Mt Pinatubo Tour – an epic day trip
In last week’s blog, we looked at the first Deztiki tour that we took to Buntot Palos Falls in Laguna. We had a great day out with a very challenging hike that was rewarded with a sensational waterfall. There was only eight us that went on that hike. However, after sharing some photos on Facebook, there was even more interest from other friends to come on a hike. A Mt Pinatubo tour was looming….
Let’s get out of Manila
As I have mentioned previously on my website, there are so many amazing Philippines destinations. What’s even more incredible is that a lot of these places can be reached within a couple of hours from Manila. This means you can visit some of the best places in the Philippines within a day. The beauty of this is that you don’t have to organise flights and hotels and you don’t need to really organise transfers. This makes it a lot easier as you don’t really need to plan too far ahead and you can just go on a whim.
Personally, I am fascinated by volcanoes. We are fortunate to have two of the Philippines most notorious volcanoes within a couple of hours driving distance from Manila. These two volcanoes are Taal Volcano and Mt. Pinatubo, the scene of the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. I remember hearing about Mt. Pinatubo even when I was living back in Australia based on the massive eruption back in 1991. Ever since then, I was curious to explore the volcano up close and personal. For some Mt Pinatubo facts, click here. For some reason, I had never really got around to doing a Mount Pinatubo tour until a few years ago. This was soon about to change.
Mt Pinatubo becomes a reality
I asked my friends that came on the hike to Buntot Palos if they would be interested in going on a Mount Pinatubo hike. They were all pretty excited and said that they would love to come. We spoke to our friends at our Aussie Rules Football Club and there were plenty of people interested to join. So that is how it happened – and we ended up with 32 people! At this point, I thought I may have bitten off more than I could chew!
Having read about Mt. Pinatubo, I learned that you are not allowed to do the hike without a registered local guide. I also read that there is a Mount Pinatubo tour package that picks you up in Manila, and drives you to the registration area in Capas Tarlac (and back to Manila of course). They also assist you with the registration process when you arrive. They also help to coordinate the rental of 4 X 4s that you use to drive to the base camp. This is all covered with a fee of about P1600 per person. Considering they were 32 of us, this was absolutely perfect. The downside was that we had to depart Manila at 3 a.m. Yikes!
An early start but worth it
Anyway, the group was getting pretty excited about the Mt Pinatubo tour despite the start time. One of my mates even got some tour shirts printed off for everybody to wear and a banner to hang on the bus! So on January 31, 2015, all bright eyed and bushy tailed, 32 of us jumped on the bus and away we went on this epic adventure.
It took us approximately three and a half hours to arrive at the registration area in Capas. We were pretty overwhelmed when we arrived. There were loads of 4 X 4’s everywhere and heaps of other people registering for the Mt Pinatubo tour, it was chaotic. Luckily for us, our operator helped us to register which made things easier. Each 4 X 4 can accommodate up to 5 people so all in all, we took seven 4 x 4s. From the registration area, it takes just over an hour to reach the base camp. The 4 x 4 drivers allow you to stop along the way to take photos which is good.
A very eerie experience on the Pinatubo tour
The drive to the base camp is one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. The best way to describe it is spooky. You basically drive through a valley through the Zambales mountains that are still covered in ash and is a murky grey colour. There are huge boulders randomly strewn along the way. These boulders used to be part of the mountain’s summit before the Pinatubo volcano erupted and blew them up to 1 km away. There was no sign of life along the way other than the visiting hikers venturing up to the crater. It was very eerie and I felt like I literally felt like I was on the moon.
First stop – base camp
We arrived at the base camp and waited for the others to join us. However, it was taking quite some time for everybody to arrive. As a few of the other stragglers started arriving, we discovered that it was actually optional to hike along the valley. This wasn’t an option offered to our crew! We also discovered that from the base camp to the crater lake, it was only about a 30 to 45-minute hike. Ugghhhh.
It was all starting to make sense as I had read that it was about a 2 and a half hour hike all in all. So if my crew had also begun hiking with everyone else, then it would have taken approximately 2 hours to get to the base camp. I was disappointed as I was looking forward to the hike. Anyway, I surmised that our crew could simply do the hike on the return trip.
The final ascent to the Mt Pinatubo crater lake
Once everybody made it to the base camp we then ascended the rim of the crater. This part of the hike wasn’t very difficult. You do cross through small streams on the way up which can be a little challenging. As you get closer to the crater, it does become steeper. The condition of the trail is pretty good so it is relatively easy to negotiate.
Once you approach the crater rim, you are left in awe of the stunning crater lake. There is an area for taking photos and welcome sign. From there the trail leads down to the water of the crater lake. There is a beach that has been formed by the volcanic sand hugging the edge of the lake. This really does make you feel like you are at the beach.
A true volcanic beach
There were actually dozens of other people also on a Mt Pinatubo tour. They were already enjoying their lunch under the nipa huts, trying to find some shade from the scorching sun. Being a volcano, without sounding obvious, it is very hot. When you look around, it is amazing to see the damage this volcano has caused. Literally, cubic kilometers of rock has been blown from the top of this mountain. It made me feel pretty small and insignificant.
Like everyone else, we all sat under the shade of the nipa huts and had a lunch. Then we had a bit of a look around taking some photos and enjoying the breathtaking scenery. The area is fairly restricted. You can only access about 20% of the lake and its surrounds. All in all, we spent around about two hours at the crater lake before making our way back.
Return to base camp
The hike back to the base camp was easy enough as it was downhill. When we got back to the base camp, my crew and I decided that we would like back considering that we missed our hike on the way up. We were about the only 4 X 4 that didn’t drive all the way back to the registration area. So we went ahead and left our driver and guide at the base camp. We told them to just follow us after an hour or so.
Eventually, our driver and guide came which was a good thing as we were just starting to get tired. However, after driving a short distance the 4 X 4 died on us! The driver and guide were working frantically tinkering with the motor to trying to get it going. Rather than sit around waiting, I encouraged everyone to continue walking. It’s not particularly difficult as the terrain is flat, but it was very hot as there is no shade. With the sun beating down on us, after walking for about 15 minutes, the 4 X 4 once again arrived. Relief at last!
So near yet so far
However, after driving for about another 10 minutes the 4 X 4 conked out again! This time around, I couldn’t be bothered walking and neither could the crew. It was easier to just stay with the driver and guide in the hope they could start the engine quickly. After several minutes of tinkering, they got the engine working again and away we went.
We only had about another 15 minutes of driving to go, so we were pretty close to the registration area. As it turns out, this time around, our crew was the last to arrive back. By this time the beers with flowing and everybody was standing around having a good chat about their experiences. After a couple beers and some more stories, we and made our way back to Manila.
A time for reflection – and beer!
Our Mt Pinatubo tour was a truly remarkable day. It was an incredible experience to stand inside one of the most vicious volcanoes the world has ever known. If you have never been on a Mt Pinatubo tour, I fully recommend it. There are certain times of the year in which you are not allowed to hike to the crater lake. This is during the wet season in which all of the ash scattered around the area basically turns into a mud. The best times of year to do the Mt Pinatubo tour are from January to April, depending on the schedule of the tour operator. Or you may choose to go on your own. As mentioned earlier, you are still required to register and you must take a guide with you.
Stay tuned for next week’s newsletter and blog with Deztiki Tours third instalment – we visit an underground cave and two waterfalls in Rizal, all in separate locations!
The best way to do a tour of Mt. Pinatubo is with a properly organised tour company. There are a number of these around, but the most important thing is to make sure that they are government accredited. The package will usually include the drive to and from the meeting point in Tarlac from Manila, 4×4 hire for the ride to and from the base camp, entry and registration fees, a guide and sometimes lunch and snacks. You wouldn’t expect to pay more than P2,000 per head for this and it’s worth every centavo, despite the 3 am start!
Depending on which country you are coming from, you can also fly into Clark which leaves you with less than a one hour drive to the meeting point in Tarlac.
The drive through Crow Valley in the 4 x 4’s is quite bumpy and very dusty, so make sure that you have a light scarf or even a surgical mask to cover your mouth and nose. It is also extremely hot so make sure you take plenty of water and stay well hydrated, as there is virtually no shade for the entire trip to the crater rim.