What to Expect – Hiking Mount Pinatubo

If you’re visiting the Philippines, you’ll probably be flying in or out via the country’s capital, Manila. Today the city has little to offer the typical tourist, but it makes a great base for day trips.

If you have a few days and want to escape the smog and sweat of Manila streets, you can head a few hours north to visit the turquoise crater lake of Mount Pinatubo.


Mount Pinatubo was a perfect cone-shaped volcano for thousands of years, until it blew its top in 1991 (yes, THAT recently). When the volcano erupted, most people had already evacuated the danger zone, but there still were a number of fatalities. The greater damage was caused by intense rains that followed, creating mudslides from the ash that coated the region. An estimated 722 people died and 200,000 left homeless in the eruption and its aftermath.

The destruction left a dusty valley surrounding the volcano, with a large crater in the caldera that has since filed with rain water, creating a crater lake. Today, you can visit this lake by an adventurous 4×4 ride and short hike.


  • Cost – $140 on Viator, or 9,666 Chase Ultimate Rewards points
  • Tim and I both have the Chase Ultimate Rewards Sapphire Card. It has a larger annual fee ($450 per year), but it comes with $300 cash back on travel purchases and access to airport lounges around the world (which typically range from $20-50 per visit without a pass). If you apply and are approved, you can earn 50,000 bonus points. That is the equivalent of about 5 hikes to the top of Mt. Pinatubo. Note: I will also receive a small commission in points if you apply and are approved. Learn more here.
  • Duration: 14 hours
  • Inclusions: Varies, but in general you can expect pick up and drop off from your accommodation in Manila, lunch, 4×4 ride, and guided hike.
  • Bring: water, hiking clothes and shoes, dry bag, sunscreen, camera.

What to expect:

It’s going to be an early morning! Your driver will pick you up around 3am to drive from Manila to arrive to the base by 6am. Don’t worry, you can sleep on the way!

When you arrive at the base (likely a shop or guesthouse), you can use the bathroom and get some coffee. Then around 7am you’ll get into the back of your 4×4 for your ride to the trail!

There will be 4-6 people in your 4×4, depending on the size, and you’ll have a local driver and a local guide. Keep in mind that these are local guys, and their English isn’t great, if they can speak it at all. Be patient and kind! A smile is a universal language!

4×4 through the (mostly) dry riverbed

You’ll ride for about an hour and a half through a dry riverbed. The scenery is otherworldly – I felt like we were in Jurassic Park! It’s a rough ride though, and not necessarily comfortable. It’s fun, but if you have any kind of back or tailbone problems, I do not recommend this trip. It’s very bumpy and you’ll likely be on wooden seats with only a bar or the sides of the seat to hold on to. You’ll also be going through creeks that will get the floorboard wet. I recommend bringing any water-sensitive items in a dry bag, and wear clothes you don’t mind getting very dusty. Otherwise, just enjoy the adventure and amazing scenery!

Once you arrive at the trail head it’s about 3km to the crater lake. There’s a bit of uphill hiking, crossing rocky streams and parts directly in the sun. Make sure you wear sunscreen! Overall, though, the hike is fairly easy and there’s a sheltered area and toilet about half way if you need a break.

Hiking the trail

When you arrive, you’ll see the gorgeous lake. If you stay a few hours, you’ll see the color change as the position of the sun and clouds does. There is a staircase from the overlook going down to the beach. The views down below looking over the lake and to the surrounding cliff walls of the caldera are fantastic and worth the challenging climb back up the stairs!

Your guide will likely give you lunch here. It will probably be chicken adobo, rice and some water. Rice comes with almost every meal in the Philippines!

Your reward

When you’re ready you’ll hike back the way you came and return via 4×4 to the base. From there you’re driver will be waiting for you to take you back to Manila, where you’ll arrive around 5pm.

It’s a long day for sure, but you can nap from/to Manila, and the adventure is worth it if you love outdoor activities! This was one of our favorite days in the Philippines (second only to our sailing expedition with Tao Philippines).

Have you hiked Mt. Pinatubo? What did you think? Any tips I didn’t think of to add? I’d love to hear from you!

Listen: Sarah discusses travel in the Philippines on World Nomads Podcast Episode 16 – Philippines

Read More: Village Life in the Philippines


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