Mt. Pinatubo (960 MASL) is part of the trio (together with Mts. Negron and Cuadrado) called Cabusilan sub-range of the Zambales Mountains. It is located near the tripoint of the provinces of Tarlac, Pampanga, and Zambales. The volcano’s eruption in June 1991 resulted in one of the most destructive volcanic eruptions of the 20th century.
Two decades later, trekking Mount Pinatubo became a popular activity. The volcano’s caldera turns into a beautiful lake that is 2.7 kilometers wide and the water is crystal clear. The volcano is still active up to this day but it is very closely monitored and any activity will most likely be predicted, thus trekking here is a safe activity.
If you are planning to go for an adventure to Mt. Pinatubo, there are two major starting point. The more popular one is in Capas, Tarlac and the newly opened route (opened roughly 2 years ago) is at Botolan, Zambales.
Since I’m always up for something new and less popular, I chose Botolan to be my jump-off point. The guided tour to Mt. Pinatubo is operated by the Local Tourism of Botolan. The tour starts at Camp Kainomayan and it is best to contact a representative of the Local Tourism office of Botolan before you go to schedule your tour. They can prepare for you a packed lunch for a minimal fee so that you won’t need to carry it all the way from where you come from.
Once you reach Kainomayan, a Local Tourism representative will be waiting for your arrival. An orientation is obligatory before you can ride the 4×4 truck that will take you to the start of the foot trail.
How to get there: If you are coming from Manila, ride Victory Liner bound to Olongapo City. From there, take another bus bound to Iba, Zambales and get off at Botolan. Then take a tricycle ride to Kainomayan.
Mt. Pinatubo Adventure
Its almost 7 in the morning when we arrived at the camp. We were 1 hour late for the ideal time to start the tour because all the bus bound to Olongapo are already full and we were only able to secure a seat in the 2:30 AM bus.
If you are planning to go there, better purchase your ticket ahead of time. The 1 AM schedule is the ideal bus to have your reservation. From Cubao, it took us 3 hours before we reached Olongapo City. At the Victory Liner terminal in Olongapo, there are ordinary buses bound to Iba. It took us 1 hour before we reached Botolan. We get off at Agora Market in Botolan then we rode a tricycle bound to Brgy. San Juan. It took us roughly 10 minutes to reach Camp Kainomayan.
When we arrived at the base camp, a representative from the Local Tourism Office of Botolan together with our guide were already waiting for us. We registered then ate breakfast while having our tour orientation because we were really behind schedule. By 7:30 AM, we are on our way.
The route to Mt. Pinatubo crater lake is divided into three stages. First, the 4×4 ride from Kainomayan Base Camp to Sitio Mampitak. Second, foot trail that starts from Sitio Mampitak jump off point to the second registration area. And the last, the trek from the registration area to the crater lake.
From the base camp, it took us exactly two hours to reach Sitio Mampitak in Brgy. Villar. The first half of the 4×4 ride is through the wide expanse of lahar field. We also crossed Bocao river a couple of times. The ride can be dusty and bumpy so better bring mask or handkerchief to cover your nose. It’s also advisable to use sunscreen before you start the tour because the trail is open.
The second part of the 4×4 ride is a grassy trail. In some parts, the cogon grass is even taller than our 4×4 truck. This is also the part wherein you will be passing lahar canyon. There are some interesting landscapes formed from the constantly eroding lahar. What I captured from my camera might not be the same a year from now.
Our truck driver made a pit spot in a location that our guide called “The Cathedral” for a photo op. The landscape is totally amazing. It is an out of this world sight. How I wish that it will stay the same for a long time.
Sitio Mampitak, the start of the foot trail.
We arrived at Sitio Mampitak in Brgy. Villar at exactly 9:30 AM. After regaining our balance from that bumpy 4×4 ride, we started to hit the trail.
The first part of the trek is along a forest trail, a stark contrast of the barren lahar field. It’s also a welcome treat after the dusty and hot 4×4 ride because of the cold breeze. Although the Botolan route has only been open 2 years ago, the trail is well established. It is because locals use this trail. They even constructed a ladder on the steep part of the trail to aid your climb. It has more or less fifty steps or roughly 30 meters.
The trek along the forest trail took us more than an hour because of so many rest in between. I was with first timers that’s why I need to slow down for them to be able to catch up and enjoy the trail. Normally, it would only take about 40 minutes. Right after the steep part of trail, you will emerge into an open and grassy trail. This trail will lead you to the small village of Sitio Mampitak.
From the forest, it took us roughly 30 minutes to reach the village. We rested in the house of the Sitio leader and interact with some of the locals while enjoying the grand vista of the lahar field and Bucao River.
From the village of Sitio Mampitak, it took us another 30 minutes to reach the second registration area. The trail is mostly down hill that’s why a trekking pole is of great help. You can borrow one at the start of the foot trail. Just make sure to return it after your Mt. Pinatubo adventure.
The trail leading to Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake
After we signed our name at the second registration area, we immediately hit the final stretch of the trail. We were in a hurry because our guide told us that we need to reach the crater before 12:30 PM to have enough time to enjoy the view. He said that it usually rain in the mid afternoon. With that in mind, we hurriedly navigate the rocky trail that will lead is to our destination. We reached Mt. Pinatubo crater lake at exactly 12:45 PM.
The trail is a trek along rocks and stream. You may choose to navigate and hop on the rocks if you don’t want your feet to get wet, or just trek along the stream. I chose the later because the feeling of cold water in my feet really refreshed me. The final stretch of the trail is another flight of stairs. At the top, you will be greeted by a welcome sign.
There are tables and cottages that you can use free of charge. Just make sure not to leave any trash. We settled in one of the tables under a mango tree, rested a little then ate our packed lunch before exploring the crater lake. At the view deck, you will clearly see the destructive force of its volcanic eruption. A cliffs of lahar formation with white-gray-brown-green color frames the lake. The crater lake itself is truly a sight to behold.
Swimming in the lake is no longer allowed. Shouting is also forbidden because the echo may cause landslide.
Time has lost its essense at the crater lake. We stayed there for like forever enjoying the breathtaking view until the first raindrops landed on our sun-kissed face, a que to bid goodbye to Bakil nin Pinatubo.
On our way back, I can’t help but contemplate how destructively beautiful Mt. Pinatubo was. Indeed, there is beauty after a disaster.
Desk Warrior Adventurer: Lawrence Corpuz
Renz is a full time graphic artist, part-time adventurer, novice blogger, and an amateur photographer. He is everything but tourist when he is traveling away from home.