Philippines: Trek to Mount Pinatubo crater lake

Date: April 27, 2014

I got up very early today as Gale and I were doing the Mount Pinatubo tour. She picked me up from my hotel in a taxi and we then rode to Ortigas where the meeting point for the tour was at a 24-hour McDonalds outlet (at the Shell gas station).

Gale made the booking with a tour company called TRIPinas Adventures. Once at the McDonalds outlet, we met our co-ordinator who assigned us a van and a number for the 4x4s we would be taking up to a certain point. I also paid whatever was the balance I needed to pay for the trek. There were quite a few people who had signed up for this tour, which was a positive sign considering how I struggled to even get a tour organized last year towards the end of May. I only hoped it wouldn’t rain.

This is the route map for the trek
This is the route map for the trek

Gale and I packed up some McDonalds burgers for lunch, which we would have after reaching the Mt. Pinatubo crater lake. Yes, you have to pack your own lunch as it’s not included in the tour. Once everyone had been assigned their respective tour groups, we made our way to the vans parked outside. From here it was an hour-long drive to the base camp in Tarlac.

Mt. Pinatubo base camp Philippines
This is the base camp in Sta. Juliana, Capas. It’s actually someone’s house and property. But you have restrooms you can use and you can buy bamboo sticks which are helpful for the trek if you have weak legs.
4x4 Mt. Pinatubo trek
After a quick pep talk and instructions from Anna, our co-ordinator, we got in to our assigned 4x4s.
Inside 4x4 Mt. Pinatubo tour
The base camp is very near to a Philippines Army training facility so every jeep has to pass through security and only then enter the valley grounds
Valley Mt. Pinatubo Philippines
This valley is vast, and the army even uses this site for bombing practice. Good thing they tell you when you are safe to pass through 🙂
Jeep splashing through water morning sun
The time was just nearing 7am and I loved the lighting!
Mt. Pinatubo tour by bike
Some people were riding bikes out here… and some even ride the dirt bikes all the way instead of trekking. I can’t imagine how bumpy the ride must be.
4x4 jeep Mt. Pinatubo tour
I took out my GoPro camera to get some interesting angles
Mithun Pinatubo tour GoPro
The ride to the drop off point would take around an hour, and it was very dusty! I also wore a neck pillow to avoid straining my neck during the bumpy ride.
Zamables valley early morning
I was loving the photographs
Mt. Pinatubo lava ash field Zambales
It was challenging to shoot using the DSLR given the bumpy ride, but I persisted
Zambales valley ash Philippines
The geography was amazing — and it would only get more amazing
Carabao Zambales Mt. Pinatubo
A few people even live out here
4x4 jeep Land Rover Mt. Pinatubo tour
The ride would mean crossing more than a few water streams
Morning sun Mt. Pinatubo
The morning sun was up
Vast open hill space Zambales
After nearly 30 minutes on the road, we were stopping up ahead
Mount Pinatubo jeeps
The stop was just a break to stretch our legs and take photos
Mithun Gale Mt. Pinatubo tour
So Gale and I did (I’m barely smiling, I know)
4x4 river Mt. Pinatubo tour
Then we resumed the ride a few minutes later
4x4 jeep river Philippines
This was my first time on a proper 4×4 off-terrain journey
Terrain Zambales Philippines
The terrain kept appearing more awesome and rugged as we drove along
Ash mountain Mount Pinatubo Zambales
This place would make for an excellent location shoot for movies
Mountain terrain Zambales
That said, the ride was really bumpy from here on
Kids playing with stones Zambales
And yet, in such a barren landscape, you could find kids playing with stones along the way. They belong to the Aytas, the indigenous community here.

Mountain range Zambales Philippines

Mt. Pinatubo tour by jeep GoPro
(Shot on the GoPro)
Mount Pinatubo jeep tour
We neared our jeep stop
Mount Pinatubo jeep stop Philippines
From here, we would now begin our trek
Mount Pinatubo trek Zambales
My group set off with our guide leading the way
Rocky trail trekking Philippines
Much of the trail is very rocky
Hut Pinatubo trek rest stop
After a kilometre, we stopped for a few minutes at the first rest hut
Mount Pinatubo trek Philippines
I was always last because I stopped to take photographs — a lot
Sulpher river Pinatubo trek Philippines
The yellow stream? Sulphur deposits
Mount Pinatubo river Philippines
As tiring it did get for sick Mithun, I still enjoyed the scenery
Mount Pinatubo trek Zambales Philippines
We were slowly ascending
River stream Mount Pinatubo
I enjoyed crossing the river streams by NOT hopping over them. The water was so cold and soothing!

Trek to Mount Pinatubo rocks

Mount Pinatubo trek resting huts
We finally reached the final rest stop before the crater
Trekkers Mount Pinatubo crater Philippines
After nearly an hour of walking, it felt good to know we were near
Trek to Pinatubo crater lake Philippines
But it was quite uphill from here on
Trek to Mount Pinatubo lake
Finally the crater lake was near!
Mount Pinatubo crater
After nearly two attempts to come here…
Mount Pinatubo crater lake park
… I was finally here!
Mt. Pinatubo lake crater trek
First reaction? “Why isn’t the water bright blue like in the photos I saw online”?
Mount Pinatubo lake crater Philippines
I waited for the sun to come out a bit more and hoped the lake would appear neon blue
Mount Pinatubo crater lake Philippines
There are steps taking you down to the lake, so I kept taking photos while going down
Mount Pinatubo lake crater tent
They have a big hut here if you want some respite from the heat
Mount Pinatubo crater tour group
You can camp out here and have lunch
Mt. Pinatubo lake panorama
The water may look nice for a swim…
No swimming Mount Pinatubo crater lake
But you can’t. If something happens, there is no way medical help can come to the crater in time.
Pinatubo volcano mountain Philippines
Seeing landscape like this….
Mountains Pinatubo crater Zambales Philippines
… you wonder if you are in Iceland, not somewhere in tropical Asia!

But what you see above is what Mount Pinatubo looks like now. Believe it or not, the lake was formed after a volcanic eruption. Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, and that eruption was so big that it became the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century! The lake was formed after monsoon rains. The water was extremely unsafe for swimming soon after and many still don’t recommend getting in.

Mithun Gale Pinatubo hut Philippines
I took out the GoPro to take some more photos

Pinatubo volcano crater lake Philippines

Inside mount Pinatubo volcano crater
It was only 10am
Pinatubo crater lake panorama
Took this panorama on my phone
Pinatubo crater lake beach Philippines
Gale and I ate our McDonalds ‘lunch’ by the ‘beach’
Mithun Divakaran Pinatubo crater lake
I took a selfie before leaving
Pinatubo volcano steps
Back up we went
Mt.Pinatubo crater lake
I took this photo from my phone (Sony Xperia Z1) from halfway up the stairs
Mt. Pinatubo crater lake beach
Come to think of it, that’s a beach in the crater of a volcano!
Pinatubo crater peak garden Philippines
You have a small park/garden up here where you can rest under the shade of the trees
Mount Pinatubo Tarlac Philippines
I took a final few shots
Mount Pinatubo crater lake park Tarlac
It was time to say goodbye to this amazing place
Mount Pinatubo trek tourists Philippines
We walked back down
Mountain bikes mount Pinatubo
We would stop at the same rest stops along the way (three in total)
Rocks stones Pinatubo trek trail Tarlac
The trek back seemed to take less time as we were descending
Trek mount Pinatubo Philippines
It was getting hotter though
Pinatubo trek Zambales Philippines
That said…
Tarlac hills Pinatubo trek Philippines
I loved the geography! I had seen similar geography in photos my friends took from their treks up in Ladakh (North India) — but this was just 2 hours from Manila!
Pinatubo trek rest hut
Even though I was pretty tired, we didn’t stop for long at the huts
Mount Pinatubo trek end Philippines
We could see the jeeps, and it felt good!
Tarlac hills Pinatubo drive Philippines
The ride back was just as bumpy and dusty
Tarlac barren land Philippines
I highly recommend this trek for the geography!
Tarlac fields Philippines
It got even sunnier once we were back in the fields, but there were a few tour groups who were only now just beginning their trek!

By the time we got back to the base camp it was 1:30pm. We were all tired, sleepy and dusty! I washed up and if you pay, you can even take a shower there. After an hour of waiting for everyone in our van to re-group, we finally left the base camp and headed back to Manila.

I slept through much of the journey and by the time I woke up around 4pm, we were already in Manila. Gale asked the van to drop us at Cubao, from where she could get to her place quick and I could just walk to my hotel room.

At ₱2090 (Rs. 2800/$47/€35), the Mount Pinatubo trek it is one of the more expensive tours I have done. That said, it’s hard to get anything cheaper than this as the few other companies offering such tours charge about the same or more. The only way you’ll get it cheaper is if you are a laaarge group making a group booking. Regardless, I highly recommend TRIPinas Adventures. As per the itinerary they sent, this is how it was supposed to go:

03:30  Meet up (McDonalds in Ortigas area)
· Make sure to have your breakfast and buy your packed lunch and water
· Meet the tour coordinator – Pay your balance – Orientation – Sign the waiver form
06:30  ETA Brgy. Sta. Juliana (base camp)
06:45 to 07:15 Board 4×4 vehicles.
08:30  Start trekking (around 2 hours walking using the old way)
10:30  ETA at the crater of Mt. Pinatubo.
· Relax, photos, lecture, lunch (at clients’ account)
12:00  Start return trek (around 2 hours walking using the old way)
14:00  Back to the 4x4s.
15:00  Back at base camp. Freshen up
16:00  Departure from the base camp to Manila.
18:00-19:00 (depending traffic) ETA Manila

But we reached the crater at 9:30am and it was a relief to get there before many others. Trust me, the heat gets progressively worse later in the day and I don’t know how those who were only beginning their trek by the time we came back managed to do it! Who knows if the lake turns bright blue when the sun is at its hottest, but if you are more concerned about enjoying the trek — then beginning very early is what you should do. It’s also a lot cooler early in the morning. And had we re-grouped earlier, our van would have left the base camp and arrived back in Manila much earlier than 4pm. Oh, and those who wish to do the trek, better do it before May 31. May 31st is the last tour of season for many tour operators as treks are not allowed during rainy season — and that’s from June to October!

Still… I did it! I finally did the Mount Pinatubo trek and I’m so glad I did! This was definitely one of the biggest highlights of this trip (the other is Oslob, next post) and I couldn’t have started this journey on a better note (minus the cold I still had).

I ended my day by meeting Gale in the evening and treating her to dinner at Maginhawa street. I just wanted to thank her for making calls and doing all the tour bookings.

Mexican Express nachos shawarma Maginhawa
We first ate at Mexican Express and then I had a beef shawarma from Kazam’s next door (I was hungry)
Kazam restaurants Maginhawa street Philippines
A lot of nice, moderately-priced eateries on this block

If you enjoyed this post, then wait until you see the photos from my day swimming with whale sharks (butanding) in Oslob, Cebu! 🙂

Next posts in this series:

Philippines 2014: Oslob – Swimming with whale sharks

Philippines 2014: Tumalog Falls; Oslob church, Cuartel

Philippines 2014: Leaving Cebu for Davao; Davao City sights

Philippines 2014: Sky Cycle at Eden Nature Park, Davao

Philippines 2014: Attractions at Eden Nature Park… and getting lost

Philippines 2014: Philippine Eagle Center, Davao

Philippines 2014: Scuba diving for the first time, at Samal Island (Davao)

Philippines 2014: Japanese tunnel; leaving Davao for Manila

Philippines 2014: Bargain shopping in Manila; Paseo de Santa Rosa & Solenad

Philippines 2014: Corregidor Island tour

Philippines 2014: Manila Chinese Cemetery

Philippines 2014: Pahiyas Festival in Lucban; Kamay Ni Hesus

Previous post in this series:

Philippines 2014: The itinerary this time around; UP Diliman and Maginhawa

My Philippines journeys: 2011 series | 2013 series

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  • iwanatravel


    Hi mithun! I have been reading your travelblog for quite a while enjoying every read. Im so amazed of how detailed you are and generosity of sharing your pics. When i read its like im actualy seeing what you have seen because of the many photos. And you are quite honest as well i laughed at the part when you said why is the lake not as blue as what youve seen on the net. I hope you will not get tired of being informative. Also you mentioned here Ladakh. I remember that in 3 idiots movie 🙂 thanks for coming to the Philippines. Hope you are enjoying your stay 🙂

    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Hey, I’m actually back in India. I left Philippines on May 18.

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