Mount Pinatubo Trekking – An Unforgettable Experience Inside a Volcano

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking

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.

Getting There

From Manila, you need to take a bus from the Cubao or Pasay bus terminal (like Genesis Bus or Victory Liner) up to Capas, Tarlac. Get off at McDonald’s Capas which is in front of Caltex gasoline station. Then, take a tricycle to Sta. Juliana and ask the driver to drop you off at Tourism Office.

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.

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Breakfast stop over – Sta. Juliana

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
with the 4×4 Jeep in Crow Valley. This is where the 2-3 hours trek begins.

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
The road to Mt. Pinatubo

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
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.

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
You will get wet!

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Long walks.. Best to enjoy the view!

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Sulfur deposits – Sign that you are near your destination.

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
15-20 minute mark. Almost there!

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
This magnificent view would welcome you!

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Happy kid!

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Fair warning

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
Water is really refreshing but now I read that they totally prohibit swimming.

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
So tired from hiking up and down

Mt. Pinatubo Trekking
After a long, hot, and adventure-filled day, the site of these Jeep which would take us back to civilization is priceless.


Sample Itinerary
4:00 AM Departure from Victory Liner Cubao Bus terminal

6:00 AM Arrival Sta. Juliana Capas, Tarlac
*Breakfast
*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.

Whale Shark Watching in Oslob, Cebu

After partying the night before with some friends from Cebu, I hurriedly went back to the hotel, took a shower and went straight to the Whale Shark Watching in Oslob, Cebu.

Whale Shark Watching in Oslob, Cebu has become popular recently since it is a guaranteed way to see the whale shark which also caused some controversy.

The local government of Oslob are trying to standardize the tour prices, improve the facilities and properly orient the tourists; however, they still have a long way to go to properly establish and implement the rules for whale shark watching just like in Donsol, Sorsogon.

How to Get to Oslob, Cebu

It is just easy to go to Oslob, Cebu. You just have to ride a cab from Cebu City to the South Terminal. From Crown Regency (where we stayed) to South Terminal, the fare is just about P60. Our taxi driver offered to take us to Oslob in just 1 hour but I think it is a bit absurd since Olsob is more than 110km away from Cebu City which mean he has to travel at 110km/hour..nice try Mr. Driver 🙂

Anyway, when you arrive in the South Terminal just go look for the yellow Ceres bus. The airconditioned bus in door 15 is the one going to Oslob. There’s also a non-airconditioned bus plying that route but I was advised by my friends that I should just take the air-conditioned bus so that I could sleep well and it is much faster since the bus won’t be making as many stops.

The bus fare is just P155 one way. You’ll just pay the amount to the bus conductor during transit. You don’t have to reserve tickets before hand since there is always a bus leaving every 15 mins. It is advised to take the 3am bus so that you could get to Oslob by 6am which is when the feeding starts and it is less crowded.

Don’t forget to mention to the conductor to drop you off on Tanaw-an, Oslob, Cebu.

Arrival Oslob, Cebu

The travel time to Oslob, Cebu takes about 3 hours. It is a pretty long ride so I used this opportunity to catch some sleep.

The driver dropped us in Aaron Beach Resort. I believe they’ll earn a commission for every passenger that they bring to the resort.

Whale Shark Oslob Cebu 1
Aaron Beach Resort, Oslob, Cebu

You can choose not to avail of this resort by just going directly to the Whale Shark Briefing Center. They also have public shower there.

Whale Shark Oslob Cebu 2
Whale Shark Briefing Center Oslob, Cebu. Ask the driver to drop you here if you don’t want to pay for the resort

Whale Shark Watching Registration Oslob, Cebu

The staff from Aaron Beach Resort greeted us and informed us about the price whale shark interaction package which is P500. This includes the short boat ride, 2 guides, snorkeling gear, cottage, shower area and locker to place your bags. If you don’t want to snorkel and just prefer to watch the whale shark from the boat, the cost would be P300. The whole whale shark watching would only lasts for 30 mins.

To get your pictures taken during the tour, you have to pay P500. They have their own underwater camera and you can choose to have them use your SD card or just get your copy of the pictures on a CD for P50. As a photographer, I would advise you to use a spare blank SD card or just pay for the CD since you don’t want to corrupt your SD card when you use it in another camera, not to mention that you’ll be submerging this SD card underwater and if something bad happens your holiday photos would also be gone. Just make sure to review the contents of the CD before leaving since you don’t want to get home and find out that the pictures in it are for a different group 😀

After we changed to our swim clothes, we rode a boat and they brought us to the Briefing Center so we won’t have to walk (and possibly to prevent us from getting the services  another resort).

In the briefing center, we just wrote our name and attended a very brief orientation.

Whale Shark Briefing Center Oslob Cebu 1
Whale Shark Briefing Center Oslob, Cebu

I’ve been to Donsol, Sorsogon which is another area to spot the whale sharks in the Philippines. The officials there are more strict and the orientation is much more comprehensive. You’ll have to watch a video explaining the rules for the whale shark interaction and the roles of the boatmen. In Oslob, the orientation just goes like this: A man stands in-front of you and tell you that you are not allowed to use sun block, you should be 4 meters away from the whale shark and you should wear your life jacket at all times. That’s it! It just took a minute to explain say that.

Whale Shark Interaction Oslob, Cebu

After wearing the life vests, we head out to the beach where our boats are waiting. The area where they feed the whale sharks is just a short distance away from the beach.

One guide would be the photographer and the other would be the one pushing you down (since you are floating) so you could have a good picture with the whale shark. There are smaller boats in the area and they are the ones feeding the whale sharks and guiding them to area where we are snorkeling.

The whale sharks are very huge! At first you’ll get scared and intimidated with their size, but as you go on you’ll get used to it and be more willing to have your pictures taken.

After the Whale Shark Interaction

There are other tourist spots in the are that you can visit – Sumilon Island and Tumalog Falls. Aaron Beach Resort offers tours for these locations: P1,500 for Sumilon Island and P120/person for Tumalog Falls, if I remember it right.

We weren’t able to go to these places as we have to go back to the city immediately. But nevertheless, we are already feeling so accomplished to experience what we came for.

Going Back to Cebu City from Oslob, Cebu

To go back to Cebu City, you’ll just take the bus again from the National Highway. It’s just right outside the resort or the tourist center. The fare is still P155 and the last stop would be the South Terminal in Cebu City.

Facts about the Philippines

Where in the world is the Philippines?

Ok.. ok.. After watching the It’s More Fun in the Philippines and WOW Philippines videos, probably your next question is: where in the world is the Philippines?

Ok, let me help you.

The Philippines is an archipelago located at 13º00´ N, 122º00´ E. Just kidding! Who understands that?

It is in the Southeast Asia region. It is located just below China/Taiwan, above Indonesia/Borneo and on the right of Vietnam. Or you could just use the map below as your reference.


View Larger Map

The Philippines is composed of 7,107 islands. The 3 main island groups are Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Philippine Map
Philippine Map from www.drdf-uppi.net

What’s the capital?

The capital of the Philippines is Manila which is part of the National Capital Region (simply called Metro Manila) that is composed of 16 cities. It is located in Luzon.

What’s the language?

One of the official language is Filipino which is based on Tagalog, one of the dialects.

The other is English. The Philippines is the 3rd largest English speaking country just after the US and the UK. Most Filipinos speak and understand English. Some Filipinos don’t even speak Tagalog. They speak only their native dialect and guess what? English! So, you can pretty much strike up a conversation with anyone in English.

If you get lost, you can just simply ask for directions in English. I’m sure you’ll find some willing Filipinos to help you. Sometimes, they might not understand your accent or get shy but they can just easily grab someone to help you out.

How do I get around the Philippines?

The most common mode of transportation is the jeepney. There are also tricycles which you would use for shorter trips. Of course, there are also buses, taxis or cabs in urban areas.

You need to ride a plane or a boat to get to the islands.
For long boat trips, you can ride a RORO and for shorter trips like island hopping you can ride a bangka.

There are 6 major airlines in the country which offers great deals if you book ahead of time.

I’ll discuss more about the different modes of transportation here, here and here.

What’s the weather like?

The Philippines is a tropical country so expect it to be hot (Average Temperature: 78 degrees F or 25 degrees C)and humid (Average Humidity: 77%).

There are 2 seasons: dry and rainy. But the dry season can further be divided into two – cool dry and hot dry.

Seasons:

Rainy Season – June to November
Cool Dry Season – December to February
Hot Dry Season – March to May

If you are coming for a visit, you can monitor the weather here in the official website the country’s weather bureau – PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration). I know the website looks ugly! 🙂 You can also get the weather app for Android and IOS.

Will I be able to access the Internet?

I know you wanna know this! Internet cafes are available in urban centers and popular tourist spots. Wifi is also available in malls, coffee shops and hotels. You can also access the internet through 3G and 4G mobile networks. So don’t worry that much, you’ll still be able to update your facebook status, tweet and upload travel photos to the envy of your friends back home.

Will my cellphone work in the Philippines?

The mobile network band used in the Philippines are 900/1800, 3G 850/ 2100, 4G LTE, HSPA+ so you could pretty much use your phone here since most phones now are triband.

If you are planning to stay in the Philippines for a while and you’ll be making a lot of local calls, you should just probably buy a new prepaid SIM card which only costs around 30-40 pesos.

Electricity

Most tourist spots have electricity. There’s still a lot of areas in the Philippines that doesn’t have electricity though but usually these are remote areas like an island and mountainous regions. Some remote communities, resorts and hotels have their own generator to light up their places during the night.

If you are doing the off the beaten track type of traveling, of course, don’t expect the place you are going to have electricity.

Also, the Philippines uses 220 Volts AC, 60 Hz so if you have gadgets and equipments with you that’s only for 110 Volts you need a transformer to use it. Keep this in mind so you won’t end up with a toasted, useless gadget. Although, most hotels already have a socket for 110 volts it’s better to check first.

Some more facts about the Philippines:

Population: 96 Million
Local time: UTC/GMT+8 (No DST)
Currency: Philippine Peso (PHP) locally known as piso
Currency denomination: 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, P1, P5, P10, P20, P50, P100, P200, P500, P1,000
Government: Democratic Republic
Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Buddhist
Country code: +63
Most popular dish: Adobo
Most popular beer: San Miguel Pale Pilsen and Red Horse