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Nestled on an island within a lake near Manila in the Philippines, is an incredible geological wonder called Taal Volcano. Its mysterious shape and majestic beauty often leave spectators mesmerized as they wonder how a series of volcanic eruptions created such a captivating sight.
Although it’s considered one of the world’s most dangerous active volcanoes, many often claim that Taal Volcano is an easy climb. Though it’s a little lacking in height – standing at only 311 meters – the journey offers hikers one of the most scenic views in the Philippines.
Taal Volcano is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire and is the Philippines’s second most active volcano. Since 1572, it has been the cause of death of more than 5,000 people with 33 historic eruptions — its greatest eruption was recorded in 1754. Friar Buencuchillo, parish priest of Sala, wrote how the series of eruptions lasted 200 days. The locals initially heard terrifying rumblings before witnessing sky-high flames, enormous boulders, sand and mud in huge quantities.
By December of that year, layers of mud and ash had completely buried the town of Taal. After the volcano quietened down, it was observed that the main crater had widened.
Unknown to many, Taal is a complex volcano, which has overlapping cones and craters, and is part of chains of volcanoes in Luzon’s western side. During a series of eruptions between 140,000 and 5,380 BP (before present), Taal lake was formed within the caldera. Subsequent eruptions that followed then led to the formation of Volcano Island (the one usually seen in photos). In 1911, a devastating eruption occurred and led to the formation of the single crater lake inside Volcano Island.
The last recorded activity of Taal Volcano was in 2011, when increased seismicity was observed. Despite being a high-risk zone, locals have settled around the area to earn a living by fishing, farming and offering tours to visiting tourists. Because of its spectacular view, tourists have been attracted to the experience of climbing the smallest active volcano in the world.
Apart from having an easy trail, Taal Volcano is quite a convenient and accessible location from the capital Manila. You can opt to take a bus (usually costing less than 200 Philippine pesos or around £3) to reach any of the three possible entry points — Talisay, San Nicolas, or Cuenca in Batangas. Whichever you choose, there’s a 20-minute boat ride you can charter to Taal Volcano. Rates for boat rental are sometimes a bit pricey especially for foreign travelers — about 2,000 pesos (£28) or more. Brush up on your haggling skills and see if you can bring it down to a little over 1,000 pesos (£14). There are also travel agencies that provide private tours that include transfers and guides, which range from 2,000 to 10,000 pesos (£28-141), depending on travel inclusions and number of people joining.
Before beginning your trek, you can ask help from tour guides living near the volcano who usually gather by the starting point. You might end up wondering, are these folks not afraid of hustling near a volcano that might erupt anytime?
It is best to climb Taal Volcano during the summer season, particularly in the morning. It’s the time when the terrain is dry and although it is hot, it is better to choose a dusty trail than walk on slippery, muddy soil during the rainy season. If you don’t want to feel roasted by the smothering heat, just take the hike in the early morning.
You have two options: either ride a horse or trek by foot to reach the summit. Of course, the former is the easiest and quickest route; pay a fee of 500 pesos (£7) and enjoy the view as you let your horse do the hard work.
But where’s the excitement in choosing the faster route? Experience the craggy terrain up close on a hike, observe the lush flora and fauna, and take your time to appreciate the journey. While tourist guides are available for hire on-site at a price of 500 pesos (£7), you won’t necessarily need one if you have companions, as the path goes straight towards the summit. There’s very little chance you’d get lost. Of course, if you’ll be hiking on your own, it’s be best to have someone to guide you along the way.
Be observant of your surroundings and you might even have the chance to hand-pick and try some ripe kamatsile (sweet tamarinds). Challenge yourself and the rewards are sweet.
When climbing Taal Volcano, take short breaks if you need to. The surroundings are sure to keep you motivated to reach the top. The higher you climb, the closer you get to witness the breathtaking views across the island and Taal Lake’s pristine waters.
Once you reach Taal Crater’s view deck, get ready for your jaw to drop. Seeing the crater lake is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a sheer testament to nature’s design.
If you’re feeling thirsty, there are enterprising local vendors in the area selling cold refreshments such as soft drinks and halo-halo. Enjoy every sip of your drink as you gaze at the picturesque scenery.
The trail doesn’t end here, and if your entry point is from San Nicolas, you can opt to bathe in the Crater Lake. To get there, you’ll need to take another challenging route, which means more walking on a downhill terrain (but a cool, refreshing dip awaits at the end). The lake has this greenish-blue color and seemingly orange-colored rocks (due to sulfur content). But don’t worry, it’s safe to swim in the water as the sulfur content is very low. Some say bathing in the crater even cures skin diseases! Surprisingly, the water is not hot but it’s advised not to stay in for too long.
While climbing Manila’s deadliest mountain may not necessarily be for experienced hikers, the journey to the top requires you to be prepared and alert. Paths are narrow and some have steep drops on the side. The heat and humidity may be extremely intense — especially because you’re dealing with both the heat of the sun plus the heat rising from the soil – so be sure to pack plenty of water.
However, despite the rough and dusty trails, it’s an enchanting experience to get a closer look at the unexpected beauty of this volatile natural wonder.