Taal Volcano is located on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, 50km from Manila. It is an active volcano, said to be one of the smallest in the world. The volcano is inside a small lake, within another volcano that is in the middle of another lake, within an island. This geological phenomenon is really confusing, but if you wanna read more about it, this website provides an excellent explanation: www.viralnova.com/vulcan-point/.
Taal Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines, and over the last few hundred years has erupted about 33 times. The last eruption was back in 1977, but it has been showing unrest in recent years. Of course, any signs of activity would have put the surrounding area on high alert… but even then, it could have erupted during my visit! That being said, it is one of the most visited spots in the Philippines and a unique natural wonder; so I had to make the journey.
From Manila, it took me approximately an hour or so to get to the nearest town to Taal Volcano, Tagaytay. I decided to pay a little extra and get a private taxi for a fixed fee, rather than waste precious time hopping on buses along the way.
Upon arrival at Tagaytay, my taxi driver suggested a pit stop at the People’s Park in the Sky. The park offers fantastic views of Taal Volcano and the lake surrounding it, but unfortunately, has fallen into disrepair. The entrance is lined with small shops and vendors, catering to tourists who decide to forgo the journey up the volcano crater. They would usually stop here to view the volcano from afar.
Crossing the Lake
To get to Taal Volcano, I had to hire a motorized bangka (outrigger boat) to get me across Taal Lake to Volcano Island. As I got nearer to the lake, I was harassed by a mob of men in tricycles, trying to persuade me to hire their bangka to get to the island. It was really hard trying to talk to just one person and avoid the others, and my taxi driver was not any help either.
If you want to avoid being cheated, find out how much a decent return fare is before heading there. I ended up paying a wee bit more because negotiating for the right price got too time consuming and tiring. I’ll be honest, haggling isn’t something I like doing.
The ride on the bangka was an experience itself. The view surrounding the lake is gorgeous, and I zoomed pass villages on stilts in the middle of the lake. And depending on the weather, the waters on the lake can be calm or get really choppy. My journey to the island was nice and breezy, but the skies turned dark and glum on the way back. The return ride wasn’t a pleasant journey as the strong waves sent the bangka jumping and got me all wet! Despite that, it was fun.
Going up the Volcano
When I reached the island, I was once again hassled by swarms of touts selling everything from souvenirs, to masks and raincoats. There were also vendors offering horse rides along the trail. This is where there is the option to choose how to get to the top of the crater. To hike or to ride?
If you decide to hike, you must endure the long trek up the dirty, dusty, horse poop-filled trail with the scorching sun above. Depending on your stamina level, it could take a little more than an hour. However, with will power and strength; the hike up could be a wonderful experience with beautiful views along the way.
If you decide to ride, you can rent a horse and hire a guide for about PHP500 (US$11), and they will take you up the same trail. If you can live through the agony of witnessing the tired horse carrying you up the slopes, and getting sores from the horse riding friction, riding the horse will take about 45 minutes to the rim of the volcano.
It was too hot for the hike so I opted for the ride. The stallion’s name was ‘Patricia’ and I was worried for it, having to endure my weight and the distance– so I told the guide how I felt. He assured me that the horses are well trained and are only allowed to maneuver the trail once a day. That didn’t make me feel any better, though.
Reaching the Crater
The gorgeous view from atop the crater made the crazy day’s traveling worth it. It was awesome knowing that I was standing on an active volcano, with sulfur colors and hot steam coming up from several points inside the crater. I could see the contrast of the inner crater lake and the bigger Taal Lake surrounding the outer part of the volcano.
For those who are up for more walking, there is a path right down to the lake itself. I was told that it is possible to swim in the lake; as long as you don’t mind the boiling water and the smell (and stains) of sulfur.
I lingered on the volcano rim for more than an hour. People came and went… and I was still lingering. I figured that since I took hours to get to this point, I might as well stay and enjoy the view a little longer. The small shack on top of the crater was a good place to get some shade from Philippines’ merciless sun and to cool down with a refreshing drink.
At the End of the Day
The journey back from the Taal Volcano was equally long and arduous– but much better as the touts and vendors cease to bother leaving visitors. I felt guilty taking the horse ride and if I ever go back, I’ll allocate more time, wear proper hiking gear, bring a big hat and lots of water, and hike instead.
All in all, I had a great time. My journey to Taal Volcano was really memorable; not only because of the breathtaking views from the rim of the crater, but the adventures of getting to the volcano itself.
Make the trip, you’ll come back with stories to tell.