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Mt. Pinatubo

Posted by on May 22nd, 2009
Filed Under: Featured, Luzon, Pampanga, Photos

Mount Pinatubo

Mt. Pinatubo Travel Advisory: DOT-RIII stops trekking to the volcano!

With jarring landscapes, dramatic canyons, and snaking rivers, formerly nondescript Mt. Pinatubo, is a sight to behold, its scenery much magnified taking into account its fairly recent turbulent history.

No one ever paid attention to Mt. Pinatubo and the nearby Mt. Arayat in the province of Pampanga, a more prominent yet dormant volcano, prior to that fateful day of 15 June 1991 when finally the mountain woke up and shook the world. Before the 1991 eruption, scientists thought that the last recorded eruption of the volcano happened 450 years ago. However, the history of this mountain dates back to its predecessor, the ancestral Pinatubo whose remnants now surround the present volcano. The ancestral Pinatubo’s activity began 1.1 Million years ago, which ended sometime about 45,000 years ago. After 10,000 years of dormancy, modern Pinatubo was born in what was deemed to be the most explosive eruption in its history and deposited pyroclastic flow material 100 meters thick on all sides of the mountain – as much as 25 cubic kilometers of material ejected from its underlying magma chamber.

Philippines Mount Pinatubo

Mt. Pinatubo’s Artwork
Photo by Storm Crypt

Philippines Mount Pinatubo Trail

Two For The Road: (Mt. Pinatubo Trail) In case you want to know how big these canyons and valleys are, just look at those two trekkers in the middle of the frame. This area is now within the province of Pampanga and Tarlac border. The Zambales border is just on the other side of the crater. Mt. Pinatubo.
Photo by Storm Crypt

The Philippines is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a region where large numbers of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur along the entire Pacific Coast. Pinatubo, is part of a chain of volcanoes on the western edge of Luzon and is part of the so-called subduction volcanoes- formed by the Philippine Plate sliding under the Eurasian Plate with the Manila Trench to the west. It goes without saying that the volcano lies on a very destructive plate boundary. The mountain is an active stratovolcano and is located about 3 hours north of Manila and sits on the Cabusilan Mountain Range on the intersecting borders of Zambales, Pampanga and Tarlac.

“Pinatubo” means “made grown” in Tagalog and the local dialect of the area, the Sambal and an indigenous group of hunter-gatherer people, the Aetas lived on the slopes of the mountain for centuries to escape the persecution of the lowlanders and the Spaniards. Ramon Magsaysay, the former Philippine President and a Zambales-native even named his C-47 Presidential Plane, “Mt. Pinatubo”. And as if it was some sort of a bad omen, the plane crashed in 1957, killing the President and 24 others onboard.

Philippines Mount Pinatubo Crater

Mount Pinatubo Crater
Photo by infiniteshutter

Less than a year before the eruption, Central Luzon was rocked by a powerful 7.7 Magnitude earthquake on 16 July 1990, with the epicenter about 100 kilometers northeast in the Nueva Ecija capital, Cabanatuan City which lead some scientists to speculate that the earthquake triggered the violent eruption. In succeeding months, the volcano started to make its presence felt, rumbling with a series of earthquakes, phreatic eruptions and sulfur dioxide emission increasing significantly.

On 15 June 1991, Mt. Pinatubo, erupted in such a spectacular display of sheer force and ferocity etching its place as the largest eruption of the 20th century after the Novarupta in 1912 and the largest in living memory– with the eruption ejecting 10 cubic kilometers of material, ten times larger than the 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens. The enormous volume of lava and ash injected massive amounts of dust and aerosols into the stratosphere, the largest since the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. This resulted in the reduction of the normal amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface by roughly 10% and the decrease of global temperature to about 0.4°C (0.7°F). The stratospheric cloud persisted in the atmosphere for three years for three years and was visible from space. The ash cloud after the eruption which almost virtually covered the entire island of Luzon, plunging much of Central Luzon into darkness as ash falls were recorded in most of the Philippines, Cambodia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, and parts of Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand. For the coming months, stunning vermilion sunsets were recorded throughout the world. The eruption was so colossal that Pinatubo literally blew its top, with its summit replaced by a caldera 2.5 kilometers wide with the highest point on its rim, some 290 meters lower than its pre-eruption summit of 1,485 meters above sea-level.

To add insult to the horrendous suffering of the people of Central Luzon, the area was hit by a typhoon passing close to the volcano which triggered massive lahar – a lethal mudflow that is composed of pyroclastic materials and water that flowed through the river valleys of the mountain.

Philippines Mount Pinatubo West Rim Zambales

Pondering into Zambales: (Mt. Pinatubo West Rim) Mt. Pinatubo’s west shore, part of the province of Zambales. Shot taken near the middle of the crater lake. Last time I was here, more than seven years ago, I can only swim as far as I could, as there were no boats yet. Its only now that I can take my shots from here and as close as I would have wanted to. This was supposedly part of the summit of Mt. Pinatubo (populated by the Aetas). When the volcano erupted, it carved out this caldera and this rocky mountain summit, which is now filled with water.
Photo by Storm Crypt

The eruption of Pinatubo had immediately impacted not only entire landscapes and the local and global environment: it was also felt in the economic, political and socio-cultural levels. A massively hot debate at that time was the termination of the United States Bases Agreement between the Philippines and the US and the eruption contributed to the closure of the last vestiges of American military presence in the country. The American naval base in Subic, Zambales was 75 kilometers away from the volcano whilst the airbase in Clark is less than 25 kilometers away in Angeles, Pampanga.

Today, Mt. Pinatubo’s serene cyan-colored crater lake, canyons made of pyroclastic materials, and the growing tropical rainforest canopy covering part of its slopes are a mute testament to its recent explosive past. Treks to the crater lake are organized by tour groups based in Manila like Discover Asia International Travel and Tours and via Sapangbato (Mt. Pinatubo Hot Springs) Angeles, Pampanga or through the Porac Trail in Porac, also in Pampanga. If you are going at it alone, you may contact the Santa Juliana Tourism Council in Capas, Tarlac to help set you up with guides, jeep rentals and homestays. The main jump off point is by a sprawling resort/spa complex at Santa Juliana in Capas, Tarlac, where you get on one of the 4×4 vehicles to take you on one of the interesting rides in the panoramic lahar-hewn landscape, and sometimes meeting an occasional Aeta farmer family pulling a carabao on your way.

Editor addon

*updated Ryan: 19/11/2009 – Discover Asia International Travel and Tours does not have their best guides anymore, and lately, it has been very difficult dealing with them. I could no longer vouch for the quality of their services.

The spa complex charges PhP100 per person for the use of its showers, and PhP500 per person for a whole body massage and a chance to relax while being almost entirely buried in ash from the volcano. Contact Pete Won, Spa Manager, Mt. Pinatubo’s Wellness Spa (+63.928. 3410402). You may also contact the DoT Region III Director Ronald Tiotuico, Paskuhan Village, San Fernando, Pampanga, at (+63.45.9612665). In some cases, food is already provided, in some tour packages it is not. Make sure you check with the tour group you are going with if the package includes meals. A guide is definitely a must for novices and newcomers. From Santa Juliana, it is about a 45 minute drive to the base, and depending on weather conditions, the hike could take up to 2 to 2 ½ hours via the longer way and 45 minutes via the Skyway. During rainy months, the Skyway is sometimes closed off due to landslides.

Mountain guides are mandatory, and if you need camping provisions, make sure to arrange this beforehand to avoid the hassle. Municipal permits are required and there is a fee – a fee is usually higher for foreigners than for local residents. Very discriminatory, don’t you think?

Philippines Mount Pinatubo

Mount Pinatubo
Photo by Storm Crypt

One can also kayak and swim in the waters of the crater. Extra precautions are needed as well when swimming, there is a big drop to the bottom from the shore, and a person of a height of at least 5’7” can barely touch the shifty bottom less than 1 meter from the banks. The water temperature is just about lukewarm, and being in a volcano is sulfuric in nature and supposedly good for the skin.

Philippines Mount Pinatubo Crater Lake Viewing Area

Crater Lake Viewing Area
Photo by Storm Crypt

The weather can be fickle at times, in our case, we had scorching heat during our ascent through the lahar plains, and we had a torrential downpour during the descent on the same day. If you do not plan to camp out, Pinatubo can be a good day trip. Make sure you are well-rested the previous day before the trip. Don’t forget to wear comfortable clothes and a sturdy pair of hiking shoes as you have to wade through rivers (shallow but with strong currents, especially during or after the rain.) Do not forget to get a waterproof backpack in case of a downpour or at least bring a Ziploc for your camera and wallet.

Philippines Mt.Pinatubo Skyway

Mt.Pinatubo Skyway
Photo by infiniteshutter

Why Not Go

If one has a physical disability it could be one of the limiting factors in climbing the mountain. Expense can also be a factor, although some tour agencies like Discover Asia have competitive prices. Weather plays a big role in going to Pinatubo – never go especially if it is raining or there is a storm close by (even if the area is not covered by the storm warning). There are neither shops nor forms of commerce and hotels in the crater, something that a city slicker might sorely miss.

Editor addon

*updated Ryan: 19/11/2009 – Discover Asia International Travel and Tours does not have their best guides anymore, and lately, it has been very difficult dealing with them. I could no longer vouch for the quality of their services.

Why Go

Because of the utter importance of Mt. Pinatubo in recent history as well as breathtaking (well, for someone like me, I was literally gasping for breath on some of the incline parts of the ascent) and the beautiful vista that one sees by the crater as well as the almost Alpine-like rock formations is well worth the trek.

Best Time to Visit

Best time to hike is during the dry season (November to May). Avoid going if there are storms around the area, as some areas are prone to landslides and the water in the rivers goes up very fast. Check with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration or PAG-ASA for updates in any weather disturbances before you go.

Editor addon

PKTan: DO NOT attempt to go trekking without checking the weather situation, and do get local guides if you are not familiar with the terrain! Recent news – 2 Canadians, Filipino killed in Tarlac flood. Better to be safe than sorry!

Where to Stay

Philippines Hotels and Resorts

Save up to 75% on hotels in Philippines

Please double-check with your travel agency on where to stay if you decide to go down the mountain and not to camp by the crater lake. Accommodation is also offered in Peniel but details are sketchy and some of them require that unmarried couples are not to share the same room – which I think is a load of crap. For more choices, check with the Department of Tourism-Region III (+63.45.9612665/+63.45.9612612/).

Where & What to Eat

It’s best to bring your own food here. You can pay your guides extra to carry your food for you. There is a restaurant at the spa in Santa Juliana, but the food and the beer was quite overpriced. Bring enough trail food and energy drinks going up the mountain. A supply of ion-based drinks is quite helpful as well. If you bring your own food, make sure you take your own trash bag with you. Do not disrespect the mountain so NEVER litter. Pinatubo is a sacred mountain for the Aetas, therefore respect the surroundings.


Pinatubo nightlife, if you ever plan to spend an night at the crater it consists of quiet bonfires and light alcohol. Even probably jokes, stories shared amongst fellow campers and of course a tune or two- especially if they are Filipinos.

My to do List

1. Kayak or raft around the crater lake.* (Make sure that you deflate your raft before going up the mountain. We have seen some morons carrying an inflated raft 2 hours up the mountain.)*

Philippines Mount Pinatubo

Rowing alone: Mount Pinatubo Crater Lake
Photo by Storm Crypt

2. Have a facial mudpack and a 30 minute soak at the volcanic mud pool.**
3. Visit the local Aeta village.
4. A stop at the Capas Death March Shrine would be perfect as well. This is one of the sites of the infamous Death March during World War 2 in the Philippines, when thousands upon thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war were forced by the Japanese Imperial Army to march after the fall of Bataan to the different prison camps. The Capas Shrine was built as a memorial to the soldiers who died at the grounds where Camp O’Donnell used to stand. The camp was the final stop of the Death March and where 2,200 Americans and 27,000 Filipinos died.*
*- Highly Recommended
**- Recommended by Locals

Stay Away From

1. Mosquitoes, ants and bugs! – bring a hefty tube of bug repellent to be sure especially if you plan to do a side trip to the beach.
2. UV rays and a hat– Apply ample sun protection and sunglasses as the sun can be strong during midday.
3. Keep a watch on your possessions and don’t stray too much from your group.
4. Dehydration – keep yourself amply hydrated with ion-based drinks and with trail-food as well as never forget to bring a towel and a change of clothes.

Getting There

If you are not going with a tour group, there are buses going or passing through Angeles from the different bus terminals in Manila (Buendia and Taft Avenues in Manila; Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City and along EDSA Kamuning-Kamias). From there, take a northbound jeepney from Angeles and ask the driver to drop you at the intersection for Santa Juliana. Take a tricycle into town and look for the Santa Juliana Tourism Council at the Municipal Hall where you can register and arrange for your guides and provisions.

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24 Responses to “Mt. Pinatubo”

  1. Wern says:

    Wow… Ry… this place looks awesome… and i love this article…. wooot wooot… Im soo jealous, i want to seee it tooo. Anyway, The philipines is beautiful…

  2. Akeem says:

    the crater looks so magical! hope i can visit pinatubo soon!

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Akeem,

      You definitely should check it out- but during the drier months. Skip it when it’s starting to rain, a lot of areas are prone to landslides. It was quite freaky when we were going back from the crater as it started pouring down with HEAVY rain, and we have to cross rivers between canyons with its waters rising very fast and the current very heavy.

      I’ll be off to the Zambales Coast this weekend, so my travel guide for Zambales should be up by around Tuesday/Wednesday next week – meanwhile- you should check out my top 10 best places to eat in Manila. Might give you some ideas next time you visit Manila. :)



  3. ckaren cabarroguis says:

    I agree with you Ryan about Mt. Pinatubo’s breathtaking and beautiful view of Mt. Pinatubo. I’ve been there last March and the trek was a little easy for me since I came from a harder climb a week before Pinatubo’s trek. I enjoyed it hiking and the trek because its a mixed of water, land, soil, rocks, ashes on road plus the excitement of what you will be seeing there at the crater. We also paid few soldier as a watchout just in case there will be attack or something aside from the porters. It was really worth it for time and money spend on our trip. But I think it will be easier if you have contacts and plan before going there since there are things to consider too. When we stayed overnight with our tent, it was really cold and very windy!!! One of our tents even broke because it can’t stand too much wind! Anyway, we still enjoyed it! :)

    • Ryan says:

      Hi ckaren cabarroguis!

      I am glad that you enjoyed your Pinatubo experience. We did too although it would have been better if we had a full 8 hours sleep. We only had 4 before we went on a trip. Was basically running on caffeine and gatorade. The fact that Pinatubo had a very turbulent recent past makes the trek even more meaningful and fascinating.



  4. Liz says:

    1. Kayak or raft around the crater lake.* (Make sure that you deflate your raft before going up the mountain. We have seen some morons carrying an inflated raft 2 hours up the mountain.)*

    Morons? LOL!

    • Ryan says:

      Yeah, haha. :) We sure dint think it was a smart idea for those guys to carry an inflated raft up, when they can carry a deflated one and then inflate it when they reach the crater. :) Tch. not very smart. :)

  5. Ryan says:

    This is just in today – this is why I was never recommending treks to Pinatubo especially during the rainy season. These people never listen and paid for their stubbornness with their lives- treks according to this report is suspended until further notice:

    2 Canadians, Filipino killed in Tarlac flood
    By Tonette Orejas
    Central Luzon Desk
    First Posted 10:47:00 08/07/2009

    Filed Under: Flood, Accidents (general), Weather
    CITY OF SAN FERNANDO — Two Canadian tourists and a Filipino were killed when they were swept away in a flashflood along O’Donnel River in Capas, Tarlac on Thursday afternoon amid strong rains in the wake of Typhoon “Kiko”, officials said Friday.

    The bodies of the Canadians – a man and a woman – and the Filipino were found on Friday morning but have yet to be identified, Governor Victor Yap told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

    Capas Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan, policemen and soldiers found the bodies along the river’s tributary in Sitio (sub-village) Dilig, Barangay (village) Sta. Juliana at 6 a.m., said Chief Superintendent Leon Nilo de la Cruz, Central Luzon police director.

    The victims were part of three groups of nine Canadians and three Koreans who had registered at the Sta. Juliana Tourism Center for a trek to Mt. Pinatubo’s crater, Yap said, quoting reports from village officials.

    Investigators are trying to reach the survivors to get more details on the incident.

    Sta. Juliana officials told investigators the tourists insisted on going to the volcano using jeeps hired in Angeles City.

    They said the tourists were not accompanied by guides among locals and the Aetas, who knew the terrain well.

    The O’Donnel River is fed by Mt. Pinatubo’s watersheds and snakes down 30 kilometers before draining to the Sacobia River in the lowland.

    The river bed is dry and filled with volcanic rocks, sand and ash during summer but turns into a huge river with strong current during the rainy season.

    “We have no excuses for what has happened. We will do further work to ensure visitors’ safety,” Yap said.

    Since 1993,when the Department of Tourism allowed treks to the volcano and transferred the program to the local government in 2001, no tourist had been reported to have met major accidents in the area, until now.

    Yap has suspended the treks indefinitely for safety reasons.

  6. Dinah says:

    that news is just too bad. its been raining since last week so they should have postponed the trek. no use fooling with nature.

    we are also planning to go there sometime next month when the weather is a lot better.

    • Ryan says:

      These hikers were dissuaded by locals to cancel their trek but they did NOT listen. It was a foolish, foolish decision and now we know that they paid for this foolishness with the ultimate price. Let it be a lesson to future travelers to respect nature and not to tempt fate.

      It is not safe to climb Pinatubo when it is raining (even there is no storm). I climb it last year, went up under blistering sun, and went down in the middle of a torrential downpour. Was freaky because we can hear landslides everywhere and we have to pass through rivers and narrow canyons made up of lahar that could topple anytime (some of it did).

      It does not hurt to be a smart traveler. If you have to go up to Pinatubo, it’s better to do it when there is nary a cloud around Luzon.

  7. Russell Ri says:

    That was really an unfortunate incident. The crater and terrain has become more majestic especially the past few years when vegetation has started to develop. And it would be a shame if people would not be able to experience this.

  8. izzylen says:

    wow…im in luv with the beautiful scnries dat ive seen in ds article… im so proud 2 hav ds kind of sceneries in my country…./ hope dat i can visit ds mountain soonw/ my friends. i love philippines….

  9. ckaren cabarroguis says:

    It was a sad news but sometimes bad things happen to serve a lesson for the others who are persistent on things they think are okay but are not. But maybe, it shouldn’t be blame alone on the hikers since if no one agreed to bring them there, they might stop abd believe its risky. I hate to say this but maybe there are very, very few people (like the jeepney they hired) who agreed just because of the money and doesn’t care about their safety. Is there a guard or someone who will decide and stop hikers who are persistent to up the crater instead of the bad weather?

  10. barry says:

    Ryan, Some questions.

    I want to do the two day Pinatubo trek in mid-December, overnight camping in the crater. Do you have a contact phone, better yet, email address, of guides who can organize the trek, including camping equipment. I would like to arrange this before arriving in Angeles on Dec. 15. It would be one pax. I had hoped to climb Pinatubo couple of weeks ago when I was in Angeles area (now I’m back home in Michigan), but the mountain was closed because of the recent incident. I had to settle for climbing Arayat instead.

    After Pinatubo and a few days in Manila, I may go to Negros for a few days. What do you recommend–Bacolad and Mt Kanlaon, or Dumaguete and Twin Lakes? Either one (but not both) logistically work fine for me.

    Your advice will be greatly appreciated.


    • Ryan says:

      Hi Barry,

      Sorry for the delayed reply, I just came back from a tour of Northern Mindanao over the weekend. Anyway regarding your question, I would probably be better off contacting a reliable mountaineering outfit or group operating in Manila. I know a contact, a guy who organises treks to different mountains all over the country but he can be a bit pricey- you may contact him though His name is Ohmar – ohmar picache <

      Btw as far as I know Kanlaon is very tricky to climb but you may need to contact an outfit in Bacolod for this. The Twin Lakes near Dumaguete is more accessible. Plus you could swing by the Manjuyod sandbar in Bais plus do a bit dolphin watching (check the season for this), hop on to Apo Island and dive or hie off to Siquijor altogether from pockets of unspoilt white sand beaches and waterfalls.

      Cheers mate!

  11. Barry says:

    Ryan, I will take your advice and visit Dumaguete area in December.

    Can you tell me if Mt. Pinatubo’s Wellness Spa has hotel rooms? I would like to stay there for the night, then explore Pinatubo the next day. I would then move on to Manila in the late afternoon or early evening. I can’t find any information about the Wellness Spa online. Thanks.

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Barry,

      I reckon the spa at Pinatubo had rooms to let, it was quite a big enough complex to handle such as far as I can remember. To be sure you may want to contact them directly via mobile at +63.927.4013273 or +63.928.3410402. I can’t see any email details for the spa though. If you are going with a tour outfit, you may inquire regarding this matter. I am sure they can help you with this. One thing that you should also consider, check if the trails are already open. After the 2 killer typhoons, landslides have been extremely common in North and Central Luzon although it should be okay by December, make sure you ask your guide for this. NEVER GO UP PINATUBO WHEN THERE IS A LOW PRESSURE AREA NEARBY. Check the weather. Cancel the trek if you need to- weather changes swiftly so you may want to keep on the safe side. Hope this helps.


  12. Jens says:

    I had the opportunity to fly over Mt Pinatubo when arriving in the Philippines in December. It was an exciting view to see the crater lake from above. The clear blue water was like watching a James Bond movie. You just waited for the water to disappear and a rocket to shoot out:-). I did not have time to go there this time but next time I will really see what opportunities I have to go there. I did not understand att firt what it was but when I saw the big lava trail down to the highway I understood that it had to be Pinatubo.

    • Ryan says:

      Hey Jens,

      Yeah, I flew into the Philippines last July as well and I got to see Pinatubo from above too. Sooo nice and very imposing! It was a different experience hiking to the crater though. It was very tiring but the views are just amazing. :)


  13. jenny says:

    Hi RYAN,,,,I read your article ,yeah your right the Mt Pinatubo is sooo beautiful and nice.Me and my husband flew to the Philippines last year Dec.My husband took me to Mt Pinatubo and I was so amazed for what I saw.Its tiring,but its all worth it.We went there using the motorcycle(induro). After the eruption,my husband went to see the Mt Pinatubo by himself.(just walking)starting to Patling to Mt Pinatubo.Theres a coconut tree,before you can reach the crater of the Mt Pinatubo, his the one who plant that tree.The coconut tree its not that reallly big.My husband name is DAVID DE GUZMAN and my name is JENNALYN DE GUZMAN,we both grew up in PATLING,but now were here in CALI. JENNY

    • Ryan says:

      Hi Jenny!

      Your story is soooo cool! There are a lot of jaw-dropping sceneries in the Philippines. You can help our country by inviting your friends to come over (especially the skeptics). Let’s change the image of the Philippines one travel experience at a time. :) Come back again and check out the different destinations in the Philippines. :0

      Cheers Kabayan!


  14. Robert Reynolds says:

    Great article and pictures. My wife, son and I were there (Clark AB and Subic Bay) when Mt. Pinatubo erupted. We watched the lead up to it of steam venting and sulphur odor that blew down off the mountain. It was certainly one of the most spectacular events I’ve witnessed in my lifetime……..and then to see the lahars, the typhoon, the ash clouds rolling across the land, the devastation left behind. Quite incredible. The crater lake is beautiful.

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