A volcanic Russian doll
As I completed the final ascent to the rim I detected a pungent, chemical odor. It’s hard not to feel alarmed when experts warn that acrid fumes or strong sulfuric scents are a pre-cursor to an eruption.
Then at the rim I found a couple sitting on a bench eating ice cream, while a young family giggled as they hit golf balls into the crater.
Clearly, there was no cause for concern.
The volcano is only closed to visitors on the rare occasion that Filipino authorities upgrade it from an “Alert Level 0” to an “Alert Level 1,” which means there’s no threat of imminent eruption but that the volcano is behaving abnormally.
These tourists were soaking in what, for many visitors, is the payoff of scaling the volcano — sprawling views of the crater, its lake and beyond.
In the fading afternoon light, the waters of Crater Lake appeared to gently bubble in certain areas, while other patches were stained white by sulfur.
Adventurous visitors can hike around the rim. There are two trails, both about a kilometer long, which head in opposite directions around the rim.
Like the path up the mountain they’re rugged so progress is slow.
These paths are also narrow, with steep drops on one side, so caution is necessary. The steam, rising from the earth near sections of these paths, provides a reminder of the volcano’s deadly power.
What these trails also offer is a closer vantage of the small, volcanic Vulcan Point Island inside Crater Lake.
Taal is like a volcano version of a Russian doll.
Tiny Vulcan Point Island sits inside Crater Lake, which sits inside the Taal Volcano, which is inside Taal Lake. All are contained within Taal Caldera, a massive volcanic crater created hundreds of thousands of years ago by a gigantic eruption.
This prehistoric tectonic activity spawned a chain of volcanoes on the western side of Luzon Island, the largest of the more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines.
Taal Volcano may be the deadliest of them all. But it’s been asleep for 40 years. So now is a good time to visit.