Situated just 50 kilometers South of the massive urban sprawl of Manila in the Philippines, Taal Lake is a haven of calm and greenery. Depending on the horrendous traffic conditions, it can take anywhere from 1 – 3 hours to get from central Manila to the sleepy town of Tagaytay where the adventure begins!
It’s a little bit of a complex situation, so let me do my best to explain it. Luzon is an island in the Pacific Ocean, the most populous island in the Philippines archipelago. Located on Luzon is the town of Tagaytay, nestled on a ridge of Taal Volcano and overlooking the large Taal Lake. Within Taal Lake is the Volcano Island. Within Volcano Island is yet another Crater Lake. Finally, within Crater Lake is Vulcan Point which is a volcano outcropping.
If that didn’t make sense, here is the simplified version starting from the outside layer and proceeding to the inside: Pacific Ocean, Luzon Island, Taal Volcano, Taal Lake, Volcano Island, Crater Lake, and lastly the interior Vulcan Island. They don’t call it a complex volcano for nothing!
For the climbing of Mount Taal, most people take on the task to climb the Volcano Island portion of this volcanic system. It is necessary to take a boat across Taal Lake to reach the island and be in grasping distance from the world’s smallest active volcano. The enjoyable boat ride took approximately 30 minutes and provided spectacular views of the lake and the rough cut ridges that surround.
The boat dropped us off at the base of Volcano Island, a foundation of muddy ash and volcanic sand. As soon as the light breeze from the ride was over, the hot humid air immediately penetrated; it’s the type of thick drenching mugginess that you can feel before your body even starts to sweat.
The small village on the island seemed like a throwback in time. There were a series of wooden stilt houses hovering over the water, an old weather worn basketball court, and an ancient horse pen. It was a quiet place, an absence of motorized vehicles, and the local residents rested under the trees to escape the heat of the day.
There was a small park entrance fee and a choice to either hike or hire a horse to navigate the well defined trail up to the summit of the volcano. I chose to exercise, though the horse looked like an enjoyable option. The trail to the top was a muddy mess, stirred up by the hooves of the horses and the manure they defecated whenever they pleased. I was glad that for the first time in the Philippines, I had traded in my flip-flops for my tennis shoes!
The scenery was gorgeous, a true tropical mixture of bright green shrubs and the occasional palm or papaya tree that sprouted out of nowhere. With every step the view became more and more impressive, a panorama of the surrounding Taal Lake and outer volcanic rim.
The hike to the top took about 45 minutes. As the trail gained in elevation, the wind started to pick up, offering a blessed relief to the soaking sweat. The trail became quite steep at the final section of ascent, but overall it was a very easy climb.
Do you see the tiny green island in the middle of that lake? That is an island in a lake, on an island in a lake, on an island in the Pacific Ocean!
The view was a magical panorama of the entire volcanic region. The edge of the interior crater lake was smoldering with sulfur and one of the interior sides was leaking with a murky fluid. Though it’s highly active, it’s different from the fire and ice eruptions on Iceland.
A guard at the top, allowed me to sign a Filipino style consent and release form (a crumpled piece of blank paper), in order to hike down to the shore of the interior Crater Lake. Pressed for time, I didn’t make it all the way to the bottom.
Layers of complexity and depths of the surrounding beauty more than justify the Taal Volcano as the smallest active volcano in the world. Escaping the congestion of Manila for a quick trip to Taal is a refreshing experience and a thrilling volcanic adventure!