Literally one of the biggest attractions around Angeles City in Pampanga, Philippines, a day trip to Mount Pinatubo traces the second largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century, and ends at the beautiful crater lake of Mount Pinatubo, a stark contrast to the trail of destruction it left it the mammoth eruption in 1991. After lots of sand and sea in Coron, time for the mountains!
About Mount Pinatubo
Mount Pinatubo is an active volcano near Angeles City in Philippines. It last erupted in 1991 with devastating effect, changing the landscape and climate forever, with long lasting economic and social impact. Today it is a popular tourist destination, with a typical itinerary consisting of an hour long jeep ride through wide open valleys scarred by its lahar flows before a 2 hour (each way) hike towards the crater lake of Mount Pinatubo.
Do I need to book a tour for Mount Pinatubo/ Can I visit Mount Pinatubo without a tour
It is possible to visit Mount Pinatubo without a tour. First you’ll need to head to the Santa Juliana Capas Tarlac Tourism Office. From there the rest is managed by the local tourism office. You’ll be required to pay for the local guide (500 PHP) and 4×4 service (3000 PHP) to the start of the hike. It’s possible to share the guide and transport service with up to 5 people, and merging with different groups is allowed. There is an additional 300 PHP per person environmental fee. This was what I could find on the internet and may be subject to changes. During off peak season (July to October) it may be more tricky to form a group.
Alternatively, you can book through a tour agency. They’ll cost more, but comes with a packed lunch and they can help to form groups if possible to lower the cost. Further, timings when Mount Pinatubo are sometimes affected by military training so an agency may be able to advise on the conditions. Some only sell by full jeeps (regardless of number of people), while some sell by number of passengers and will make more sense to people on a budget.
To be honest after completing the tour I don’t think there is much benefit of pre-booking a tour, but being the first time and being alone it was nice being provided with detailed directions and having someone to check with for more information. Either way the jeep and guide are staff of the tourism office and not the agency.
Majestic Mount Pinatubo Tour
Just to make sure there’d be no hiccups I booked through Majestic Mount Pinatubo Tour. Prices are higher in July to October, and there seems to be no weekend rates too. I paid 2,450 PHP basically for them settling the arrangements and lunch. Prices may differ depending on expected number of tourists. During weekends on peak season it seems the price may go down to 1,650 PHP excluding lunch. These prices do not include transport from Clark/ Angeles/ Manila. They offer transfers from the cities too. It’ll be better to just drop them a message on Facebook or Whatsapp for updated prices as their prices vary with the number of expected visitors on the day. I paid a deposit of 1500 PHP in Angeles City at Cebuana Lhuillier, and the remainder in cash on that day. For a payment of 1500 PHP there was a transaction fee of 80 PHP.
Getting to Santa Juliana Capas Tarlac Tourism Office from Angeles City
First you’d need to get to Dau Bus Terminal around 4am. Jeepneys may be running at that time, or you can take a Grab ride to the bus terminal. If you are taking Grab, book the trip on your own and do not let hotel staff do it for you. A Grab driver told me how he had picked up guests who paid 500 PHP to the hotel staff for a 150 PHP ride. Another note if you’re taking Grab in Angeles City is to start booking earlier, as sometimes it can take very long to find a ride especially in the wee hours.
From Dau Bus Terminal you’ll need to take a bus that’ll pass by the McDonalds at Capas. Waiting for the right bus may take awhile. These include buses to Baguio, Dagupan or Urdaneta. Check with the driver or terminal staff which of the buses will pass by the McDonalds at Capas. Let the driver know to drop you off at the McDonalds. The bus ride took about 30 minutes and I paid 50 PHP for it.
Right after you alight, tricycle riders will approach. Let them know you intend to get to the Santa Juliana Tourism Office/ Mount Pinatubo jump off (Google Maps: 8CHJ+PM Capas, Tarlac, Philippines), and confirm that the price is not more than 300 PHP. This took about 30-40 mins.
Most tours start around 6am, and the cut off for jeeps leaving towards Mount Pinatubo seems to be at 10am, but you’ll probably not want to leave so late as it may be hot.
Mount Pinatubo tour and hike
Jeep ride to start of hike
After some waiting for the paperwork and for other guests to arrive, the jeep and guide were ready. We had 5 tourists, the guide and the driver on board. It was a bit of a squeeze. Within minutes we were crossing shallow rivers in the jeep and driving across the wide open valley where lahar once flowed.
The landscape gradually turned more rocky, barren and mud covered.
Somewhere along the way the driver stopped for us to take pictures. There were some beggars approaching tourists there. There were also some kids who didn’t really bother tourists.
Moving further in, the wide valleys narrowed and the walls seem to close in.
We got closer to the mud walls. The stream crossings also seemed to get more intense and some water got in.
After the most intense final stretch the jeep stopped. That was as far as the jeep would go as the terrain ahead was even rougher. The ride from the tourism office to the start point of the hike took about an hour. There were a few jeeps already parked there but less than half of what was to come that day.
Mount Pinatubo hike to first rest point
Very quickly we got right into the action with a couple of stream crossings. The guide picked the safer paths to cross as helped us across the crossings. While some were deeper or faster flowing it was generally possible to keep dry with steady footing, as there were usually rocks jutting out.
It was a little scary walking through the deep narrow valley imagining how massive amounts of lahar once flowed through these channels.
After about half an hour we passed the first checkpoint, where there’s a drinks stall and a basic toilet.
Mount Pinatubo hike to second rest point
After the first checkpoint the hills were greener and climb was a little steeper.
And another half an hour after the first checkpoint is the second one, where there are shelters and basic toilets.
Mount Pinatubo hike to crater lake
Beyond the second checkpoint, the crater lake is near. This was where vegetation got much denser and the climb a little bit steeper again.
When you reach the stairs, you’re almost there!
The crater lake of Mount Pinatubo
Half an hour after leaving the second stop, or about 2 hours from the start, the crater lake of Mount Pinatubo!
Unfortunately it was really cloudy that day, and the crater rim was obscured. Still a very beautiful spot with that water, clouds and mountains.
Our guide found a spot for us to sit around and have lunch by the view of the lake. Over lunch the clouds cleared a tiny bit, just for a little while.
Hiking back to the start point
We spent about an hour at the lake, enough time to enjoy the peacefulness in between groups arriving at the lake. Then it was back all the way to the start. Fortunately the sky was clearing up. That also meant it was getting warmer.
It was a different experience walking out with slightly clear skies, compared to the overcast one that morning.
Back at Santa Juliana, one of the guests on the tour had hired van transport. The driver offered to get me back to Angeles City for a fee if the other guests were fine. The price started high but we eventually settled for 200 PHP. Slightly cheaper than what I would have paid going by tricycle + bus but probably a bit faster. The ride back took longer than the morning though, with heavier traffic.
How much did it cost to hike Mount Pinatubo
Here’s what I paid for my entire day trip from Angeles City:
- Grab ride to Dau Bus Terminal: 221 PHP
- Bus to Capas McDonalds: 50 PHP
- Tricycle ride to Santa Juliana Tourism Office: 300 PHP
- Tour in shared jeep, including lunch (Majestic Mount Pinatubo Tours): 2,450 PHP (should be cheaper outside Jul-Oct period)
- Fee for transfer of 1,500 PHP deposit (Cebuana Lhuillier): 80 PHP
- Shared van back to Angeles city: 200 PHP (don’t count on this though)
- Jeepney back to hotel: 11 PHP
- Total: 3,312 PHP (~USD64 / SGD88)
If you’re in Angeles City, or in Manila with an extra day, a Mount Pinatubo day trip is definitely worth a visit. A vast contrast to the packed cities and idyllic islands Philippines is more well known for. The walk to the crater lake is beautiful and pretty manageable, and the jeep ride to the start point is an experience on its own. Up next, one more day in Angeles City to complete my week long trip to the Philippines!