Project Pilipinas: Pinatubo Virgins

A couple of years ago, I launched a passion project called Project Pilipinas.  The goal was simple:  help spread information about the beautiful places in the Philippines by posting about my past travels within the country along with some useful information (how to get there, how to go around, places to stay, tips, etc.).  So hopefully, when researching about the Philippines, some random Googler (be it foreigner or local) will come across my blog and be encouraged to visit all those places.  Read more about that project here.

This article was originally posted here.  Some of the information have been updated for accuracy.

"Manong, malayo pa ho ba? (Are we there yet?)”

I shouted through the rumbling of the engine while trying not to inhale the dust swirling around us as our all-terrain vehicle (ATV) sped through the ash-covered road.

We were in Capas, Tarlac -- on our way to the now-famous crater of Mt. Pinatubo.

The volcano's  eruption on June 15, 1991 produced the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century.   The eruption produced high-speed avalanches of hot ash and gas, giant mudflows, and a cloud of volcanic ash hundreds of miles across.  (Read more here.)

 "Malapit na ho! Malapit na! (We're almost there!)” the driver shouted back, his face breaking into a grin. I could tell by his look that he was amused by us (four girls) as we hung on the nooks of the ATV like our lives depended on it, screaming every time our vehicle swerved or hit a bump.

It wasn't exactly a comfortable ride. But we were all too excited to see the magnificence of Mount Pinatubo's crater to mind the bumps and bruises.

Bumpy ride.  (L) The road to Mount Pinatubo; (R) View from inside our ATV.

Every now and then, we would stop for some photos, take in the scenery, or simply stretch our legs.  Then we'd go back inside our ATV's and drive on.

Touching base
After an hour on the road, we were finally at our first pitstop -- the part where we began our trek.

Our driver parked our ATV gathered out group.  "Pinatubo Virgins", we called ourselves since we were all first-timers.  A sign signifying the starting point of the trek said that if you're young, you should be able to reach the lake in 15 minutes.  Our then cocky selves thought we will.  Boy, were we wrong :p

It was a sunny day but there was a cold breeze so we donned on our sweaters.  And not wanting to delay our date with the Pinatubo Lake further, we charged on ahead. 

The green lake

Ten minutes into the trek, we were all panting already. It really wasn’t the hardest terrain, but I guess our bodies didn’t expect to be too worked out that day.

We stopped every few minutes to rest and to admire the tranquillity of the place -- the sound of a stream flowing nearby, the birds chirping, the leaves of the trees rustling with every breeze.  At one point, we briefly stopped for lunch. 

After a few minutes, we heavier bellies, we resumed our walk.  It was so tempting to sit down every now and then to rest our legs, but when we finally caught sight of the Pinatubo lake, just shimmering below us, we picked up our pace and hurried towards what seemed like an emerald oasis.

Hot and cold 

I couldn't believe that such beauty existed within a mountain that once caused devastation to the Filipino people.

The sun shone on the waters, causing it to glimmer in different shades of green and aquamarine.  The mere sight re-energized us. We raced towards the lake and practically jumped on the boats so we can get to the other side of the crater.

During this trip, the fiance (L) and I (R) weren't a couple yet.  Heck, we weren't even dating yet.  Pero nagpapa-cute na siya sa'kin nun HAHAHA.

It took us roughly 10 minutes before we reached the other side. It felt like we were in a different world (think: Lord of the Rings).

When our small boat finally docked, something odd caught my eye -- heat bubbles popping in and out. The water seems to be boiling at the edge of the lake.

It was deceiving, really, because when we jumped into the water, it was freezing! We hit warm patches of water, but most of the time, we gritted our teeth in the cold.

After 12 minutes of braving the waters, we finally got out.

The mighty boatman

We wanted to explore the crater some more, but we were dead tired from all the trekking and the swimming. So we decided to wait for our boatman to come pick us up and take us to the other side.
We had to wait a good 20 minutes before we got our turn on one of the boats since there were a lot of visitors that day.

I was so absorbed by the beautiful scenery during the ride that it took me a while before realizing that our boatman was grunting -- his arm muscles ripped with every pull of the paddle.

"Manong, okay lang kayo? (Are you okay?)," I asked.

"Okay lang ho, ma'am. Medyo nagugutom lang. Hindi pa po kasi kami nanananghalian (I'm okay, ma'am. I'm just a bit hungry, we haven't had lunch yet)," he replied.

"Ha?" I asked. "Eh alas kwatro na ho ah (But it's already 4 o'clock in the afternoon)."

"Eh kasi tuluy-tuloy ang dating ng mga turista. Walang oras kumain. Sunud-sunod ang paghatid namin papunta ng kabilang parte ng crater at pabalik ng tourist area (But tourists kept coming, so we didn't have time to eat. We've been taking them to and from the crater)," the boatman explained.

He looked tired.  But more than that, he sounded grateful.

When we finally reached the tourist area, I fished for whatever bills I could find inside my pocket and handed it to the boatman as our tip.

He only had time for a quick "Salamat po (thank you)" before jumping into his boat again to ferry the next batch of trekkers.

I began walking towards the path to  civilization, but I stopped for a bit, looking back to take in the magnificence of the Pinatubo crater one more time.

And I realized that apart from the her emerald lake, what makes Mount Pinatubo even more beautiful are the stories of struggle, survival, and hope that embody this beauty borne out of tragedy.

Pinatubo Virgins.



Via private vehicleIf you’re coming from Manila, take the North Luzon Expressway, then exit Dau toll.  From there, take the Mac Arthur highway to Mabalacat en route to Bamban and Capas in Tarlac towards north.

When you reach the market place in Capas, take a left turn to Brgy. Sto. Rosario and negotiate the 22 km. countryside road passing along barangays Arangureti, O’ Donnell, Sta. Lucia, Patling and finally, Brgy. Sta. Juliana.

Once you reach Brgy. Sta. Juliana, proceed to the Pinatubo Spa Town Visitors Center to register.
Via public transportation
All buses from Manila going to the Ilocos Region and Baguio City pass through Tarlac.

Once you reach the municipality of Capas, alight the bus then take a tricycle or jeepney to Brgy. Sta. Juliana.  Once you reach Brgy. Sta. Juliana, proceed to the Pinatubo Spa Town Visitors Center to register.
(Note:  This was our expenses from six years ago; Prices would've increased by now.)

Php 6,250 (Php 1,250/head)

All-terrain vehicle rental - Php 2,500.00
Tour guide - Php 500.00
Skyway toll fee - Php 500.00
Conservation fee - Php 1,500.00 (Php 300.00/head)
Packed lunch - Php 1,250.00 (Php 250.00/head)

*Packed lunch includes kanin na binalot sa dahon ng saging, daing na bangus, tortang talong, itlog na maalat, kamatis na may ginisang alamang, saging, mineral water

Optional activities:

Boat ride - Php 350.00/head
*The boat ride will bring you to the three parts of the crater: the Pampanga point, Zambales point, and Tarlac point

Volcanic ash massage - Php 600.00
Mud pack - Php 600.00
-Comfortable clothes (dri fit top and shorts, preferrably)
-Light sweater (it can be a bit chilly up in the mountains)
-Comfortable shoes for trekking (sandals / mojo’s / ACG’s)
-Sunglasses / Cap
-Handy bottled water
-Extra set of clothes


-Make sure you get enough sleep the night before to make sure you’re fully-energized for the trek.
-Eat heavy breakfast in the morning.
-Pack a couple of chocolate bars in case you need some energy boost during the trek.
-And of course, don’t forget to pack your trusty camera!

Read my other Project Pilipinas posts here:


  1. The lake is simple unbelievable for me. So beautiful colours.
    Thanks for sharing and have a nice week.

  2. Dear Koryn- I remember the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. I can’t imagine such a long time has passed since then. Your writing made me feel the emerald lake is there to console the victims of that devastating earthquake. I like all your photos, especially the emerald lake and the other-planet-like one.


  3. this breathtaking colour! Looks like magical/out-of-this-world place despite the tragic history...thanks for the tour!!!


Other stories you might be interested in: