I thought I knew enough about Taal volcano having studied it back in school and seeing it numerous times from Tagaytay and boy was I wrong—I should’ve listened more attentively.
I’ve always thought Taal was part of Tagaytay – WRONG. Though you do get to enjoy the scenery from Tagaytay with the cool breeze and different hues of blue, Taal is nothing but a view in Tagaytay as it belongs to Batangas. Thank god I did not play tour guide to my friend Bernardo when I brought him to Taal to hike – it was going to be my first hike up that volcano too and I was almost as clueless about it.
Backpacks are packed and we’re ready to go, we set off to Tagaytay first to have brunch at one of my favourite restaurants, Breakfast at Antonio’s, and have a good bird’s eye view look on what we were about to climb. I was also one of the many people who thought that the small volcano (Binintiang Malaki) often featured in post cards and Philippine tourism advertisements was THE Taal volcano – WRONG. It was that whole island right smack in the middle of Taal lake – the world’s smallest volcano isn’t as small as most people thought after all!
I have gotten in touch with a tour guide, Angelo, who we were supposed to meet along the way from Tagaytay to Talisay, Batangas. If you don’t have one, it’s easy to spot tour guides along Tagaytay road. Head over to the rotunda and there you’ll find a tourism booth with men offering to be your tour guide.
Having a photographer travel buddy, lighting matters. He suggested for us to hike mid-afternoon so that we’ll arrive in the crater just in time for the perfect light of the sunset. To while away time, Angelo brought us to a nearby waterfall quite unknown to most tourists but a popular local destination — the Ambon-Ambon Waterfall.
Ambon means “drizzle” in Filipino and having two waterfall layers, when the water is strong enough, it creates an illusion of drizzle as it fills the whole area with mist. It took around 20 minutes to reach the main waterfall and what a marvel it was!
And then it was time to hike.
As our boatman carefully navigated through the unsettled waters of Taal lake, not only was I thinking of the worst — having our boat capsized — but top it off with me thinking while getting completely drenched in lake water. Free shower, anyone? Yes, expect to be splashed on for the next 30 minutes by the fresh water that envelopes the majestic grandeur of one of the most active and dangerous Philippine volcanoes — And yes, I did just try to make that sound like a beautiful threat.
Alas, touchdown on dry land! As we walked towards the hike’s starting point, the smell of dung started to fill the air—we were following the smell? The smell of Taal’s props, that is. The locals have gathered numerous horses at the base that visitors can ride up the trail and there are photographers around the area who would gladly take a photo of you and hard sell you a printed copy. It would make for a lovely photo going up the volcano, wouldn’t it? PROPS. Truth is, it’s quite an easy hike and one look at the horses, you can tell how malnourished they already are—there’s absolutely no need to ride them! Poor horsies. Besides, the whole experience becomes more picturesque when you can see it at your own time, own pace, and own effort. The hike IS the experience.
It’s thrilling to see smoke come out of some of the rocks. Can one be delightfully threatened? I think I was since I know that this volcano island has been erupting since the 16th century and it has had 33 eruptions so far and there I was, walking on it with my fingers crossed that the 34th wouldn’t fall on that day.
And there we were. On top of the lake-filled caldera, surrounded by more locals trying to sell a product or an experience. “Ma’am, sir, play golf?” No. “Ma’am, Sir, souvenirs?” No, thank you. Hold on, we needed a moment of silence to appreciate this geologic wonder! I think our guide knew exactly what we wanted so he brought us to another viewing point, far from the vendors and other tourists— The Red Rock Formations.
A perfect 360-degree view of the whole volcano island. This is where you can clearly see and understand why Taal Volcano is called the “island on a lake in an island on a lake in an island.” Say what?! Let’s start with the vulcan point, the islet in the crater lake that’s located in the Taal volcano island (where we’re standing), that is surrounded by the Taal Lake (where we just had our free shower), that sits right inside Luzon island. Try to have a google-map-zoom-out mental picture of that!
The thought of it all was overwhelming. Sitting on top of an active volcano, surrounded by red rocks and hot steam coming out of it, looking down on the emerald green sulphuric lake and seeing more fumes rising from below. Behind you a grand view of islands that stand as nature’s wall to keep all of Taal’s grandeur in place. The best part of it all was that Bernardo was absolutely right—right before sunset is the best time to highlight all beauty. The moment the golden light hit us and the red rocks, everything became magical. We were part of that magical moment, that magic hour.
Many people have misconceptions about this misunderstood volcano—take it from me, I had so many false facts in my head prior to this trip. It was such a breath of fresh air though to hear little truths about this little volcano along the way—to know so much about it during the experience. The appreciation of every single detail around you deepens and although Taal has been heavily promoted as a prime tourism spot in the Philippines, there’s still a lot of magic left in it that makes you marvel at this wonder… especially when you catch a glimpse before sunset.