Hiking up Mount Isarog

Mount Isarog

Mount Isarog, a volcano lying in the lower quarter of Luzon, Philippines, is an accessible mountain where you can hike to the top and back within a day. Unlike Mayon and Bulusan to the south, hiking to the summit of Isarog is permitted currently, as long as you obtain a permit for your hike. The volcano sits just outside of Naga City, and can be accessed from nearby Panicuason.

Mount Isarog
The gentle slopes of Isarog from below.

Getting To Isarog

You’ll arrive at Naga by bus, and the city is a major transit hub. Night buses from Manila run constantly, and buses come up from Legazpi regularly. Getting from Naga to the Panicuason start point is done either by taking a jeepney from Naga to Panicuason (P20), or if there’s a long wait for a jeepney you can grab a tricycle to take you all the way to the trail head, which was P200 in our case.

A jeepney running from Mount Isarog.

Permit and Entering

One thing we found frustrating during our time in the Philippines was the amount of red tape we encountered. Among other examples, we were turned away from Mount Bulusan and Mount Mayon due to the volcanoes being at threat level 1 on the standard 0-5 scale. Varying information on how to obtain a permit for Isarog was given to us, until finally we were told by a man who worked in an outdoors store in the SM City Mall in Naga to just head to the Panicuason start point and pay directly there for the permit (200 pesos). We were told to start no later than 6am since the hike is a bit long and it would be hot out, so we left Naga before sunrise and arrived at the gate outside of Panicuason at 6am. We were met by a cardboard sign that had an opening time of 8am sharpied on it, and it looked relatively abandoned. We later learned that the hours for the gate are 8am – 4pm and a permit can be arranged there.

The Hike

Hiking up Mount Isarog isn’t a difficult climb, although your starting point is only a few hundred meters above sea level and the summit is roughly 2,000 meters, so be ready for a constant uphill slog. The trail being overgrown and the amount of leeches we encountered were the hardest parts about the hike for us, and the lack of any view until the top made it a bit monotonous. Passing through the jungle we admired the flora, which consisted of large ferns, vines hanging from trees, and forest that looked like it could have had dinosaurs hiding at any turn.

Mount Isarog
A young fern along the trail.

After going over, under, and around dozens of fallen trees and pushing through bushes and plants that grew onto the trail, we had to scrape three leeches off of ourselves, and hadn’t had a glimpse of the sky or any surroundings in hours. The look of the jungle may have been nice, but leeches are high on my list of least favorite creatures! On the plus side, the forest kept us shaded from the hot April sun, so we were thankful for that. Just before noon we finally came to a lookout point, and the apparent end of the trail. Our GPS indicated we had reached the top, however from the viewpoint it looked like we were just shy. Clouds surrounded us, as is common on Isarog, so we caught a glimpse of a really nice view down the mountain, and after a few seconds it disappeared.

Mount Isarog
A view from the end of the trail on Mount Isarog.

Descending from the mountain took us about half the time that it took to climb, so we passed the turn to Malabsay Falls, which is a short 10 minute detour to a nice waterfall, after about two and a half hours of descending. A quick minute or two to the gate, and we were off of the mountain after about eight hours total. We hadn’t hiked in over a month and were in mediocre shape, but found the walk to be easy enough minus the burning in our legs from the constant climb. The only other people we encountered on our hike were very low on the mountain, and they were hiking around the base, but we didn’t see anyone higher up or signs anyone had been there recently.

Mount Isarog
Jungle envelopes the trail everywhere except for the very top.

If you are interested in spending more than a day on the mountain, head to the SM City Mall and visit Kadlagam Outdoor Store. They organize camping and trekking on the mountain, and there are multiple campsites on the summit trail. If you’re debating on doing it as a day hike, as long as you’re relatively fit and have at least three liters of water per person (I barely drink when hiking and almost drank three liters this time) you shouldn’t have any problems. Enjoy the hike and hopefully the weather is clear at the top!

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