Towering 4,757 feet (1,450 meters) above Luzon, the Mt. Pinatubo stratovolcano blew its top quite spectacularly in 1991. Today, the crater lake that’s left behind and the surreal mudflow landscapes around it make one of the Philippines’ most fun adventures—and one that’s well worth the early start. The volcano is carefully monitored for safety.
In order to visit the volcano, you must be with a guide in a 4x4. Mt. Pinatubo tours typically set out from the small town of Santa Juliana, around 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Manila. If you want to explore from Santa Juliana independently, arrive the day before and spend the night. Most travelers choose to visit Mt. Pinatubo as a day trip from Manila; these tours generally set out around 4am and start the 4WD adventure not long after 6am. It’s also possible to visit from the city of Angeles, around 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Santa Juliana.
A typical Mt. Pinatubo tour includes a 4WD adventure on the dusty mud plains that cover the volcano slopes followed by a fairly easy guided hike to Lake Pinatubo, the crater lake. Tours generally include lunch at a nearby town, and some operators might add activities like hot springs and white-water rafting.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Mt. Pinatubo is a fun, not too difficult adventure that’s perfect for anyone with an interest in volcanoes. Kids who can face the early start will find it fascinating.
- Mt. Pinatubo is an easy hike, but, as always with a volcano hike, sneakers will make it more comfortable.
- There are stalls selling packaged snacks and drinks along the route. It’s still worth bringing water or booking a tour that includes water.
- Although Lake Pinatubo is no longer toxic, swimming remains prohibited.
- Mt. Pinatubo crater tours are not suitable for travelers with mobility issues.
How to Get There
Around 80 miles (129 kilometers) north of Manila, not far from the city of Angeles, is Santa Juliana, the jump-off point for Pinatubo tours. Reaching it independently involves an exciting array of jeepneys, tricycles, and more followed by a night in town. Since the volcano can only be visited with a guide and 4WD, most travelers opt to join a tour from Manila (or occasionally Angeles), which includes door-to-door transfers to mitigate the early start.
When to Get There
Philippines regulations state that trips to the Mt. Pinatubo crater must start between 6am and 8am. That means most tours from Manila leave as early as 4am and even those from Angeles start long before 6am. The mountain can be closed for reasons as varied as heavy rain (Pinatubo is prone to both landslides and flash floods), volcanic activity, and military exercises. Visit during the week to beat the weekend crowds.
The 1991 Mt. Pinatubo Eruption
Achieving a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 6 and causing more than 700 deaths, Mt. Pinatubo saw the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century and the largest in a populated area. The eruption reduced the summit of the mountain from 5,725 feet (1,745 meters) to 4,872 feet (1,485 meters) and produced ash clouds that caused temperatures to drop around the world.