Lake Pinatubo, Philippines

Lake Locations:

Philippines - Central Philippines Region -

Also known as:  Lawa ni Apo Malyari

Lake Pinatubo was created in the aftermath of the second largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century. Located in the crater of Mount Pinatubo in the Tarlac province of central Luzon, Philippines, the rainfall-fed lake has become a tourism destination in its own right and the deepest lake in the country. The eruption in 1991 was the first recorded in 500 years for the mountain. Even though residents had prior warning and were evacuated, the explosion caused several deaths. Fifteen hundred more died in the resulting ‘lahar’ or mud-and-ash flow down rivers and valleys caused when Typhoon Yunya passed over the mountain during the eruption. The 25-foot wall of ash and mud, with the consistency of wet cement, buried two villages and traveled down the river channels into the heart of the City of Angeles.

Drifts of ash also created two other lakes, Lake San Marcos and Lake Tambo. The eruption caused the permanent closing of Clark Air Base, a U.S. military installation less than 30 miles away. The indigenous Aetas, within whose territory Mount Pinatubo lies, have legends of a previous lake in the same place that was destroyed by a huge explosion-a folk memory of the previous eruption 500 years earlier.

Lake Pinatubo may be geologically new, but the experience of the Philippines government draws on long memories of previous eruptions, lahars and mudslides. Lawa ni Apo Malyari, as the Aeta call Lake Pinatubo, grew so rapidly from the heavy seasonal rains that government officials worried the weight of the water would weaken the walls of the caldera, creating a catastrophic flood and another lahar. Loose volcanic material clinging to the inside walls of the rugged crater also creates rock slides into the lake. So a channel was dug in 2001 to drain off part of the water to the nearby River Bucao.

This diversion channel averted impending disaster for the time being, but scientists expect that at some future date, the caldera walls will give way, so they closely monitor the crater. Meanwhile, Lake Pinatubo receives thousands of hardy visitors each year and large amounts of water from torrential seasonal rains. Visitors must be in good physical shape as no road goes up the mountain. All-terrain vehicles take visitors to a trailhead where they hike about two hours over rough terrain. When they reach the overlook, 170 steps lead down to the water’s edge. Many forego this last hike down to the white-sand beach that surrounds the lake. They are content to take pictures from the viewing area of the brilliant blue-green lake against the jagged crags, covered in places with lush native greenery, that form the caldera’s walls.

Visitors who make the effort to reach the beach can rent boats or kayaks to see the lake from the surface. In the past, visitors could swim in the water which, although hot and acidic when first formed, is now nearly air temperature. Although Lake Pinatubo’s water is close to the acidity of surrounding water bodies, it is still too acidic for fish or aquatic life. Although shallow around the beach area at the stairs down to the lake, the water depth drops off quickly and has caused drowning in the past, so swimming is now forbidden with the regulation posted on-site. The beach is great for sun bathing.

Tour agencies provide transportation to the trailhead from the town of Capas, or longer 4X4 trips from Angeles City. In recent years a shorter trail called the Skyway was cut into the side of the mountain to take visitors closer to the lake, but the route was destroyed during a storm a few years ago and hasn’t been rebuilt. The hike to the lake leads through green hillsides to the dry rocky lahar flows that were once rivers. Although not especially steep, the trail crosses a couple of creeks, and rocks make for rough walking. Visitors must report their physical condition on the form they are required to complete at the tourism satellite office at Santa Juliana. Travel advisories warn against trekking during rainy days due to risks of landslides and strong water currents at O’Donnel River. The best time to visit the lake is during the dry season from November to May. Even then, guides warn that the caldera has its own climate and that even a small drizzle can create choppy waves on the lake’s surface.

There are no services or lodgings at Lake Pinatubo, although limited camping is allowed with prior approval. Trails are often closed on rainy days due to the danger of rock slides. Capas has a hotel-hiker hostel near the trail, and both Tarlac and Angeles City offer a full range of lodgings. Most visitors stay in these larger cities where there are plenty of restaurants and services for tourists, including several golf courses and shopping. The Capas National Shrine is found near Capas, where an obelisk stands as a reminder of the Filipino and American soldiers who perished during the infamous Bataan Death March during WW II. The Wall of Heroes around the obelisk commemorates the soldiers who died during the last world war. The area is also home to a small museum named after General Francisco Macabulos. Capas is about 75 miles northwest of Manila, 20 miles from Tarlac and 25 miles from Angeles City. The Province of Tarlac is rapidly modernizing and avidly encouraging tourism to the area with lots of festivals in local towns, many related to religious holidays. The larger cities feature many restaurants that specialize in clay-pot cookery and impart their own signature flavor to this world-famous cuisine.

Lake Pinatubo’s beauty is well worth the hike. This young lake likely will not be here forever; saving it is beyond the capabilities of human engineering if the caldera that holds it collapses. Meanwhile, it is safe to visit, and photographers will have a field day capturing the interplay of sun and shadow on the blues and greens of the water against the raw cliffs peaking though lush vegetation. Such a sight shouldn’t be missed by any visitor to the Philippines.

Things to do at Lake Pinatubo

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Boating
  • Beach
  • Kayaking
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Museum
  • Shopping

Lake Pinatubo Photo Gallery

Lake Pinatubo Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 452 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 2,953 feet

Average Depth: 1,969 feet

Maximum Depth: 2,625 feet

Drainage Area: 2 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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