Travel Guide: Mt. Pinatubo 4x4 Adventure and Trek

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Mt. Pinatubo from fellow travelers, but I was never really interested to see it for myself. To be honest, the thought of trekking for hours under the Central Luzon sun (it can be very hot and dry in this region of the Philippines) didn’t exactly appeal to me, so even if people were raving about how fun it was to do the trek and to experience that popular 4x4 ride, I didn’t care. “The view is worth it”, they all declared. “OK,” I just kept saying, with a shrug.

And then I saw the below photo on Facebook—and I couldn’t stop thinking about this mountain from that day.

Photo credit: Nic Lafuente

Holy cow! I couldn’t believe it was that beautiful. Not to brag or anything, but if you’ve been to Batanes, your expectation with “stunning views” changes—it is increased tenfold. But this one—I was awestruck. The image of the crater lake, with its turquoise waters, glued my eyes to the screen for several minutes, and the next thing I know, I was saving this photo and sending it to my friends, complete with “WHEN ARE WE GOING HERE?”—all caps yes, as if going was obligatory. We finally went last month, thanks to the APEC holidays.



I couldn’t believe it took me so long to realize what a marvel it truly was. And I should have known this earlier—after all, the way the crater lake was formed is far from ordinary as well. When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991—this event was the 2nd largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, by the way—the crater further collapsed and was filled with water. Today, it is a calm lake that showcases various shades of green, surrounded by dreamy rocks and lava walls with tufts of foliage.

Best of all? It's just 3 hours away from Manila.

When to Go

If you are avoiding the sun at all costs (LOL), it’s best to go from September to February. The wind is cold, making the trek a bit more “comfortable”. However, be warned that there will be chances of fog (and rain), so if you want to see the crater lake in all its glory—meaning, bright and sunny conditions—then this not guaranteed, as in what happened to us! A slight drizzle came as we neared the crater, and the sky was leaden with overcast. IT WAS STILL STUNNING THOUGH, in a very dramatic, dreamy way.

Going for those stunning turquoise shades? Then plan your trip on a summer month, that is between March and May.

P.S. I’m not saying you won’t see the turquoise lake on other months—it’s just that there will be chances of rain (especially June to August).

How Much Money to Bring

Depending on how many persons are splitting the expenses (4x4 rental, various fees), your Mt. Pinatubo adventure can range from PhP2,000 to around PhP2,500—including fares from Manila. Please see sample breakdown below. Bring extra PhP100 to PhP200 for food (packed lunch, which you can buy from the eateries around the tourism office).

Things to Bring

Trail food
Packed lunch
Trekking shoes/sandals
Light jacket/windbreaker (if you’re going on rainy month)
Bottled water (preferably 2L per person)
Extra clothes
Your camera, of course!


How to Get There

From Manila, take a bus headed to Capas, Tarlac (Victory Liner). Fare is about PhP200 one-way. You can also take buses going to Baguio or Olongapo, but you need to get off at Capas (landmark: Public Market). Travel time is around 1.5 hours.

From the market, hire a tricycle that would take you to the Sta. Juliana Tourism Office, the base camp of the 4x4 ride and trek. Each ride costs PhP300/3 persons. Our driver agreed to drive us for PhP350 (there were 4 of us). Travel time is about 40 minutes.

The Journey to the Crater Lake

Your adventure to the crater lake starts with an exciting 4x4 ride, which would take you to rocky terrain, shallow streams, and muddy trails. The jaunt would make you bounce up and down and hurl you to random directions (sometimes headfirst to your friend), sometimes even make your drink water without warning (from the big splashes, LOL), but it will also show you incredible sights. Boulders, lahar walls, green slopes—they were all amazing. I couldn’t count how many times I shouted STOP to the driver, haha!

After about an hour of being hurled around, you will reach the “parking lot”—that is, the jump-off point of the trek. It’s a 7km hike to the lake, a fun hike if you ask me since the views are incredible. You will pass by more rocky land and flat areas filled with slippery volcanic ash—but nothing really dangerous, making this trek incredibly beginner-friendly. There are streams coming from the mountains, with water so cold it will tempt you to dip into it. My friend Krizzia, who is a master at jumping over rocks, never got her shoes wet throughout the trip. I on the other hand loved the feeling of the cold water on my feet so I intentionally got myself wet—who the hell cares if I was wearing shoes?

There were 2 stops or resting points going to the lake, but the hike was quite easy so we didn’t feel the need to rest long (unlike in Batad, where I almost died hiking back up from Tappiya Falls haha). After 3 hours, we reached the last part of the trek—a paved path which leads to the crater viewpoint. My legs were a bit tired at this point but somehow my steps went faster—I was so excited to see the crater lake.

When I finally reached the lookout and saw the lake, I was disappointed for a second that it wasn’t the turquoise lake I was hoping for. But the disappointment quickly turned into wonder—I got more and more mesmerized with each minute, and the next thing I knew, I was inviting my friends to come down the stone steps so we can go near the lake. It just draws you in—the greens, the drama, the stillness of the water, the clouds hovering above, cloaking it in mystery. It was just captivating.

And then the drizzle became a full-blown rain, bringing me out of my hypnotized state. Nevertheless, I’m still happy that I had a few moments of peace right there by the beautiful lake.

I couldn’t believe I considered not going here because of the Luzon heat. Well now, fuck the sun—if anyone wants to go, please invite me.


Some Useful Tips

Arrive early. Make sure you reach Sta. Juliana Tourism Office by 6:00AM. Otherwise, there will be no more 4x4 units.
Eat heavy breakfast, you will need the energy for the trek. It is recommended that you bring packed lunch as well.
Wear light clothes (preferably dri-fit).
If you aren’t used to hiking, buy one of those bamboo sticks being sold at the tourism office for PhP10.
Bring trail food. Otherwise, if you get hungry during the trek, you will be forced to buy from the vendors stationed at the resting stops and near the crater—the prices are ridiculous.
You can shower once you get back to the tourism office. The sari-sari stores and eateries nearby offer shower use for PhP50.

Have you been to Mt. Pinatubo? What did you think about it? How was your experience in the trek? In the 4x4?

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