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Things to do in Philippines

Crater lakes and volcanoes: the trek to Mount Pinatubo

Discover crater lakes and moon-like landscape on this trek to Mount Pinatubo, where you’ll learn about its deadly eruption in 1991…

Bryan Ocampo
Chief of Operations for Intas, Alfred&'s partner in the Philippines

Mount Pinatubo crater lake

Discover crater lakes and moon-like landscape on this trek to Mount Pinatubo, where you’ll learn about its deadly eruption in 1991. I was 11 years old when Pinatubo woke up again. I’ll never forget that day, June 15th, because the giant ash clouds spread across the country and covered our houses like snow. The volcano changed the lives of everybody in the area, especially the Aeta ethnic group, who relied on the surrounding forests to make their living. The eruption was particularly devastating because a typhoon came and spread giant ash clouds as far as Singapore – it even cooled the earth’s surface temperature by one degree.

You’ll learn more about the second-biggest volcanic eruption of the 20th century on this day trek. We leave Manila early for the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Santa Juliana, where we board a 4×4 jeep for the bumpy ride across the valley, which looks like the surface of the moon. It’s really like Mordor from Lord of the Rings, a mixture of sand, gravel and rock, with trails that shift when it rains heavily. The drive can be like a Mad Max experience, with dust kicking up on a windy day as we splash through water. Eventually, we reach a point where the 4×4 can no longer pass and that’s where the three-to-four-hour trek begins.

A guide will lead you along the trail, which is mostly flat but strewn with rocks. You’ll have to wade through shallow rivers along the way; there are no bridges, so be prepared to get your feet wet. People are often amazed by the vast ash fields and formations. There’s no vegetation and the only animals who live here are the native chickens, wild pigs and civet cats. You might even get to see a joint military exercise by the Philippines and US military, held here because of the vast open space created after the eruption.

The trail slowly ascends to the incredible crater lake which is filled with toxic, turquoise water that changes colour when the sun goes down. You’ll get at least 30 minutes to admire the lake from a viewing platform. There’s also a set of steps that leads down to the shore. This is the highlight of the trek for most people, especially on a good day when the sky is blue – the view is really worth the long walk and early start. Next, we’ll hike back the way we came to meet the 4×4. There’s a small inn where you have the chance to shower before lunch and the drive back to Manila.

On the way to Santa Juliana, we can arrange to visit the Tarukan community if there’s time. This is a real highlight as you’ll meet some of the Aeta people who slowly returned to the area after the eruption. The chief can tell you stories about what happened in 1991, when they thought the world was about to end and people hid in caves to escape, but were sadly suffocated by the ash. Afterwards, they had to flee to the lowlands and many lived in tent camps. Pinatubo killed over 800 people but the effect on people’s livelihoods is still felt to this day. That’s part of life here in the Pacific Ring of Fire, though, and this stop in the village really completes Mount Pinatubo’s story.

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Alfred & Bryan Ocampo

Bryan Ocampo is a Filipino tourism professional and an advocate of adventure travel in the Philippines. His knowledge and experience in leading trips and exploring the country's cuisine, history, and heritage have strengthened his desire to showcase its best qualities and quirks to people all over the world. Bryan believes that he has the best job in the world and also loves karaoke, a good laugh, wine and his wife, in no particular order.
Bryan Ocampo

Alfred & our Philippines holiday experts

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