March 29, 2012

Pinatubo Trekking

March 17 2012. If bringing a 5-yr old and a 6-yr old to a two-hour grueling hike up a once-very-destructive volcano to take a swim in its crater (with depth of hundreds of meters) isn't insane enough, then I don't know what is. But hey, I'm not the twisted travelholic for nothing :)

When I received the invitation from my mom to join her and her friends on this trek, I immediately said yes and informed her that I'm bringing the kids. And since logical thinking clearly runs in the family, she said no problem. She'll just hire a porter to carry the kids, in case they get tired. 

What to wear. A knee-length comfortable pants is the best in my opinion. At least you don't need to pull up your pants whenever you have to cross a stream, which is quite a lot. I opted to wear my Crocs prepair which worked really well for me since I don't like the feeling of wet socks and shoes on my feet. A cap, pair of sunnies, and loads of sunblock are also a must.

What to bring. Plenty of water that you can comfortably bring while continuously walking for two hours. Lunch, but you can also buy at base camp (highly recommended since they'll take care of bringing it up at the summit plus you'll be helping local businesses). Snacks, we have kids with us so chocolates, cookies and chips are a must. Light blanket, where you can sit and have a picnic or lie down and relax at the lake.

Most people I know take the package-guided tours which include transfers to-and-from Manila. For our group, someone arranged directly with a 4x4 operator so we have to pay separately for the 4x4 vehicle, the guide, environmental fee and lunch. But I still think it comes out really cheaper compared to paying per head (we're 14 people in the group). 

The kids were actually excited when I told them we're climbing a volcano and we're going to swim in its crater. So I had no problem when I woke them up at 3am so we can leave for Tarlac before the break of dawn. They just slept the whole ride and took they're breakfast (bought in Jollibee on our way) when we got to the base camp.

Carbo loading before the climb.

The ride. It was the bumpiest, dustiest and roughest ride I have ever experienced. It was an hour of lahar valleys, streams and clouds of dust. It was actually a good kind of experience, just prepare yourself for the beating your body's going to take.

The awesome ride.

The Toblerone Hills.

The trek. From the jump-off point, our guide said it's approximately 7 kms to the crater. The trek starts by crossing a stream and a narrow cliff. After which, it was a mixture of long endless lahar mountains, dusts, rocks and streams. Just make sure to stay close to your group so you won't get lost or take a dangerous trail.

Our guide/porter to carry, not our bags, but our kids.

Cookie Break.

After walking for approximately 1.5 hours, and shedding 10lbs (I wish!) we see this....

What?!? The trek is just starting?!?

This is what the guide was telling us earlier. Not so long ago, there's a path called the "skyway" where the 4x4 can travel an extra 15mins and cut the walking from 2 hours to 20 minutes! So the trek should officially start at this point. Unfortunately, this road has been damaged by heavy rains and seems to be irreparable. This part of the trek is mostly uphill and you're basically just following the stream up the summit. 

The sign says that middle-aged people should be able to do it in 18 minutes. Needless to say, it was a huge BS! Even the more experienced mountain climbers in our group finished slower that the "seniors" bracket. I would have to RUN it at race pace to finish under 15 minutes. Just to set your expectations, it is still a pretty long hike but very scenic nonetheless.

Finally, we were greeted with:

A welcome message from the DENR, LGU and PDC (Pinatubo Devt. Corp).

Now that's a view worth trekking for.

We had our lunch and was so excited to go down to the crater lake and take a dip. It was another 150 or so steps on a rocky, uneven stairs and there were a number of warnings on our way down.

Did we listen? Of course not! Haha. But seriously, extreme caution has to be exercised if you do decide to swim in the lake. Please remember that this is AN ACTIVE volcano and has already wrecked havoc a few years back and underneath is a deep abyss of deadly magma. So please, please be careful.

Moving on, the water is a deep shade of green and is so serene. I suddenly feel the urge to just sit still and admire its beauty. The sight in front of us is so breathtaking, it was actually a little hard to grasp that we are in a volcano's crater. Apparently, volcanic lakes are extremely rare because their presence requires a special balance of precipitation versus evaporation and other factors.

Enjoying the very cold and refreshing water.

The lake is packed with bikini-clad tourists swimming and sun bathing in the shore. There's even a boat which can take you to the other side of the lake where the water is supposedly warmer. The fee is PHP350 per head but we didn't really see the need for it since we were so content in staying still and admiring the view in front of us. The atmosphere is just so tranquil you'll absolutely love how it envelopes you with serenity.

By around 2pm, it's time to head back to base camp. My daughter slept the entire trek while being carried. My son, on the other hand, was still in high spirits from his swim that he walked the whole 2 hours without being carried. He was so proud of his accomplishment that he proclaimed himself a "SUPER HIKER". 

We ended our trip by feasting on old-fashioned halo-halo at base camp. Nothing beats this Filipino favorite to refresh and reward yourself.

Some things to consider:
  • There is no Globe and Sun signal in the area, including at the base camp (I'm not so sure about Smart though). So if you need to be on-call 24/7 you might want to consider this before booking your trip.
  • If you're planning to swim, wear your swimsuits under your clothes because there's no changing room at the crater lake. Bring floaters/life jackets for your kids and watch them very, very carefully.  
  • Please check if your package includes lunch for your guide. We were already at the crater when we found out that they don't have. Good thing we packed extra food to share with them.

How to get there from Manila: The base camp is located in Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac. Take NLEX and exit at Sta. Ines. Go straight and turn right at the fork. Go straight then make a left at the welcome arc of Brgy. Sto. Rosario. Just follow the road and make a right at the end. You'll pass a checkpoint and shortly after is the base camp. Approximately 2-3 hours land travel.


  1. good job sa kids mo, astig! \m/

  2. Wow, your kids are game for anything.;) Buti pa sila they got to experience trekking in Pinatubo. That photo of the crater lake is just lovely... parang nasa postcard.

  3. I still remember my trek to Pinatubo! Cant imagine bringing kids :)) but your family's so cool. Game for anything!

  4. Thanks for sharing those wonderful photos! For sure, this gonna be our next destination. By the way i just followed your blog, hope you can follow mine as well..

  5. Interesting! Been wanting to try that!!! It's not that far din :p My province is in Nueva. Seems like you guys had loads of fun! Love ur blog!! Youve a new follower :-) xx Forever Nineteen

  6. One of the nicest tourist spots in Pampanga. Very adventurous din mga kids, alam na paglaki. :)