In case you were not already aware, I LOVE volcanoes. It is a genuine obsession/interest/passion of mine. I actually studied Geology at University due to my volcano obsession. I therefore will never miss an opportunity to visit a volcano if there is one nearby, wherever I may be in the world.
Luckily for me, the Philippines is packed with volcanoes, too many to explore in the short time I had there though. My hardest decision of them all was whether to visit Taal Volcano or Pinatubo. Pinatubo being a volcano I have studied at every level of my education, and it would have been a dream to visit. However, weather was not on my side and as the rainy season was kicking in, the path to the volcano was somewhat treacherous, and the hike would be longer than usual. As such, I made the tough decision not to visit Pinatubo this time (however, I will return in the dry season soon!!!).
Taal Volcano is about a 2 hour drive out of Manila (it would be shorter if Filipino traffic wasn’t so mental). It is the second most active volcano in the Philippines (the most being Mount Mayon – another volcano on my list). Taal Volcano is a truly stunning volcano and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Although it is stunningly beautiful, Taal volcano is also very deadly. It is a stratovolcano that produces explosive eruptions, often resulting in the immensely destructive pyroclastic surges.
In order to reach the centre of Taal Volcano, you have to sail across the caldera lake. Taal Lake is a freshwater lake that has filled the caldera of Taal Volcano. The island at the centre is made of up stratovolcanoes, cinder cones and tuff rings and it is quite a beautiful site to explore.
We arrived at Taal Lake after a longer than expected drive (due to the crazy traffic). I booked the tour with Hike Taal Volcano, part of the Philippines Tourist Department. The tour wasn’t the cheapest but it was well planned, private and more safety compliant than others!
We were taken to Taal Yacht Club, signed a few waivers, used the facilities and were then introduced to our guide for the day. He then took us over to our small boat, to take us across the lake, to the volcanic island. The journey across the lake was stunning. The water was so calm and the views from every angle were just breathtaking. The breeze was also a welcome accompaniment as the humidity and heat levels were through the roof!
We arrived on the shore of the island and passed a few locals who had set up home on the island (yes, there are people living on an active volcano!). Luckily, they are now constantly monitoring the volcano and have an alert and evacuation system in place, which should hopefully prevent any fatalities when this volcano next erupts. I know alot of people live on the slopes of active volcanoes all the around the world, fertile soil and all that, but, this one especially baffled me because they were on a volcanic island, in the middle of a large caldera lake, only accessible by boat. It just seemed mental.
Anyway, the most common way to reach the summit of the volcano was by horse, however, I am not a fan of horses. I have ridden a horse only a couple of times in my life, and every time I have been on the verge of a full on panic. It is just not an enjoyable experience for me at all. Due to this fear of horse riding, we opted to hike to the summit. I mean, it was only around a 3Km hike, how hard could it be?
Well, cue full on embarrassment and tourist fail. I am ashamed to say, after 10 minutes of walking, and probably losing my body weight in sweat, I realised how stupid we had been. The walk may not be long but the humidity and heat made it a near impossible challenge. With my head low and my cheeks flushed with utter embarrassment, I admitted to our tour guide that we were stupid and could not walk in this heat. Our tour guide simply smiled and said ‘don’t worry, this happens with tourists alot, they think they can climb and then soon realise they cannot’. Wow, way to make me feel even more embarrassed!!!
We were told to wait on the side of the path and our guide arranged for two horses to be brought up to us. This took around 10 minutes and after being harassed constantly to buy a hat/mask/drink from the locals, and not being able to move on, I gave in and bought a hat – best purchase ever!!
Our horses arrived and I shakily mounted mine and off we went up to the top of the volcano. I was clinging onto the harness for life, barely breathing and trying to sweet talk my horse, Paloma, into being nice and not throwing me off! It took around 20 minutes to reach the summit (I am completely guessing this as I have no idea I was that nervous/preoccupied). My guide had walked the entire way, holding onto the reins of my horse (seriously impressed by this!) and he didn’t even seem to break a sweat!
When you reach the summit, you are once again bombarded by locals selling drinks and souvenirs. I bought a drink for my guide as I felt like he needed it after that hike, and he was extremely grateful. I was a hot, sweaty mess at this point, I was drinking my bottle of water like there was no tomorrow, despite the fact it had pretty much boiled in the heat. I made my way up the last set of steps to the summit and although I felt horrendous, the second I looked into the stunning crater lake I forgot how awful I felt. It was truly stunning and worth the eventful journey.
I took far too many pictures, all of which pretty much look the same, but I just couldn’t help it. I was so glad that I had visited this place. When the heat got too much I would retreat to one of the make shift huts, and sit down to try to recover, before heading out to take in the view again. If you walk along the crater a bit there is an area where you can hit a few golf balls into the volcano. My boyfriend naturally jumped at this and bought 3 balls. His first attempt was hilariously bad and some other tourists at the top couldn’t control themselves laughing at him!
Pushed on by the obvious mocking, he actually managed to hit the next couple pretty well, and soon put a stop to the mocking (from them, not me, obviously I still bring it up now!).
Eventually, we succumbed to the heat and retreated from the crater and mounted our horses for the journey back. The journey down was even less enjoyable. Not only did I have to contend with the heat and humidity but I also found myself chocking on the deluge of dust blowing up the volcano from the horses kicking up the ground in front. I made a bad choice of wardrobe here, my white top was grey by the time I reached the bottom, my face was plastered with dust and no matter how much I washed my mouth and face, I still kept finding grains of dust in my mouth.
If you do visit Taal volcano, either bring a scarf to cover your mouth or buy one of the masks they are offering. We didn’t see the point on the way up, but how wrong we were.
I was relieved to reach the bottom of the volcano in on piece, I bid my horse Paloma goodbye and got back into the boat. I cherished the cool breeze on my face as we sailed back to the yacht club. We waved goodbye to Taal Volcano and Lake and sunk into our seats in the air-conditioned car as it took us back to Manila.
Do you like volcanoes? Are there any volcanoes you would recommend I visit?