sleeves to prevent sunburn.
- There is NO electricity and cellphone signal at the crater.
- Bring camping mats or tent so you would have a place to rest.