The Secret Trail to Taal’s Crater Lake

I heard unpleasant things about the hike to Taal Volcano, that iconic small volcano on a lake that takes many a breath away and defines Tagaytay’s unique landscape.

One of the things I remember said about it is that it is a total waste of time. Barren, dusty and extremely hot, the small active volcano, according to not just one hiker, is just prettier from afar. We would find out later that this popular hike only reaches a “peak” which was a ridge that overlooked the crater’s mouth.

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All the same, we were eager to go and see it for ourselves. Our friends Brett and Heather shared that there was a “secret trail” that many people have never heard of. This secret trail takes hikers beyond the ridge and down into the actual lake.

We took that, and we were transfixed by what we saw.

We booked the tour from Taal Yacht Club (where we did not see any yachts) and took an outrigger boat to the foot of the small volcano. While we were expecting a calm lake for our ride, we were surprised wet from the roughness of the waters on that particular February morning.

Per Elbruz in 2014,”The crater lake on Volcano Island is the largest lake on an island in a lake on an island in the world.” This lake has Vulcan Point, a small rocky island that projects from the surface of the crater lake, which was the remnant of the old crater floor that is now surrounded by the 2-kilometre wide lake, now referred to as the Main Crater Lake. Wikipedia explains that the Vulcan Point is often said to be the largest third-order island (island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island) in the world.

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When we reached the destination, we started the hike through a dusty trail. There were trees and farmlands by the local settlers for potato crops on one side. The climb terrain was gentle but the sun was indeed harsh.

As always, I would recommend that hikers don’t underestimate the value of sunblock, caps, sunglasses, neck scarf and enough water.

Not a few minutes after, we reached the viewing deck. And these are what we saw.

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We were taken aback by how surreal it was: looking over a volcano’s mouth that looked so serene while our tour guide spoke to us of its voluminous eruptions. One eruption happened in the 1960s at dawn while the locals slept, burying people alive. A good friend Walfrey Mercado shared that before the 1965 eruption, one of its biggest in modern times happened in 1911 where thousands of Batangas residents died.

We were told that from Tagaytay, people referred to a small mountain on a lake as the volcano, but the actual volcano was behind. We went to a crater lake inside a volcano inside a lake.

The descent to the actual crater lake would get a little challenging especially if your shoes don’t have enough traction on the slippery trail. But tell our guide that and he will laugh. He literally just hiked wearing flip-flops.

Down on the crater lake, at the mouth of this active volcano, we were rendered quiet by what we saw.

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The rocks were red and yellow. I touched the waters and I felt that my hand would almost burn.

On some parts of the crater grounds, there was steam from the ground. When I crouched low by the water, I could hear the gurgling sound of the underground. It felt terrifying how the notion of a burning hell seemed to have a semblance of reality right there.

But, doorway to hell as the sentimental would believe, it was a deceivingly beautiful other-wordly place. It somehow didn’t seem possible that it would erupt and cause death and destruction in an instant.

Sir Walfrey’s memory as a 9-year old living in Batangas on the 1965 eruption cannot be unseen in my head: “There were colored neon-like lightnings on dark lava ashes going upward in the skies with the rumbling sound of the volcano and thunders rolling. It was early morning, but the sun was out of sight. We could not look straight up because of the falling thick ashes. The memory is still vivid even when I was a child that time. Most of my relatives died, and carcasses of fowls and cattle floated on the river after a few days.”

This is difficult to believe while standing here.

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I laughingly said I was imagining being in Mars the red planet.

My 4-year old trusty New Balance running shoes’ soles seemed to have disintegrated from the ground’s heat. Both soles peeled off and I had to enjoy the hike back with thinner soles. Quite an adventure!

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It was hard to believe that we were literally standing on the mouth of an active volcano. It felt like an entirely different place with volcanic rocks, the smell of acid, sulfuric hot water, steam, and the noise you would hear from under you.

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The experience defied expectations. We were lost wandering the crater grounds and we couldn’t help but be humble hikers in awe of the secrets of our earth.

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I’m grateful for the spirit of adventure shared with my husband and our friends. It allows us experiences far bigger than the lives we lead every day. It also leads us to places we would never have thought existed.

For anyone who wants to appreciate geology, seismology, science at work, or just a different landscape that feels like another planet, take the secret trail to Taal Volcano and be in the midst of the earth’s rupture.

Keep climbing! 🙂

(Related post about climbing here)

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