Pinatubo eruption
Central Luzon is characterized by a flat terrain, known as the Central Luzon plain, the largest flat area in Luzon, or for that matter the Philippines. The plain, which covers an area of 11,000 square kilometers (4,200 square miles) is the country's largest producer of rice, and is irrigated by two major rivers; the Cagayan to the north, and the Pampanga to the south. In the middle of the plain rises the solitary Mount Arayat, a dormant volcano sheltering a variety of wild animals. Right at its foot is a picnic site surrounded by waterfalls and numerous species of plant life.

The western coasts of Central Luzon are typically flat extending east from the coastline to the Zambales Mountains, the site of Mount Pinatubo, which in 1991 produced greatest eruption in the world for the last 100 years or so. These mountains extend to the sea in the north, forming the Lingayen Gulf, and to the south, forming the Bataan Peninsula. The peninsula encloses the Manila Bay, The Sierra Madre mountain range continues to stretch across the western section of Central Luzon, snaking southwards into the Bicol Peninsula.

Seven major Philippine ethnolinguistic groups predominate Luzon. Kapampangans and Pangasinenses, as well as Tagalogs and Sambals are the predominate groups in Central Luzon. Tagalogs dominate in Manila. Other ethnic groups lesser in population include the Aetas of Zambales and Bataan, the Ibanags of Cagayan and Isabela and the Igorot/Cordillerans of the Cordilleras.

Due to recent migrations, populations of Chinese and Moros have also been present in urban areas. Mixed-race populations of Spanish, Americans, Japanese, Koreans, Indians, Mexicans and Arabs are also visible. The Chinese and their mixed-raced descendants are spread all across Luzon. According to old Spanish censuses, around 1/3rd of the population of Luzon are admixed with either Spanish or Latino descent (Mostly in Cavite and Manila). Most Americans have settled in Central Luzon's highly urbanized cities of Angeles and Olongapo due to the former presence of the U.S. air and naval bases there, while a majority of the Koreans and Japanese have mainly settled in the major cities and towns.

Almost all of the languages of Luzon belong to the Philippine group of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. Major regional languages include: Tagalog, Ilocano, Bicolano, Kapampangan, and Pangasinan. English is spoken by many inhabitants. The use of Spanish as an official language declined following the American occupation of the Philippines. Almost inexistent among the general populace, Spanish is still used by the elderly of some families of great tradition (Rizal, Liboro...).

The economy of the island is centered in Metro Manila with Makati serving as the main economic and financial hub. Industry is concentrated in and around the urban areas of Metro Manila while agriculture predominates in the other regions of the island producing crops such as rice, bananas, mangoes, coconuts, pineapple, and coffee. Other sectors include livestock raising, tourism, mining, and fishing.

NLEX: the Major Highway in Central and North Luzon

North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), also Known as Radial Road 8, is the main transportation corridor in central and Northern Luzon. According to ASIRT: 1) Begins at the intersection of Andres Bonifacio Avenue. Ends at its intersection with EDSA in Quezon City. Andres Bonifacio Avenue continues north as NLEX. Passes through Metro Manila, Bulacan and Pampanga Provinces. Ends in Mabalcat in Pampanga Province, after merging with MacArthur Highway. Radial Road 8 has two branches: the NLEX and Quirino Highway.[Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), PDF, 2012]

Number of lanes varies:
8-lane divided highway from Balintawak to Burol.
6-lane divided highway from Burol to Sta. Rita.
4-lane divided highway on the Tabang Spur, Santa Rita to Santa Ines segment.
Speed limits are strictly enforced using closed circuit TC and speed guns. Speed limit varies by segment: Balintawak to Tabang 80 km/h; Tabang Spur, 90 km/h in and Tabang to Dau, 100 km/h.


Bulacan province is noted as the land of heroes: men such Francisco Baltazar (Balagtas), “The Prince of Filipino Poets,” Marcelo H. Del Pilar, “The Great Propagandist,” and Gregorio del Pilar, “The Hero of Tirad Pass.” It is also famed for beautiful women, progressive cooperatives, and small and medium scale industries. In addition it is known for excellent jewelry, leather and garment craftsmanship.

Bulacan resorts are popular with Manilenos as place to escape gritty urban life for the weekend. . The province is just a few minutes north of Manila by car. Bulacan is in the southwestern part of Central Luzon. It is bounded on the north by Nueva Ecija, on the east by Aurora and Quezon, on the west by Pampanga, and on the south by Rizal, Metro Manila, and the Manila Bay. Bulacan consists of 24 towns, with Malolos City as the provincial capital.

The language used in the province is predominantly Tagalog. Other dialects used by the townfolks are Waray, Ilocano, Bicolano, and Kapampangan. Like the rest of Central Luzon, Bulacan’s climate consists of two pronounced seasons: dry from November to April and wet for the rest of the year.

Bulacan is moving away from agriculture and becoming more industrialized. Its proximity to Manila gives it the advantage of being a favored site of industrial establishments, including leather tanning, cement bag making, ceramic textiles, food processing, shoe making, and many others. The majority of the rural areas, however, are still dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Rice is the principal crop, followed by corn, vegetables, and fruits.


Pampanga Province is sometimes called the “The Culinary Center of the Philippines” It is populated by resourceful hardy folk who are justifiably proud of their famous Kapampangan cuisine. The capital city of San Fernando is world-famous for its annual Easter re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is also famous for the Pampanga Christmas lanterns. The province has remnants of a long and colorful history. It houses a booming night life and tourist destinations. It is the site of world-class resorts, casinos, duty free shopping, and golf courses.

Pampanga is located in the central part of Central Luzon. It is bounded on the north by Tarlac and Nueva Ecija, Bulacan on the east, on the south by Bataan, and on the west by Zambales. The province’s total land area is 2,180.68 square kilometers. Pampanga is composed of 20 municipalities and two cities, namely: Angeles City and San Fernando City. It is subdivided into four political districts. Kapampangan, English, and Tagalog are spoken and understood anywhere in the province.

Pampanga is home to about two million people. It is characterized by a wet season and dry season. Major Farming and fishing are the main industries. Rice and sugarcane are the major crops. Others are banana, mango, and eggplant. The rivers and fishponds produce fish, shrimps, and crabs.

Tourist Offices: 1) Regional Office Iii, Mr. Ronaldo P. Tiotuico, Regional Director, Hilaga Village, City of San Fernando, 2000 Pampanga, Tel: (6345) 961-5617, Fax: (6345) 961-2612, E-mail: celtour@yahoo.com, Website: www.visitmyphilippines.com. 2) Angeles Satellite Office, G/F Marlim Mansions Hotel Bldg., Diamond Subd. Balibago, 2900 Angeles City, Tel. No.: (6345) 477-2498, Fax: (6345) 625-8525. 3) Angeles Satellite Office, G/F Marlim Mansions Hotel Bldg., Diamond Subd. Balibago, 2900 Angeles City, Tel. No.: (6345) 477-2498, Fax: (6345) 625-8525. 4) Regional Office I, Mr. Martin S. Valera, Regional Director, Oasis Country Resort, National Highway, Bgy. Sevilla, San Fernando,, 2500 La Union, Tel: (6372) 888 2411, Fax: (6372) 888 2098, E-Mail: dotregion1@pldtdsl.net, Website: www.visitmyphilippines.com, www.dotregion1.com,


Zambales Province (210 kilometers or three-hour by car from Manila) has been gifted with the natural beauty and a touch of history. The Zambales coastline is most famous for its sandy beaches, deep blue seas and coral reefs. The ancestral house of the beloved Philippine President, Ramon Magsaysay, situated at Castillejos. Mt. Pinatubo, world-famous for its 1991 catastrophic eruption is in the province.

Zambales Province covers 3,645 square kilometers and is home to about six million people and has a population density of 190 people per square kilometer. The province has a few lowlands along the narrow coast where the town centers are located. The northern part is basically swampy. Mountain ranges containing mineral deposits as well as some volcanoes are found in the eastern portion. Zambales has 13 towns and one city, with Iba as the provincial capital. Tagalog is the predominant dialect followed by Ilocano and Zambal. English is widely spoken. There are two pronounced seasons: the dry season from November to April, and wet season during the rest of the year. Major Zambales is basically an agricultural province. The chief products are rice, corn, vegetables, and rootcrops. Major industries include farming, fishing, and mining.

Despite its proximity to major cities, Zambales remains the bastion of the Aeta, the original inhabitants of the Philippines who migrated to the archipelago more than 10,000 years ago — thousands of years even before the Austronesian migration. Some of them still live as hunter gatherers as their ancestors did. Although the Aetas — also known as Ati, Ata, and Agta — are scattered throughout the Philippines, Zambales has the largest known population. There are several Aeta dialects in the province. Some Aeta guides hold Jungle Survival classes within the Subic Freeport zone.

Zambales offers the Sierra Madre mountain range, communities that practice ancient living traditions, 180 kilometers of nice beach, and dozens of islands and shoals. If you want to go hiking, there’s lots to choose from as about 60 percent of the area is covered in mountains. Some of the more popular hiking destinations are Mt. Tapulao, Mt. Cinco Picos and Mt. Balingkilat.

Pricing Information: Items Price
Dining — Filipino meal at a restaurant. Ex., fish with rice Php 150
Accommodations — Hostel P900 for per room, per night
Accommodations — Hotel P1,900 per room, per night
Accommodations — Family room Php 2,500 per night
Accommodations — Resort cottage Php 2,500 per night
Accommodations — Home stay Php 250 per person
Transportation — 10 minute Tricycle ride Php 50 — 100
Transportation — 10 minute Jeepney ride Php 8.00 minimum
Transportation — Boat ride Php 300 per person
Activity — 1 day hike with guide Php 500

Getting There: Zambales is easily accessible by provincial buses. Daily buses leave Metro Manila — Caloocan and Cubao — for trips through the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) to the major towns along the Zambales coast, like Iba. The trip is five to seven hours Zambales has 13 towns and one city, Olongapo, all of which are accessible via public air-conditioned buses from Cubao or Pasay in Metro Manila.

Beaches, Surfing and Islands in Zambales

San Antonio is where you’ll find the coastal town of Pundaquit, the jumping off point to Anawangin Cove and Nagsasa Cove. The mountains, pine trees, and rivers here seem a landscape more apt for Colorado — except, it’s a beach! The waters are calm and the shore is gently sloped. You are welcome to pitch a tent and stay the night.

Right across Pundaquit is Camara Island and Capones Island. You have to take a banca or outrigger to get here. Though both islands are around 30 minutes away by boat, Capones gets more attention because it’s bigger and offers more activities. You can surf, sunbathe, have a picnic, explore the different sides of the island, or hike up to the Faro de Punta Capones lighthouse, an early Spanish lighthouse. Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag Island, is a great diving spot. It has also been the subject of a South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines.

Farther north in Candelaria, you’ll find Potipot Island. And the name is perfect, because it’s a cute name for a cute island. In fact, the island is tiny enough for you to walk around it in less than an hour. The beige sand is fine and it’s perfect for sunbathing. Sun too harsh? Don’t worry, the large camachile tree provides ample shade.

Surfing in Zambales

Zambales faces the West Philippine Sea, and surfing is done here, especially in San Narciso and San Felipe. These beachside towns are not big on resorts, but the have surfer accommodation like the Circle Hostel in San Felipe. Things are stripped down to the bare minimums (think three-level bunk beds, no air-conditioning), but hey, you can paint art on the wall, try slacklining (tightrope walking), or join the weekly yoga classes.

Surfing in the Philippines hasn’t attracted the attention that Indonesia has. There are still hundreds of spots that are unexplored and don’t have many people. San Narcisco and San Antonio are among these places. Here the surf breaks right and left. The most well-known surfing spots are Magic Left, Camara Island, and Anawangin Cove,

According to to Surfing in the Philippines: “The nearest surfing destination from Manila would be in "Zamba" or Zambales. Zambales is blessed with a long shoreline which receives swells from the South China Sea. The province is an ideal place for beginners and intermediate surfers and favorites by city-based surfers especially from April until September since the place is not too crowded. The waves from late December to April can sometimes swell from three to four meters. There are surfing lessons being offered in the area handled by the locals. Among the towns in Zambales, we highly recommend San Antonio, San Narciso and San Felipe as your surfing destination. The beach waves in San Antonio are perfect for first timers and even experienced big wave riders. San Felipe waves on the other hand are more consistent.

“One surfing spot in San Antonio is in Pundaquit which is made famous by spot "Magic Left". It's a striking left-hander that's situated just below the rolling hills with waterfalls flowing majestically. And the waves here work like magic. How? That's for you to find out. Pundaquit in Zambales is a very privileged place for surfing since it receives swells from the west and north quadrants. It is bordered to the west by the South China Sea, hence the surf action. The opportunities for surfing in Pundaquit are enormous. The entire coastline offers adventurous surfers many possible surfing breaks and being renowned for year-round consistent swell and diversity of breaks. During the months of May to early December, the surf is probably at its most consistent, not necessarily its' biggest but definitely you will get more steady waves. The period from late December to April requires a low depression in the South China Sea, which can whip the swell up to three or four meters. This is a big powerful swell and requires a good level of experience.”

Subic Bay

Subic Bay (120 kilometers northwest of Manila) is the former home of the largest navy base outside the United States and the former headquarters of the Seventh Fleet. Originally a Spanish naval base, it was claimed by the Americans in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. Subic Bay can be reached from Manila in three hours on hair-raising roads or in 30 minutes by helicopter.

In the Vietnam War era and through the 1970s and 1980s, Subic Bay was occupied by about 16,000 U.S. military personnel, who in turn provided jobs for about 20,000 bar girls and prostitutes as well as loads of other people. When the last ship sailed out of Subic Bay on November 24, 1992, more than 8,000 Filipino volunteers moved in to make sure it wasn't looted.

Today, Subic Bay is a tax-free economic zone with a 1,000-room resort and casino, a deep seaport, an international airport, a billion dollar industrial park, an Acer computer assembly plant and a $100 million Federal Express regional air freight center.

The 1,000-room resort complex has pleasant beaches, duty-free shopping, bowling alleys, golf courses and resort cottages. The casino features blackjack, slot machines and poker. Visitors can also try bungee jumping from an old navy crane, go hiking or horseback riding on numerous trails, or take a jungle survival course with Negritos, a forest people native to the area. Subic's rain forests are home to deer, wild pigs, and monkeys.


Olongapa (near Subic Bay) is the largest city in Zambales and was a center of sin and prostitution during the America military days and still has a similar reputation today. Describing the scene Olangapo in the late 1990s, Edward Gargan wrote in the New York Times, "When the sun sinks, the jukeboxes crank, men in T-shirts and jeans straggle the bars, and scantily clad women scan the tables for prospects. More often than not, a young man will sidle up to a newcomer an ask, 'You want a young girl? Fifteen only.'"

About 230,000 people live in Olongapa and many of them make a living working at legitimate jobs in the factories and offices in the new Subic Bay. The sex industry has continued to thrive without American sailors and soldiers partly as result of the influx of sex tourists from North America and Europe. Some Americans have chosen to live here or retire here, but obviously not all of them because of the sex industry. Some are ex-servicemen who liked the Philippine vibe and relaxed way of life.

The Olongapo area, once the site of the biggest U.S. naval base in Asia, is fast developing into an industrial and tourism zone under the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. Olongapo derives its name from “Ulo ng Apo” or “Head of the Respected Elder”. The city is highly urbanized with its very own, Olongapo City Museum, highlighting the history of the area. It also hosts a convention center, the fantastic Marikit Park and a library.

Angeles City

Angeles City (83 kilometers from Manila) is the gateway for the Mt. Pinatubo hikes. It used to have a large sex industry when it catered to Clark Air Base the same way Olongapa did to Subic Bay. When Clark closed down after the Pinatubo eruption the economy of Angeles City also tanked as the massage parlors, and bars that attended to American servicemen closed down. Since the closures the city has tried to remodel itself as a tourist town but businessmen complain they make much less money from the backpackers who make up most of the visitors than the servicemen. For visitors the town has a good tourist infrastructure with a wide choice of restaurants, guest houses and hotels, many of which can make arrangement for your Pinatubo hike. There is even a Holiday Inn at Clark.

Angeles City is home to about 450,000 people. Angeles and Clark together form the hub for business, industry, aviation and tourism, as well as the entertainment and gaming center of Central Luzon. The city I still trying very hard to promote itself. According to the Center for Kapampangan Studies, the dish sisig originated in this city and has been on the menu since the 1730s. In 2018, Angeles applied to be a UNESCO Creative City, while it also applied sisig into the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Historical sites in the city include Fort Stotsenburg. Salakot Arch, Old Pamintuan Residence, Founders' Residence (Bale Matua), Camalig, Post Office Building (Deposito), Holy Rosary Parish Church (Santo Rosario Church), Holy Family Academy Buildingm Bale Herencia (Ancestral House), Juan D. Nepomuceno Center for Kapampangan Studies, National Artist Vicente Manansala's works and drafts, Bayanihan Park and the Reynaldo G. Alejandro Culinary Library. The Museum of Angeles features dioramas of Traditional Life in Pampanga, which is depicted in ten tableaus. These dioramas were created by fashion designer Beatriz 'Patis' Pamintuan Tesoro using her Nenita dolls dressed in the embroidered Filipiniana outfits. There is some information and pictures related to the Pinatubo eruption.

Mt. Pinatubo

Mt. Pinatubo (100 kilometers northwest of Manila and two hours by car from Angeles City) is a 1486 meter-high (4,875 feet) stratovolcano. Comprised of a complex of lava domes, it erupted catastrophically in 1991 after lying dormant for 600 years in what is considered the second most powerful volcanic event in the 20th century (the most powerful was Novarupta in Alaska in 1912). Dozens of villages were buried under tons of ash and mud. More than 800 people died during Pinatubo's eruption and more died from diseases in overcrowded evacuation camps.

According to volcanodiscovery.com: “Prior to the eruption, Pinatubo was a little known volcano. There were no known historic eruptions. Before the eruption in 1991 Pinatubo was 1745 meters high (about 250 meters more than now), and was only 200 meters higher than the nearby peaks, which are remnants of older volcanic edifices of Mt Pinatubo and hid it from views from distance. Pinatubo mostly noted for a failed geothermal development project. [Source: volcanodiscovery.com /*]

“Pinatubo is flanked to the west and probably underlain by by the Zambales Ophiolite Complex, an easterly-dipping section of Eocene oceanic crust which was uplifted in the late Oligocene. The second unit are sediments of the Tarlac Formation, mostly sandstone and siltstone in the older parts, and conglomerates and volcanic sediments and dikes in the younger. The Tarlac formation is found in the north, east and southeast of Pinatubo and formed contemporary with the oldest known volcanic centers in the area, including Mount Mataba or the diorite of the Dizon Mine, the sub-surface remnant of an ancient vent. The ancient volcanoes of the Tarlac Formation originated from the same east-dipping subduction along the Manila trench that continues to the present. /*\

“Ancient Pinatubo: Pinatubo was formed in 2 stages. The ancestral Pinatubo started to form about 1 million years ago, and built an andesite — dacite stratovolcano whose center was at the same location as today. Remnants of this precessor are seen in the ancient 3.5x4.5 wide caldera. Ancient Pinatubo had a number of flank vents, that formed the domes of Mount Negron, Mount Cuadrado, Mataba, Bituin plug, and the volcanic plug of Tapungho. Deep erosion in the Sacobia, Porac, Marimla, and Porac River valleys, and weathering of the lavas suggests that activity of the ancestral volcano ended several tens of thousands of years (or more) before the caldera-forming eruption and initial growth of the modern Pinatubo (ca. 35,000 years ago). /*\

Hiking on Pinatubo

For several years Pinatubo was regarded as too dangerous to go near. . Now it is a popular hiking destination, welcoming around 6,000 foreign visitors a year in the late 1990s. The hiking season is during the dry season from October to April. Hiking in the rainy season is very dangerous still. Deadly landslides and lahars are very real possibilities. The first commercial hikes for tourist were offered in 1997 and withing a few years hikes were offered on five main routes. The primary routes takes 3 ½ hours. For those who want to do the hike on their own, there is a 20 peso admission fee and 500 peso fee for a required guides. Its dangerous if you don’t have a guide.

Overnight hikes organized by Dreamtreks, the pioneers of Pinatubo hiking, cost $70 and include food, bottled, tents, sleeping bags, transportation. Hikers are transported by SUV from Santa Juliana, a small town of 2,700 people, to a campsite in the Crow Valley, where the hike begins. The Crow Valley was a former gunnery and bombing range for the U.S. Air Force and is still used by the Philippines Air Force.

Unlike the other routes that are strew with boulders and are steep, this route has a relatively gentle grade. It passes streams of bubbling hot volcanic water, house-size boulders and patches of greenery emerging from the otherwise gray landscape. Hikers should bring both open sandals and hiking boots because some of the hike is through streams and other parts are over sharp rocks. The water levels can range from high at the beginning of the dry season to pretty low by the end of it.

Much of the hike is through a moon scape of ash and rock that have been sculpted by rain and wind. Around 200 meters of material was deposited on the slopes of the mountain by the eruption. Some of this has been eroded away leaving canyons and spires of ash that are as spectacular as those seen in any badlands. Guides and hikers who have traveled the route several times say that the landscape is always different. The material that was deposited by the eruption is generally very loose and light and is easily carried away by streams, rain and wind.

The destination of the hikes is a crater lake, where visitors can relax and take a swim (don’t stay in long the lake is very acidic). The water is arm and you can see steam rising in some places. The color of the of the lake changes from blue to brown. It is surrounded by jagged cliffs. To reach the edge you have to climb down a rope. Around the crater are ocher and sand-colored boulders and streams that comes in shades of mineral green and red. On the Dreamtreks hike, hikers enjoy a meal of fried chicken and steamed rice prepared by the Aeta people who run the camp where people stay. The guides and most of the people in Santa Juliana are also Aeta. The Aeta run guest houses and sell handicrafts made of wood and pumice.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Philippines Tourism websites, Philippines government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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