Hiking Mount Isarog had been fun, but we didn’t get a great view from the top, so we decided to try another dormant volcano – Mount Makiling. Mount Makiling is just above 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) high, but the possibility to traverse the volcano instead of just hiking out and back made it sound appealing to us. After reading that there were sections with ropes and ladders and amazing views, we were even more intrigued and made our way to Calamba to hike the Mount Makiling Traverse from there.
Where to stay
The closest large city to Mount Makiling is Calamba, only about two hours south of Manila. The center of Calamba was a bit too crowded and noisy for us, so we headed 4 km further south toward Los Baños. There are tons of guesthouses and hotels (most of them with a swimming pool) down along the main road.
Getting to the starting point
As the hike on Mount Makiling is a traverse, you can either start from the MCME Office in Los Baños or from the Mount Makiling Recreation Center in Santo Tomas on the opposite site. We opted to start in Santo Tomas. From Calamba, you can take a jeepney or tricyle to get to the Recreation Center. Most of the jeepneys from Calamba heading south will pass by Santo Tomas. Look for jeepneys going to San Pablo. You’ll have get off at the San Bartolome Road at the Total gas station and take a tricyle for the last three kilometers to the starting point. You’ll normal have to register in town first and pay 20 pesos entry fee, but we didn’t know before and only learned that from a security guard at the start of the trail. After a short discussion, the guard let us pass without registering, but don’t expect that to happen.
If you want to start the Mount Makiling Traverse from Los Baños, take a jeepney from Calamba to UC Los Baños and from there take another jeepney to the faculty of forestry or the botanic garden. You’ll have to register and pay the fee at the MCME Office and also leave your ID or passport. From here you’ll start the traverse along a paved road for almost 5 kms before hitting the actual trail.
The Mount Makiling Traverse
The first hour or so of the Mount Makiling Traverse will lead you through a dense forest, on a narrow and not well maintained path. There are no trail markers at this section of the hike, so it can be helpful to download an offline map (like maps.me), which shows the trail. Following the path from the Recreation Center, make sure to head down the left path at the point were the trail to your right has been blocked off by branches. We went the other way and got pretty lost in the forest for an hour.
After the first forest section, the trail is better defined and you’ll hit marked and numbered stations (clearings) every once in a while. It’ll lead you through an more exposed area with high grass and less shade. Before coming onto a ridge leading to Peak III, the trail enters a rain forest. The trail can be muddy and you should watch out for leeches (we had a total of three on us throughout the traverse). After this unpleasant part, you’ll get to a ridge, which was the most fun part of the Mount Makiling Traverse with the best views.
For the most part, the path now becomes very steep and you’ll have to use ropes to move along. One section was a good 20 meters of steep uphill on dirt and rocks, only passable by using the ropes. After every rope climb we were rewarded with amazing views over the mountain below us, other mountains in the distance, and the huge lake Laguna de Bay. The higher we got, the better the views became.
When we got closer to Peak III (Makiling has three peaks, #2 is the highest) the trail lead us back into dense rain forest, which required some crawling underneath and climbing between trees. The leeches were also around again! The path climbs up and down before finally reaching Peak III, which is not marked and can easily be missed (happened to us).
Although it is under a kilometer to get from Peak III to Peak II, it took us over 30 minutes to get there. The path continues up and downhill through dense rain forest and is steep and very muddy in sections. At Peak II there was a big clearing but no real views of the area due to the dense vegetation. After Peak II the trail leads only downhill. The first hour or so of the descent is very steep and the path is super muddy (even though it hadn’t rained). There are a few short ladders and ropes at some sections to make the climb down easier. The first hour of the descent is the hardest, after that the trail becomes almost flat, well maintained, and easy to walk on. About 5 kilometers before the trail end, you’ll see the first signs of civilization, there is a small shop with refreshments. The trail then turns into a concrete road, which is only partially built in some sections. We couldn’t quite understand the point of the road, as there is no village or town on the mountain, but it made end of the hike easy.
About 3 kms before the end of the trail, there is a signposted turnoff on the left side to the mud springs. Following the clearly marked path for 600 meters will lead you too a small lagoon of hot, bubbling mud. The mud spring is fenced off but you can still get a good look. Although it isn’t as impressive as other mud springs we had seen, it is definitely worth the short detour from the Mount Makiling Traverse.
We started walking down along the road to the end of the traverse, but when we got offered a lift, it was hard to resist. You can walk down the road, but might as well get a ride if possible, as it is not a very exciting stretch of the Mount Makiling Traverse.
In total it took us around 8 hours to complete the Mount Makiling Traverse, including being lost for an hour. If you’re debating on which side to start the traverse from, we would recommend the Santo Thomas side. The stretches of basically 90 degree rock/trail where you have to use ropes seem nicer to go up than down, and you could possibly catch a ride for the last 3 kms of the hike if you’re tired of walking. If you’re planning on only getting to the peak and return the same way, the Santo Tomas side is tougher but will also reward you with amazing views and a more adventurous trail.