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Mt. Pinatubo Day Trip Experience: What to Expect

My seemingly unending proverbial list of places in the Philippines to see before I die include hiking into volcanoes. It started when we went on a hike in Taal volcano, an active one that erupted just this 2020 (now closed) and told myself I should venture more into such. It’s more than just the thrill of being at the edge of a volcano’s caldera. As a true sucker for earth sciences and adventure, the awe-striking scene that the nature has formed and the fun in getting there got me drawn into it. Since then, I have set my eyes and intentions into meeting Mt. Pinatubo. So, if you’re also looking forward to witnessing this beautiful disaster with your own eyes too, here’s what you need to know and what to expect on a Mt. Pinatubo day trip!

About Mt. Pinatubo

Mt. Pinatubo, tucked in the mountain ranges in Botolan, Zambales, boasts a rich and tumultuous history. This stratovolcano remained dormant for about six centuries. However, on June 15, 1991, Pinatubo violently awakened with a cataclysmic eruption, considered as the second most powerful in the Twentieth century. The eruption expelled about 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide and other volcanic debris affecting not only the local landscape but also causing a decrease in the global temperature for about two years. The devastating event led to the formation of a massive caldera and the collapse of the volcano’s summit. Prior to its eruption, Mount Pinatubo was relatively unknown, but its catastrophic awakening left an indelible mark on both geological records and the collective memory of those who witnessed or experienced the disaster it has brought.

Presently, this dubbed as ‘beautiful disaster’, has become a tourist hotspot in the province.

Best Time to Visit Mt. Pinatubo

The best time to visit Mt. Pinatubo is during the dry season in the country (March, April to first few weeks of May). It is also relatively the best time to go there around January to February. In these months, a more stunning crater lake under a clear blue sky would welcome you after your long journey. However, expect it to be crowded.

Mt. Pinatubo Day Trip with Abraham Tours

Pre-Travel: From the Hostel

We booked our Mt. Pinatubo trip with Abraham Tours Manila. The trip includes the transportation from Makati to Capas v.v., entrance fees, and local guide fees. Food and drinks are excluded in this fee, hence, it’s necessary to grab some prior to the trip. Their Pinatubo Day Trip is available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Since it starts at 2:45 AM and we’re coming all the way from the south, we decided to stay in their hostel located in Poblacion, Makati City the night before. It’s actually quite a good decision as we were well-rested before the trip. The hostel seems relatively new, somewhat giving off a hippie vibe yet ultimately comfortable. It offers both dorm-style accommodations and private rooms with en-suite bathrooms and we stayed in the latter.

Before 2:45 AM, we all gathered by the lobby where Paul, our tour coordinator gave us a brief orientation regarding the trip. Right after, we just grabbed some snacks and off we departed for our adventure for the day. I must say, they are very punctual!

We comfortably settled in the van indulging into more sleep as we drive for more or less three hours to Capas, Tarlac — the jump off to the easier trail to Mt. Pinatubo’s crater lake. At around 5:30, we arrived at Allan Bognot’s Accommodation where we were oriented formally about the trek and waited for our 4×4 ride.

The 4×4 Ride

The adventure commenced with a 4×4 ride. Each 4×4 ride can carry up to three (3) guests, a local guide and a driver. Before all the fun, we dropped by Capas Tourism Office first to register and sign the waiver.

The journey lasted over an hour and a half or so, yet time seemed to elude us completely as we drive through the scenic, lunar-like route bathed in the glow of sunrise. We had to go through dusty, muddy trails with occasional water splashes that got us and our stuff soiled early on. We made a stop at the so-called ‘Toblerone‘ — a series of towering heaps of volcanic ashes resembling the Toblerone chocolate bar. It’s also where you can meet and greet some members of the Aeta community in Capas. We took a few snaps of the surreal, picturesque scene then off we went again to the jump off.

The Trek

After a while, we arrived at wide open space locally known as quadra where the 4×4 adventure ends — where our ride parks. The trek from the Capas jump off towards the volcano’s crater lake is beginner friendly. It is some 3 to 7-Kilometer walk on a rugged terrain of various scenes featuring streams and river crossing, rocky paths, ash-laden trails, showcasing the remnants of the volcano’s historic eruption. The final stretch rewards adventurers with the breathtaking sight of the stunning crater lake nestled within the heart of the volcanic caldera, its azure waters contrasting against the rugged, volcanic surroundings.

The Crater Lake

The last stretch of the trek left us breathless in both the literal and figurative sense. We found ourselves climbing the concrete stairs under the heat of the sun. The view awaiting us at the summit was the most gratifying sight of the day — the mesmerizing Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake. Anticipating a weekend visit, we had braced ourselves for crowds. I did not expect it to be THAT crowded. To our astonishment, it turned out to be one of the most densely populated locations I’ve ever encountered. Since we arrived at midday, several groups have found their spot and settled under the tree to savor their lunch, famished probably due to the long trek. Good thing, it was cloudy so we sat wherever.

Regardless, we still enjoyed the view at the crater lake. It was immaculate, tranquil and even surreal. The ash-laden sides of the caldera made it look like ranges covered with snow from afar.

Mt. Pinatubo Day Trip Itinerary

02:45 – Departure
03:15 – Jollibee Shell Edsa Balintawak pick-up
05:30 – Arriving at Pinatubo Capas entry, fill up forms waivers
06:00 – Start the 4×4 drive
07:30 – Hike to the volcano’s crater and back
11:00 – Arrive at the crater, lunch
12:00 – Hike back down
14:30 – Arrive back in the jeeps
16:00 – Back in the tourism office
18:30 – Start the drive back
21:00 – Estimated time of arrival at Abraham Manila

Mt. Pinatubo Day Trip Practical Tips

  1. Visit Mt. Pinatubo on non-peak season (i.e. weekdays) to avoid the crowd.
  2. Wear comfortable trekking clothes and footwear. You’ll also be crossing several rivers and streams.
  3. Secure your stuff in a dry bag to protect your valuables especially your gadgets from getting soaked and soiled.
  4. Expect getting caught in dust and mud so bring extra set of [changing] clothes.
  5. Bring enough trail snack and drinking water in a reusable bottle.
  6. Bring cash especially you think of getting snacks at the Crater Lake. Expect instant goods only.
  7. Expect being exposed to sun on your way back to the jump off. Hence, bring sunscreen, hat or anything that would protect you from such element.
  8. Pack a poncho. The weather in the area has a tendency to be unpredictable.

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Other places to visit in Luzon

Anne Elizabeth Gumiran, also known as Queenie, is a 20-something, full-time public school teacher, a part-time travel blogger and a freediver. She started putting her stories of adventures and misadventures into words and pictures in 2017 and continues to do so as she shares her advocacy, Sustainable Traveling.

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