I will not be giving any recommendations but I'll try to tell you as much about our Mount Pinatubo trip as I can. And perhaps from my story, you can assess how you'd plan your trip. After all, the destination may be the same but the experience will always be different.
We arrived at McDonald's Capas around 4 a.m. We thought Bong's parking/meeting point was just around the area but it was still 18 km away. Don't be fooled by the map. If you are using waze, don't type the name of the parking area. Instead, type "Mount Pinatubo Base Camp". You will know you're almost there because you'll encounter a checkpoint. The checkpoint officers will ask for your ID and you're good to go.
There are a few parking areas at the Mount Pinatubo Sta Juliana base camp so bringing your own vehicle shouldn't be a problem. It wasn't a problem for us. Parking fee was 50 pesos and we paid that after the tour. There will be kids selling walking sticks for only 20 pesos at the parking area. I got one; I thought it would help me but found it useless later on. But, that's just me.
We arrived at the parking area around 4:15 a.m. We met with the tour coordinator past 5 am. We were given an orientation 30-45 minutes later. After the orientation, we got on the 4x4. We were the first to leave the base camp but our 4x4 had engine trouble which was okay because we managed to enjoy the sunrise while waiting for the replacement.
Prior booking the trip, we carefully considered whether we were going to take a SHARED or PRIVATE tour. We decided to go for the private tour even though it was more expensive because:
1. We wanted it to be just the two of us.
2. Since, we don't exercise- we thought we might be too slow for a group and we didn't want to delay anybody else.
3. At the same time, we didn't want to wait for anyone else.
4. Aside from the landscapes, we also wanted to checkout the wildlife in the area. So we wanted the tour to as much as possible be at our own pace.
5. We even made sure to bring our own car so we can leave as early or as late as possible.
What I did not like about the TRIPinas tour was being asked TWICE if we wanted other people to join us. The first time we were asked was via text message before the trip and that was okay. I replied to that message and I thought I already made it clear that we wanted a private tour. But during the tour, at the crater, we were asked AGAIN if it's okay if somebody joined us. There we were enjoying our private tour and suddenly being put in a situation wherein we have to consider somebody else joining us was just a bit uncomfortable. It's a simple yes or no decision but I thought the fact that we paid for private tour already answered that question in the first place. It was a choice between seeming like total snobs by saying no or having a third wheel on our date by saying yes. Anyway, we said no. We are after all on a date and we did choose and pay for a private tour.
Aside from that, everything in the tour went as expected. Our tour guide, Ramil, did an amazing job taking care of us. He was consistently thoughtful and he understood our needs.
So, if you're planning to go to Mt.Pinatubo PLEASE think carefully about what you want to happen. And do have some expectations. Don't just consider the cost; consider your comfort as well. After all, you get what you pay for. In our experience, there were tourists who finished their tour early but couldn't leave yet because they had to wait for their group. There were also some tourists who wanted to stay a bit longer but they couldn't because they had to be back at the base camp at a certain time.
BELOW ARE THINGS THAT WE EACH BROUGHT plus a few notes
1. I brought the lightest backpack I have; Naldo brought a drawstring backpack.
2. disposable poncho (sold at R.O.X; sorry forgot the price) - in case it rains although the weather forecast said sunny in the a.m. and sunny in the p.m. You know what, we experienced showers and quick rain on the way back.
3. duct tape - in case our locally-made boots came apart. Luckily, they didn't.
4. small towel - to dry our feet after crossing streams. We crossed two "major" above-ankle deep streams. We saw some people crossed the streams with their shoes on and they seemed okay. We, on the other hand, took our shoes off and just walked barefoot after. Bringing extra flip flops was added weight for us and thankfully we didn't bring them. The walk on the sand felt amazing and brought back nice island memories.
5. wet wipes and paper towels - We weren't able to use the paper towels. Wet wipes helped us cool down a bit.
6. swiss knife - We weren't able to use this.
7. personalized first aid kit - For some reason, I don't find the ones sold at the market practical. Thankfully, we didn't use this as well. Well, we don't really bring emergency things just so we can use them. In fact, we always pray we don't ever use them. We bring them just in case.
8. food, water (1.25L) and tootsie rolls for Aeta kids - FYI, you will meet around 24-30 aeta kids. The largest group (12-15) will be at the "toblerone-mountain range" area. The second group (6-10) will be on the way to the 4x4 parking where you will begin your trek. The third group (5-8) will be on the way up the crater. So if you're going to be bringing them snacks, save some for the later groups.
We included our tour guide in our food count. So we got
3 Mcdo Burgers - We didn't want to bring too much so we decided to settle for burgers as baon for
lunch. Honestly, it was bitin but it gave us enough energy on the hike back.
6 small buns with hotdog filling - This we got from a convenience store.
4 large Snickers bars - this is a must in our travel list.
1 toblerone bar - I actually brought this as prop to my "toblerone-mountain range" photo but gave it
to the third group of aeta kids.
If you're planning on taking a shared tour, we suggest you bring more food just in case your group takes longer than expected.
10. mobile phone - not sure if Globe was having technical issues that day but we didn't have service the whole day
WE ALSO BROUGHT
11. really small tripod - We were able to achieve some really cool jump shots without having to bother our guide or anyone else.
12. one small camping chair with back rest in case one of us suddenly feels extreme fatigue. I always prefer a backrest so to me bringing this one was worth it. - There are lots of rocks in the area that you can sit on so you don't really have to bring a chair. Again, I prefer a backrest which is why we brought one.
13. and one power bank that is as thin and big as a smart phone - We weren't able to use this at all.
It may seem like we brought a lot but each of our bags weighed 2.5 to 3 kg only and half of that on the way back.
WHAT WE WORE
Top: Naldo wore a dri-fit shirt while I just wore a spaghetti-strapped top - I don't really have any sports wear.
Bottom: I knew we would be crossing streams so I considered us wearing shorts. But the bush trek/possible sharp grass blades/possible insect bites on the way up the crater changed my mind. We decided to go in trek pants with wide legs that we could easily roll up during stream crossings instead.
Footwear: We wore locally-made/Marikina boots. We considered wearing sneakers but we wanted to test the durability of our inexpensive boots plus there are also snakes in the area so they're added protection. We didn't have trekking sandals but even if we did, we wont wear them coz no socks for such a long hike increases the risk of blisters. And I also didn't want to have dusty or cold feet. Also, we are clumsy walkers. The thought of loose rocks falling on our feet or hitting rocks with our toes makes trekking sandals an absolute no-no for us. I tell you the marikina boots were very impressive. We managed to hop from rock to rock during the stream crossings and not a drop of water got in. Nor did we slip. The boots got a nice grip; even our tour guide was impressed.
Each of us also had:
leg/knee support - As much as I hate to admit, we pretty much have a sedentary lifestyle and we needed this to prevent muscle cramps.
shawls - sun/wind shield. One perk of living in Baguio City is we're used to cold weather by Philippine standard so shawls are quite enough to keep us warm. I used my shawl as extra protection from the sun.
two paracord bracelets each (24 ft total) - I saw a video of Mt. Pinatubo tourists who encountered flash floods on their way back. I couldn't ignore the possibility of afternoon showers turning to heavy rain.
sun protection gear - hat (Naldo); cap (Shirl), sunglasses, arm sleeves
WHY MOUNT PINATUBO TOUR IS WORTH IT
1. The whole experience is unique. There's no boring moment. The tour is adventure-packed from the 4x4 ride to the trek.
2. The landscape is amazing and it's not all the same. The mountain formation is different every time.
The lahar mountains are beautiful and scary at the same time.
3. If you pay close attention, you'll notice the wildlife and plant life are pretty cool.
We saw two Brahminy kites (bottom right) and they were just on the ground and was only about thirty feet away from us. It was the closest I got to a wild kite and I got too excited. Only remembered to take a photo when they were already in flight. Brahminy kites are often mistaken as eagles.
Sorry for the bad quality photos. These birds were really, really, really far. I'm just glad I was able to take photos that give me enough detail to identify them.
Top left: Little ringed-plover; Bottom left: Purple needle-tail
The best time to go would be any day with clear skies. Crater lake water is at its best color when the sun is hitting it directly.
More photos at my instagram diary @mashiloa
We hope this post helps you in a little way. Stay happy!