About a month ago I asked whether we should take a day from Manila and go to the Pinatubo or Lake Taal Volcanos. In the end, Pinatubo won and Krystina and I spent our third day in Manila visiting the infamous swath of land that rocked the Philippines in 1991.
A few days before our trip we booked a tour of the volcano grounds directly with PDC Spa Town (email@example.com for reservations). Any outside tour company inadvertently re-books you through the Spa Town so it is easier and cheaper to go through them directly. Additionally, booking directly affords one the option of adding massage, volcanic ash and hot spring options. Of course, Krystina and I chose to add all three. The total cost for the guided tour, park fees, lunch and spa treatments was about $100 USD per person, about half of what we were quoted from outside agencies for the same trip. The only problem is, unlike organized tours from Manila, transportation to Sta. Juliana is not provided. Renting a car seemed the best mode of transport*; car services can be hired but are pricey and the route via public transport is neither easy nor quick. In the end the rental car plus gas for the day ran us around $100USD. I’m sure this would have been even cheaper if we remembered to fill the gas tank back ourselves. If you decide to take the rental car route the standard companies are all available in Manila and offer similar rates. We ended up going with Diamond Rentals in Makati where Precy and her team were more than helpful (G/F Kings Court Building 1, 2129 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City, +63 2 856 5254).
Our trip to Pinatubo started early. The drive is about 120KM and takes around 2 hours with no traffic. With tours departing Sta. Juliana for the Pinatubo hike by 8 AM we made sure to leave by 4:30 in the morning. Good that we did, without renting a GPS you could say we got a little lost. A few times. A few back and forths through country roads and a few hours later we finally reached the PDC Spa Town at 8:30 AM.
Below, our adventure:
To get to PDC Spa Town:
If you’re coming from Manila, take the North Luzon Expressway. Exit Dau toll gate for you to take your rented vehicle (meeting place is usually at the Clark main gate), otherwise straight to Sta. Ines toll gate. From there, take the MacArthur Hwy to Mabalacat enroute to Bamban and Capas in Tarlac towards north. When you reach the marketplace in Capas, take a left turn to Brgy. Sto. Rosario and negotiate the 22-km. countryside road passing along barangays Aranguren, O’ Donnell, Sta. Lucia, Patling and finally, the last frontier which is Brgy. Sta. Juliana – the gateway to the crater of Mt. Pinatubo.
*Driving in Manila can be a terrifying experience. Though there are designated lanes, staying within them is not the norm. While dark, there is no speed limit on the super highway. Drivers do not signal before cutting you off. Jeepneys, tricycles, motorbikes and people weave in and out of the main roads. The locals are friendly, but if you do not know where you are going you will not find your way alone. In this case, have the passenger get out, hail a cab and follow to your final destination.