The Beauty of the Philippines Part 1: Taal Lake


Taal Lake is described in Patricia Schultz' book as, “…one of Asia's most beautiful panoramas. Among the world's lowest and smallest volcanoes, Taal is filled with water, creating a lake, yet the volcano itself is located within a larger lake (as the tour guides are wont to chant, "A lake within a volcano, within a lake, within the island of Luzon.")The blues and greens of the vista from forested Tagaytay Ridge have for generations made this a favorite getaway from the heat and chaos of downtown Manila."

To see this amazing wonder, we hired an air-conditioned SUV for P3700.00 pesos for a return trip from Quezon City (Metro Manila) to Tagaytay. The car rental included gas and a driver. We drove south-west for almost two hours until we came to Tagaytay City lookout - a vista point on the side of the road. The view was already spectacular but we wanted to go to the volcano island up-close.

 

At the Tagaytay City lookout, we were approached by a few would-be-guides waiting in tricycles. We found our guide, a toothless man, who after negotiating the tour package, abandoned his tricycle and hopped on to our vehicle. “There are three main roads that link Tagaytay City to the lake and the volcano…let’s avoid the traffic in Sta. Rosa Road and take the back roads”, said our guide. Apparently, Sta. Rosa Road is the most popular route which leads to the town of Talisay – where boats are available to reach the volcano. So we took the road behind the Tagaytay City Lookout. It was a steep descent to the lake area. Our vehicle seemed to be the only one on the road. The drive was slightly scary but very scenic.

Reaching the lakefront, our guide led our driver to park on what seemed to be a private garage.  The house seemed like a vacation home from the outside. Then our guide led us to a gate to reach the pool and the picnic tables.  Seeing the picnic tables and the outside bathroom facility, made me realize that this was a small resort inn. Indeed, it was a resort inn on the lake front with easy access to 'bancas' boats.
One of my traveling companions was so pumped about the volcano island that he was so eager to jump on the boat. However, there seemed to be a misunderstanding with our guide's negotiated 'tour package'. We found that the boat rental was not included in the quoted tour price. The P3500.00 pesos included lunch for four people and picnic tables only. We had to fork out another P1700.00 pesos for the boat ride to cross the lake to the volcano island.

We headed to cross the lake, sea birds sweeping across the water, on one side a fishery.
 
After crossing the lake, we were greeted by vendors selling snacks, cold drinks and coconuts. There were guides who coaxed us to go to the top of the mountain/volcano on a horseback. The horseback ride to the top cost P700.00 pesos. Considering the sizzling heat, trekking up the mountain was out of the question. I rode the horse while the guide walked on foot pulling the horse. He was wearing flip-flops. Having invested a lot time and money on good hiking shoes, the worn-out flip-flops caught my attention. So I asked the guide why he was wearing flip-flops on this rugged terrain. He said, “shoes are too hot for this environment”. Before our ascent we passed groups of thatched houses. Apparently these houses were actually lived in by people who work as guides or who took care of the horses. Every so often, we passed patches of rocks shooting smoke. 
 

The horses could only travel to a certain area, so we had to climb a short distance to peer down the crater. At this point, we were greeted by vendors, mostly young kids, to sell us cold soda and bottled water. They coaxed us on buying cold soda or water for our guide. Farther up we found more vendors selling souvenirs. One determined woman was eager to sell me her ware – with the use of her golf club I could hit some golf balls and aim at the crater. The golf balls cost 1 peso for 2. Seeing that woman trying to fish out golf balls from the edge of the cliff was alarming. A misstep could take her tumbling down the smoky edge of the crater. I admired this woman's business savvy and determination that I purchased 4 golf balls. I aimed at the crater, and pretended to hit the ball. The ball did not go anywhere. Hopefully that purchase made a difference in her life.

A woman looking for golf balls to resell
Climbing up to the top of the volcano, I could see out across Taal other mountains that looked like other volcano islands that reached the horizon. And peering over the edge, I looked down on a crater, and saw a milky turquoise and emerald lake. At its center a tiny island or the smallest volcano found in the country.
The smallest volcano in the country
Mostly, the whole place was deeply exciting and it was the fact that every inch of it was teeming with commerce that made it so striking and, just as I have absorbed all this, I realized I was in the middle of an active volcano.

TRAVEL TIPS:

  • Taal Lake is within easy striking distance of Manila, and makes a great day trip away from the crowded city.  Not to worry, even if you don’t have a reservation you would still be able to do different activities and reach the top of the volcano island.  Just bring extra cash! 
  • I used the term 'would-be-guides' because they would literally show you where to go, where to eat, how much it would cost.  They use the term 'tour package' and sort of negotiate the price, but they're not tour operators nor have contracted facilities.  So be generous with the tip.
  • NOTE:  Total Cost of this trip (including lunch and plenty of coconut water) = 12,000.00 pesos for 4 people or  $75.00 per person.

Comments

  1. fantastic post and Thanks for sharing this info. It's very helpful.
    B&B in Jaipur

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