NOTE: This is a 2012 article, currently being updated for 2017. Budget indicated therein is already outdated.
Juan’s Budget: Php 2,050 (+ Php 350 for optional boat ride)
Juan’s Duration: 1 Day
Nature is an unpredictable mother. Most of the time, she provides us with all the sustenance we need, with wonderful views to boot. But sometimes she shows her rage, and it could be so immense it would leave a mark both physically and on the short history book of man. Such was Mt. Pinatubo, the 400 year dormant volcano which created the second largest eruption in the 20th century, destroyed a lot of property and took away a really considerable amount of lives.
But then, in a seeming trade off, Mother Nature created an almost surreal desolate landscape with a breathtaking lake view at the edge. In short, a cool trekking destination was formed. A lot of travel services offer hiking trips to the once more sleeping volcano. One really budget-wise tour is offered by TRIPinas Travel and Tour Ventures.
The whole hike (and swim, if you want) lasts for simply one day, but starts really early. Assembly time is 2:30 AM in Quezon City, with the whole activity ending at approximately 7 PM on the same place. As I’ve said, TRIPinas offers a tour package suitable for budget travelers. For Php 2,050 (as of this date) you are provided a transfer from and back to Manila, as well as the 4×4 ride and conservation fee. If you have your own vehicle, you can just pay Php 1,690. Do take note that this is a public tour, so you’ll be sharing the trip and 4×4 journey with other people. There are also private tours if you’re the antisocial bit, but these are a tad bit more expensive. A 50% down payment is required upon reservation. Refunds are only given to cancellations (due to weather or voluntarily) prior to the date of trek itself.
My college friends and I had long planned for this trip. However, schedule constraints and constant rainy weather impeded our plans and so one year passed of which nothing happening at all. And then for some reason the planned trip floated again on our conversations, and so come hell or high water, we figured that we really had to do this trek once and for all.
The list of stuff to bring, as well as the itinerary and a few reminders, were emailed to us weeks and days prior to the trek. The whole activity consists of the travel from the assembly area at Panay Ave. corner EDSA, to the base camp in Capas, Tarlac; 4×4 vehicle travel from the base camp to the trek start; and the hike itself towards the majestic crater lake. Overnight camping is no longer allowed, and trips are cancelled if it would be raining, due to safety reasons.
There is absolutely no phone signal beyond the base camp, so it’s best to just turn off your phones during the trip. You will provide for your own lunch, snacks, and water. Since this is a typical hike, it’s recommended to bring sunscreen, rain gear, extra clothes, as well as first aid medication. You ought to wear sandals or any footwear that’s expendable or that would be okay to get drenched, since there are a lot of river crossings.
The travel from Manila to Tarlac was relatively fast despite the long distance, thanks to the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx). Since it was very early in the morning, we just slept throughout the entire ride. At the base camp on Capas, Tarlac, there are a lot of 4×4 vehicles, since Pinatubo trekking has become quite popular. Just be warned, there is no travel tax or anything of that sort. The only thing to pay besides the 4×4 is the environmental conservation fee, and both are covered by the tour package. Only 4×4 vehicles are allowed in Mt. Pinatubo, due to the ever changing and dangerous terrain, which is prone to landslides and flash floods. If you’re the sensitive type, you might want to wear some sort of face protection, since there’s a lot of ash in the air during the trip, caused by the rough ride.
As I’ve said earlier, the terrain is unstable and constantly shifting. A shorter path was closed due to risk of landslide, and our current path would no longer reach the original hike starting point, since that certain road segment for the 4×4 was destroyed by Typhoon Ondoy a few years back. This meant that our 15 minute hike would now become a 2 hour walk. Each group was assigned a tour guide, aside from the 4×4 driver.
Although the hike was significantly lengthened, it was still a walk in the park as our journey was on a flat surface. In addition, we took this opportunity to appreciate the landscape. The rocks, grayish cliffs, as well as absence of humans and animals really made the place look like it was post nuclear war or middle earth’s wastelands (of Tolkien lore). Well, except for this single goat…
…and a few people going to the Capas town.
It was obvious that mini-landslides were the norm in Crow Valley (as it was called), as we saw a lot of cliffs with loosened soil beneath them. Centuries or decades from now, the valley will be no more, due to erosion. Also, shouting or loud noises are not allowed during the hike, since the sound vibrations could easily cause a landslide.
There were a lot of river crossings, since we had to constantly transfer to either side of the snaking stream. That’s why it is best for you to wear some old sneakers or a good pair of sandals for this hike, as your feet will constantly be under water.
And then we reached the original starting point of the supposedly 15 minute hike. The entrance was complete with a parking space for the 4×4 vehicles, a waiting area, a welcome sign, and a comfort room. This area is also a good place for a rest stop if you’re not used to negotiating long treks.
Finally, after 15 minutes we finally reached the top! Lo and behold, it was a truly breath taking view of the crater lake and the surrounding cliffs. Some developments were made to cater to tourists, such as comfort rooms, sheds, as well as an area specially situated for picture taking. There was also a cross. It was a good trade off considering the length of time we walked.
To reach the lake, we still had to go down a few meters via some cemented stairs. By the lakeside was a simply constructed cottage and a no-frills comfort room, which also serves as a dressing room for those wanting to swim. We had our packed lunch and rested for a bit. It was crazy hot since there was no cloud cover during that day. But sometimes there would be strong gusts of wind, bringing ashes from the other side of the crater lake.
There were a lot of foreigners who arrived before us, and were already lounging around and/or frolicking about by the side of the lake. The only mainstays in the area were the people who were offering boat rides to the other side. Our group therefore split, with others availing of the boat ride (of which the cost was excluded from our tour package) while those who remained swam to test the waters of Mt. Pinatubo.
On the other side of the crater lake, the water was steaming and the soil was soft and scalding hot. It was pretty much the same, save for the temperature difference. The crater lake itself, noted for its magnificent blue and green color, was very cold. The lake is shallow only about 2 meters from the shoreline, after which there would be a sudden drop. Therefore, if you don’t know how to swim and you insist in immersing at the crater lake, just be extra careful.
We were only allowed up to noontime to rest and relax at the crater lake, after which we had to hike back to our 4×4. The short amount of time was due to the fact that it constantly rained in the afternoons, which could pose a danger towards trekkers like us. This is also the reason that no Pinatubo tours are organized from May to October, in order to avoid the rainy season.
We just dozed off during the 4×4 ride and the travel back to Manila, in part due to exhaustion (I didn’t sleep the night before, so that I wouldn’t be late at the 2:30 AM assembly). Certificates of Conquest were given by TRIPinas as a sort of reward at the end of the journey. This is not an official certificate and would have no bearing at all, but the trek was fun and this would be a cool memorabilia of the activity.
Do take note that this adventure will not last forever. Trees and vegetation are slowly creeping back and engulfing the volcano, leveling the desolate valley, and greening the gray ashes. This is inevitable, and a normal part of the cycle of restoration. So do experience this and appreciate the apocalypse-like valleys of Pinatubo, before they fade away.
For more information and if you want to set a reservation, you can check the TRIPinas website here, or directly to their Pinatubo Tour website here. You can also access their FB page here. Or you can call them at (02)-392-2006.