Taal is the smallest volcano in the world, it’s just 311 meters tall. It is also one of the most dangerous active volcanoes. Only a short distance from Manila (55 kilometres), the Taal Volcano has erupted 30 times since the 16th century, killing over 5,000 people. Volcano Island, an island near the middle of Taal Lake is where the eruptions have taken place. The Taal Caldera, formed by prehistoric eruptions thousands of years ago, is partially filled by the lake. The view of the lake and island from Tagaytay Ridge is one of the most attractive in the Philippines.
Taal has an island within a lake, that is on an island within a lake, that is on an island within the sea.
Vulcan Point Island is within Main Crater Lake, which is on Volcano Island, which is within Taal Lake, which is on the main Philippine Island Luzon, which is within the western Pacific Ocean.
The last eruption of the volcano was in 1977. It has recently shown some signs of activity and there has been some strong seismic activity and ground fracturing events. Also, mud geysers and some small mud pots have formed on parts of the island. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology regularly issues notices and warnings about current activity at Taal, including ongoing seismic reports. Despite the potential danger, hundreds of tourists climb Taal every day.
Located about 60 kilometres south of Manila, Tagaytay is a popular holiday town. It is full of green spaces and very popular with the residents of Manila. The climate is cooler here as it’s 600m above sea level and the air much fresher.
The city sits along the ridge overlooking Lake Taal. It is most famous for being a giant platform for viewing the lake and volcano. All along the main ridge road are lots of restaurants all offering stunning views of the lake, several hundred metres below. If you are looking for the best view of the volcano and the lake the viewing gallery at the Taal Vista Hotel is worth visiting.
Visiting the Volcano
There are a number of companies in Manila offering complete package trips to Taal, via car or minibus with guides and boat trips all organised for you. These normally leave Manila early in the morning and arrive back mid to late afternoon. Tagaytay is about 2 hours drive from Manila. If you are staying in a hotel check with reception, they probably know of one or two.
If you want to organise things yourself, firstly you need to get to Tagaytay. The best option is to go to the Araneta bus terminal in Cubao, Quezon City. This is accessible from both the LRT 2 and MRT train lines. From Quezon City, there are several bus lines that go to Tagaytay. Look for bus signs reading “Nasugbu-Tagaytay”. Buses run to Tagaytay roughly every 30 minutes. As Tagaytay does not have a bus terminal, the buses stop in Olivarez Plaza. From here you need to get to one of the jetties in Talisay Bay. You have a choice of a taxi, tricycle or jeepney.
Once you’ve arrived at one of the jetties in Talisay Bay. you need to hire an outrigger boat to take you over the lake to Volcano Island. You can hire a boat for yourself or perhaps try to join one of the many groups making the trip. There are plenty of boats for hire and the prices are negotiable. The journey across the lake takes about 30 minutes. The outrigger boats are quite open and it’s possible you might get a bit splashed, especially if it’s windy over the lake, which it quite often is! Best to have a waterproof bag for your camera and phone etc. Once you land at Volcano Island your boat will generally wait for your return.
Once you arrive at Volcano Island’s main jetty, you have a choice. Either you can do a 30 to 40-minute hike up the slope to the rim of the crater or complete the ascent on horseback. A small tourism office next to the jetty offers a horse and guide, the price can be negotiated. You can decide if you want to travel on horseback. Personally, I thought the horses all looked badly looked after and too small to be carrying tourists on their back. The people trying to get you to hire a horse often exaggerate the severity and distance of the walk. You’ll have no difficulty in walking up to the crater rim if you are reasonably fit.
There are also plenty of vendors here trying to sell you food, water and bandanas to protect you from the dust. Also there a number of guides offering their services. You don’t really need a guide, the path is well-trodden and easy to spot.
If you are walking it’s a hot, dusty ascent. Occasionally you pass volcanic steam vents which give off an unpleasant sulphuric odour. As you climb the sandy trail the views of Crater Lake and the surrounding mountains are stunning and worth every minute of the hike. Wear stout shoes if you are walking, as the trail is quite rugged in parts.
Near the top, there’s another bunch of vendors hustling for your money. If you have travelled on horseback or with a guide they will also be trying to get you to feed the guide after their hard work leading you up the trail. One of the vendors even sells golf balls, which you can hit into the lake. Not really sure why anyone would want to do this, or even why it is allowed!
Once past the assembled vendors you are on the rim of the crater. From here there are breathtaking views of Crater Lake and the small island of Vulcan Point. All the hassle of the day is soon forgotten as you take in the amazing view. It really is like nothing else on earth.
If you are feeling adventurous you can hike around the rim. There are two trails, both about a kilometre long, which head in opposite directions around the rim. These are quite rugged and narrow with steep drops on one side, so please be cautious.
Prepare for your trip by bringing something that covers your mouth and nose, like a surgical mask, as the trail is very dusty. It gets very hot so bring plenty of water to drink. You can buy water from the many vendors, but the price is a bit expensive. You probably want to bring some sunscreen as well.
All things considered, I thought this was a great day out. Yes, there are lots of vendors and hagglers, it’s hot, the trail is dusty and dirty, and the smell of sulphur and horse dung is sometimes overpowering, but it was still worth it to see the crater lake.
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Please note that this travel guide was written before the volcano erupted in early 2020. Some of the activities described in this guide might now be unavailable.