Hiking Mount Pinatubo on a Budget

In my effort to discover nearby hiking places, Mount Pinatubo appears to be a popular choice. It only takes 3 hours to get to the base camp from Metro Manila, depending on your mode of transport. This makes it an easy day trip without having to spend the night anywhere. More importantly, you don’t need to break your bank going there!

Mount Pinatubo is an active volcano which devastating eruption affected the entire world a mere couple decades ago. Now, there are many tours by different companies that go there. Most are able to pick you up straight from your hotel in Manila. But as a cheapskate with a tight schedule, I opted to go without transfer. It helped that I had a local friend with me to figure things out along the way.

I bought the shared tour package without transfer from Tripinas for about PHP1,899 per pax more than a week prior. It’s the cheapest I’ve found for a tour to Pinatubo. However, shared tours happen usually only on weekends. For other days, private tours are possible, but the price depends on the number of people in the group, or at least till max capacity of a 5-seater 4×4. There were just two of us though, so a shared tour made more sense.

Our journey began at Hop Inn Aseana City, 10:30pm. We took a Grab ride to Victory Liner bus terminal in Pasay for about PHP220. (Although there was a mild confusion because we ended up in Pasay Bus Terminal without the Victory Liner. We had to take an 8-minute walk to the correct one in a shady area. To avoid this confusion, mention that you’re taking the Victory Liner further down the road.) The last bus for the day departs at 11:45pm, followed by 2:30am. You can check the schedule online prior to buying the ticket at the station. You might be able to get to base camp right on time if you take the 2:30am bus, but we were paranoid enough to just take the 11:45pm bus. It only cost us about PHP190 each.

The ride was decent though cramped, so I only fell asleep for a short couple of times. Taller people would have a tough time for sure. Fortunately it was only a 2-hour 45-minute ride to get to our stop at McDonald’s in Capas, Tarlac. We arrived at 2:30am, and tricycles were already available across from it. It was still too early, so we stayed in the 24-hour McD. It also had a bathroom to wash up. Sleep was impossible here due to the loud music and bright lighting, so I just stayed awake till it was time to leave at 4:15am.

Most reported that the tricycle takes 1 hour to reach Sta. Juliana Tourism, where we were to meet up with the tour group. But it actually took us no more than 40 minutes. The ride was PHP300 per pax, but we got it for PHP200 each instead. It was an experience riding the tricycle, though not the most comfortable. Then we settled down to wait and change into our hiking attire, before the vans with other hikers finally arrived. There were at least 16 of us, but other companies did tours too, so I’d say there were around 40 judging by the number of 4x4s. We received a briefing, signed the mandatory safety waiver, and hopped onto our 4×4 for our adventure!

I can easily describe the ride in a few words: bumpy, uncomfortable, and bumpy. But the excitement easily kept us on our toes, not to mention the beautiful sunrise across the lahar field. It was easy to see why a 4×4 was needed to cross the plains. We even almost got stuck trying to cross a river, and another 4×4 towed us out of it.

We stopped once at the Toblerone hills for a photo op. Toblerone hills is the unofficial name for the hills that literally look like those printed on the Toblerone chocolate packaging. But there is no real name to it; we only needed to know that they are photogenic.

This is where we first came across the aboriginal tribe of the area, the Aeta. Most were children curious of the visitors, venturing out on the fields for a glimpse. Others were found taking their laundry to the river for a wash or selling snacks and drinks to tourists. They may appear wary at first, but a smile would brighten their faces immediately.

The first half was relatively easy with mostly exposed, flat land. But the river we crossed was occasionally deep to the knees, flowing so swiftly that my legs nearly gave out a couple of times. That is what a guide is for – he helped us cross the tedious currants and made sure we were on the easier path the whole time. Seriously, you don’t want to get stuck on the wrong path and hurt yourself, or worse getting lost especially on the last half through the dense forest.

But all hike has an end. This one took us precisely 2 hours (for only 5 km!) before we arrived at the beautiful Pinatubo crater lake. It was a spectacular view that told us how worth it the hike had been. My friend couldn’t describe it any better: “It looks exactly like Windows desktop wallpaper!”

The trip back was fairly quick because it’s more of a descent. I was tired enough to not even notice the discomfort of the ride. We were back at base camp by 2:30 pm. Going with Tripinas means we got a certificate proving that we have ascended Mount Pinatubo. It was a great memento, especially for my friend who conquered the first hike of her entire life without much fitness. So if you’re a beginner, this hike will definitely show you what you’re capable of.

*All photos featured in this story are taken by the author.

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Danica Fernandez-Comenta
July 13, 2022 04:46

Beautiful blog. I’m glad you get to travel and document it! You know what, I grew up in the Philippines but never had the chance to see Mt. Pinatubo! I better go there once we come home. Thanks for sharing your experience!