Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

Rise, shine, and it's time for the Mount Pinatubo tour! I remembered waking up really early to make it in time for the jump-off point, and wondering if it's going to be worth it... well, behind every memorable adventure is some of the difficult minutes rolling off the bed in the wee hours of the morning. Some quick facts that will blow you away immediately already about Mount Pinatubo: it is still an active volcano, and was responsible for the second largest eruption of the 20th century in 1991. Many travelers go for the Mount Pinatubo hike as one of the day trips from Manila for this particular reason. If you want to visit this amazingly beautiful hiking spot, and have no idea how to start, I have all the planning tipsexact instructions on how to reach the place that you intend to go all in this post (and of course, plenty of gorgeous pictures ❤️):

Planning tips

Self-organized or with a tour?
Located on the Luzon Island of the Phillippines, Mount Pinatubo is nearly 80km away from Manila city. Here's something straight off the bat: it is not advisable to organize a self-hike because a section of the tour requires you to rent a 4x4 jeep and there are only limited jeeps. Organized tours get a priority to the jeeps. Unlike most travel plans, don't leave this day tour to chance as you might just be forced to U-turn and not reach Mount Pinatubo if you don't book beforehand.

Which Pinatubo tour organizer to book with?
The organizer we booked with is 'Sonia Bognot' of Majestic Mount Pinatubo Tour & Homestay.
Apparently she is very famous at the jump-off point of Mount Pinatubo: Santa Juliana.

When to hike Mount Pinatubo?
The most popular season to hike this little monster is during the dry season - January to May will be the best, though October to June is still acceptable. This is because the riverbed needs to be sufficiently dry for the jeep to go through. We visited the volcano in December 2015; the riverbed was not completely dry then and gave us a pretty good splashing time - exciting and grungy, yes, but not exactly very comfortable for those who don't like to get dirty! During the rainy season, the waters rise and it will be impossible for the jeep to go through.

What to bring?
A change of clothes, especially if you are visiting Mount Pinatubo during the transition periods between wet and dry seasons! You will be on the road for at least 3 hours on the way there, and hiking for 2-5 hours depending on your hiking skills, so bring enough water and food from Manila city. The supermarket and basement levels of Century Mall in Makati has a lot of pretty decent supply for you to stock up at. There ain't much facilities and food from Saint Juliana itself, so don't depend on that. If you have knee-problems and cannot hike for long hours on slopes and steps, it is best to get some kind of hiking pole with you. First-aid kits, in case of injury. Sunscreen. Lastly, towels will always come in handy, as hitchhikers from the galaxy would tell you (non-fiction version: good for shielding your face from sand). If you intend to bring a DSLR, do note you have to baby it quite a lot because the journey is not particularly smooth.

What to wear?
Anything comfy goes, though it gets chilly at times so don't think of baring too much skin without any jackets on you. Definitely shoes that you don't mind getting a little wet (though if you have decent balancing skills they won't get wet at all). You will be walking across pebbles, stones, boulders of some kind, so make sure your footwear is appropriate and won't fall apart halfway. Humans with long hair should seriously consider bunning them up or risk having them swept like crazy on the jeep (bad rookie mistake of mine 😓).

Getting to Mount Pinatubo

0300 - 0320 - breakfast, wash up, grab bags and go
We were supposed to reach Saint Juliana by 7 in the morning, and so working backwards, we had to wake up at 3am (alternative method will be mentioned later, I know, this sounds unappealing). Thank goodness we packed our bags hours ago before, so we could grab and go immediately after a quick breakfast. 

0320 - 0350 - From wherever you are to the bus station
From our hostel on Makati Avenue, we took a cab to the Victory Liner Bus Station located at the cross-junction between Denver and Chicago. There are many Denver roads around Manila, I refer to the one near to Araneta Center - Cubao metro station. See the star in map below:

Getting to Mount Pinatubo - updated Google map
Right-click, and hit 'open image in new tab' for bigger image
The Google map is not updated and if you followed it, you will end up 1km away from the right destination. The old Victory Liner bus interchange is now closed. Many thanks to our hosts at Our Melting Pot for pointing us in the right direction, one more reason to stay at this hostel! ;)

0350 - 0400 - find the right bus and hop onto it
This is slightly challenging because the interchange is quite messy and chaotic. Most of the buses either leave at 4am or they leave when the buses reach a certain capacity (80-100% full). Look out for buses with routes to Baguio, Ilocos, or Pangasinan. Your destination will be Saint Juliana of Capas, Tarlac, which is somewhere in between Manila and the final stop. If you're unsure, ask the driver. Ours aren't that friendly with us pesky tourists attempting to take the local way, but they did reply us. The bus took some time before starting the journey.
Ticket: PHP200/pax

0400 - 0615 - catch some sleep, but look out for the drop-off point
If you're going with Sonia, mark a star on "Majestic Mount Pinatubo Tour And Homestay" in your Google Map. This is when GPS comes into play - when your bus passes to a point close enough within Capas district, get off the bus. There is no designated bus stop per se, and you can get off at any point convenient for you. It should take you at least 100 minutes to get there, so you can get a decent amount of shut-eye on the journey.

0615 - 0635 - tricycle your way to Saint Juliana (or just say 'Sonia')
First tricycle trip and it took us nearly 20 minutes to reach Saint Juliana, right at the doorsteps of Majestic Mount Pinatubo Tour And Homestay! There, we did a quick registration, had a bathroom break, and off we go on the 4x4 jeep and we were finally on our way! Though I must say the journey itself is quite a ride already.
Fare: ~PHP300 - negotiable - for entire tricycle (fits 3)

As the name suggests, Majestic Mount Pinatubo Tour And Homestay allows a homestay option which means you can do the Manila-Capas trip in the afternoon and stay for the night before going for the hike the next day. That's what the other couple who hiked with us did, and they certainly look much more energetic than us.

Price of tour with Sonia: PHP1125

❤️ Now for the bulk of the journey ❤️

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

On our 4x4 jeep!
The view is just... out of the world! It really feels like we're jumping right into the cradle of nature, surrounded by the magnificence of mountains. The only 'manmade' thing is our jeep and ourselves. Everything else looks like it was right off National Geographic. These are all the formations that were created due to the volcano eruption, and the volcanic scars on the ground will determine where the rivers flow when it rains. A total geographer's heaven!

 Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

It is pretty insane to try to take pictures while on the jeep because the bumps and swerves are quite unpredictable... what's more, we cruised over half-dried (aka half-wet) river streams and the water splashed onto us riders! But well, my camera is water-proof. What better way to test it than this?

 Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

At some point we were allowed to go off the jeep and take some photos, but really it is just awe-inspiring to stand here! During wet seasons, our guide explained that this whole expanse of land will become a river, and we are actually standing on a river bed. Just crazy! The river streams we see are what remains of an impressive huge river.

 Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!  

Our very nice guide who didn't mind standing for most of the ride because the jeep was full. He explained to us that there are actually people living in the mountains that we are passing through, and pointed out little smoky trails that we would have missed if we were just busy wow-ing at everything we see. They are so much 'as one' with the nature that they are extremely inconspicuous to the untrained eye.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!
Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!
 Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

One of the bigger river streams we went over - dousing us with a huge splash! There were cows around and these waters could have been nourished with their excrement actually... we try not to think about it.

 Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

We begin at this point - the jeeps could no longer bring us further as the path gets narrower.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

The hike itself is about 4 hours (back and forth) for us from the location where the jeep dropped us off, inclusive of lunch. It is easy even for me - I wasn't exercising much then during that time and probably only had youth on my side. Most of it is flat ground with some steps (short, but consecutive) at a few sections. Even for beginners, it is quite manageable, unless you have some joint issues. For most, it was like a walk in the park, and we could focus very much on the surrounding rather than the ground to prevent tripping.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

Probably the slight difficulty comes from crossing streams like these. Our very friendly guide sacrificed himself to go into the stream so he could steady us. We were all very touched by his service indeed. As you can see from the discolouration, this river here has a bit of sulphuric content.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

Other river streams run clear like this one. Almost fairytale-like!!
 Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

And we finally reach the impressive Lake Pinatubo... it took our breaths away upon the first sight! A pure reflection of calm and isolation... this is the deepest lake in Phillippines at 600m. No swimming or boating allowed, though you might be able to catch some water Pokemon in there.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

Catching a breather before taking a steep flight of steps down (probably the most challenging one already). Well, I have to take a picture with ya, Lake Pinatubo.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

The view of the lake at ground level! Here we took a lunch break and took out all our delicious stash (some of which have been eaten on the way muahaha). A quick break, before making our way back the same route.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

A group photo to commemorate this day out in the nature and at one of the world's most impressive volcano sites! It is one of the places that I doubt I will return just because of the sheer difficulty of getting there, though I must say it is really not the destination that matters but the journey.

We hitched a ride with this sweet Slovakian couple who offered to drop us off between Saint Juliana and Manila city as they were headed for the airport. It was a really long drive back to Manila and they rejected our offers to pay them for the journey - the fare that we would have paid anyway if we took the bus and jeepney. Unfortunately, I forgot their names and probably one day they might chance upon my blog (if you do please leave a comment! ❤️❤️❤️)

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

The next part of our journey was not documented by any pictures at all due to sheer chaos. All pictures are pinched off Google but it is somewhat reflective of the place and helps in my storytelling.  This is arguably one of my favourite part of the Manila trip (my travel companions tell me I know no fear, hence labelling it as fun... but it was really eye-opening to what true Manila is). After bidding goodbye to the Slovakian couple, we were dropped off near a PNR station called Paco. Initially we were armed with Google maps but apparently Google maps in Manila is highly inaccurate and misleading because there is no symbol difference between railway stations and metro stations. We thought Paco was a metro station which we were familiar with, but no, it's a PNR station, which means they operate on different networks.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

First, we had to cross this junction (it looked tiny on the map) and get to the railway station on the left. It was chaotic, with students released from schools and basically just like this junction but put 500 people into this frame.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!

And then this railway station - just add the same 500 people into this frame and it was a lot darker in the evening... There was no other direct way back to Makati except for this so... let's go! We had to first buy railway tickets at the little counter which says 'no smoking' for about PHP10 each, and then wait on the platform for the 6.30pm train. The platform is almost entirely full of people, and with a lot of jostling, I was worried someone would get pushed onto the tracks (luckily, nobody did). The train was late, and only arrived at 6.45pm, and lo and behold, the train was already extremely packed to its gills. In Singapore, it would never get to this chest-to-chest intimacy between commuters even at the worst peak hours. But we are not in Singapore so.. in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!
Similar situation. But much dimmer, as we boarded in the evening with very little lights.
When the train doors burst open, people on the platform attempted to push themselves in, and it only confirmed how humans are extremely malleable creatures! We ran to the other door where the carriage was relatively emptier... there was space for only half a person more. I stepped in and pushed with all my might, at the same time, other people started pushing me and miraculously all three of us fitted in. Along with some other people. See, malleable indeed. There was a strange sense of calm amidst the crowd - it is probably very everyday for them to squeeze onto the railway train like this. But a small victory for us. Hurray! The entire carriage of men (not a single woman in sight) looked at us strangely, just like how we stared curiously back at them. We had to take about three stops to Buendia but it was sufficient to experience the re-squashing at every station.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila!
A well parked PNR train
At Buendia, the train was not stopped properly like this, a good three to five doors of the train opened right at the platform where there was this silver railing... which means passengers have to vault over this railing immediately upon disembarking! The elderly should probably not take the train at all. And remember how packed the train was? If you're small-sized and leaning against the door, you might just get sprung outwards when the door opens, potentially flinging you onto the railing. It was very dangerous especially at night when we could not really see everything properly. Fortunately, no one was hurt. This part of our journey wasn't planned but it was certainly very breathtaking in a different way that Mount Pinatubo was.

Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila - Barrio Fiesta

After hopping onto a jeepney (it was getting natural by then), we found ourselves back on Makati Avenue and then we checked out the most flashy restaurant nearby - Barrio Fiesta. We certainly did not know what we were getting into when we entered through the doors - we were just looking forward to a delicious Filipino feast because we were starving! The last meal we had was some junk food by the waters at Lake Pinatubo. When we were looking at the menu... this happened:

I didn't take this video because I was 30% petrified and 70% amused by this over-zealous singing waiter (it's the same guy in the video) so most of the time I was just staring agape at his amazing performance. He would walk around and dance around the guests all over the restaurant. The more attention you gave him or the more embarassed you look while being thrown into the limelight, the more he would serenade you! It was really hilarious at some point because he kept serenading all the people who looked super shy! He could even sing 月亮代表我的心 although halfway he made up most of the lyrics and added his own random "Chinese-sounding" words, which made it even more entertaining. His voice was very good actually...considering he is singing everything live! We were truly entertained throughout our entire meal.

If you're interested, well, remember this name: Barrio Fiesta!

 Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila - Barrio Fiesta
 Mount Pinatubo Day Trip from Manila - Barrio Fiesta
I couldn't really remember how the food was because it was just too distracting trying to fend yourself from unwanted attention but yet look at his performance! But I do remember that we finished everything and was left wanting for more, the seafood platter in particular was very fresh and was quite a lot to eat.

Barrio Fiesta
Makati Finance
7823 Makati Ave, Makati
1210 Metro Manila, Philippines

That was the end of our second day adventures in Manila! Will be back real soon with updates on Lake Taal and Tagaytay, the third day of our Manila trip.

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a travel and food blogger with a constant longing to be somewhere to makes her feel alive ☆ life's an adventure

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