Bones of the earth, pillars of the sky, roofs of the world – mountains have long stirred the human imagination, and goaded the human spirit into feats of daring. If you are in search of peaks to scale and pinnacles to conquer, then take a trip to the Philippines, where numerous mountains await the brave and the adventurous.
The Philippines is home to a vast array of landscapes – white sand beaches, rolling hills, tropical rainforests, verdant flatlands, mangrove swamps, rocky outcrops, and desert dunes, to name but a few. But towering above all these, in the most spectacular manner imaginable, are majestic mountains.
Hundreds of mountains are to be found anywhere in the Philippines. Many of these are massed together to form long and lofty mountain ranges, among which include the Cordilleras and the Sierra Madre. A few others rise in solitary fashion as lone peaks dominating the surroundings.
For the most part, the vast majority of mountains in the Philippines are accessible to climbers and hikers. Driven by whatever reason – whether in search of an adrenaline-inducing dare, the adventure of a lifetime, the perfect photograph of the perfect view at the summit, or simply a relaxing weekend getaway – numerous mountaineers take on the challenge of scaling and conquering these towering landforms.
Here are some of the most remarkable mountains in the Philippines. Note that these are not ranked, but rather arranged alphabetically:
1. Mount Apo
ELEVATION: 2,956 m (9,698 ft)
LOCATION: Cotabato, Davao del Sur
In the southerly island of Mindanao, between the provinces of Cotabato and Davao del Sur sits venerable Apo, the Grandfather of Philippine Mountains, and the highest point in all the country. This potentially-active stratovolcano rises 2,956 m (9,698 ft) above sea level, affording an unrivaled view of the surrounding lands.
The mountain is revered as sacred ground by its indigenous tribal inhabitants. It is a veritable cornucopia of flora and fauna, among them the Philippine eagle – the largest eagle in the world and the Philippines’ national bird.
Apo’s preeminence as the highest mountain in the Philippines draws numerous mountaineers from around the world to take up the challenge of scaling and conquering this towering landform. Many trails, interspersed with campsites and checkpoints, lead through a diverse array of landscapes – luxuriant rainforests, mossy swamps, verdant grasslands, crystalline pools, rocky terrains, and volcanic structures – all the way to the summit.
2. Mount Arayat
ELEVATION: 1,030 m (3,380 ft)
In the midst of the province of Pampanga stands a lone and legendary peak – Arayat. At a height of 1,030 m (3,380 ft), this inactive basaltic volcano towers above all else in the broad plains of Central Luzon, rising mightily over vast and verdant rice paddy fields. At its feet are sprawled numerous towns and villages.
Massive, imposing, and awe-inspiring, Arayat has long figured in folk lore and legends. Locals believe that the mountain is the abode of a deity with powers over the sun, war, and death, and was benevolent to mortals.
Whether by mythical enchantment, or simply because of its unmissable form, climbers and hikers are drawn to Arayat. Two trails lead to the peaks of the mountain, with one climbing to the Southern Peak, and the other to the Northern Peak. Both peaks afford mountaineers a panoramic view of the surrounding land.
3. Mount Banahaw
ELEVATION: 2,158 m (7,080 ft)
LOCATION: Laguna, Quezon
Straddled between the provinces of Laguna and Quezon is mystic Banahaw, a dormant volcano with an impressive height of 2,158 m (7,080 ft), the highest mountain in the Southern Tagalog Region. Three peaks form its summit, with the third peak being sundered from the other two by a deep valley gorge and a crater lake.
Banahaw is steeped in mysticism. Numerous Catholic devotees revere the mountain as holy, a sacred site drawing pilgrims by the thousands. A number of cults have also made a presence in Banahaw. To local folk, the mountain figures prominently in their myths and legends. Witch doctors and shamans – albularyos in the local tongue – frequent Banahaw in search of plant parts and other materials of rumored healing powers.
The mountain is the focal point of a protected landscape encompassing a wide range of habitats, within which is harbored a high diversity of endemic floral and faunal species.
4. Mount Dulang-Dulang
ELEVATION: 2,938 m (9,639 ft)
Towering over the highland province of Bukidnon is dominant Dulang-Dulang, the highest among all the peaks of the encompassing Kitanglad Mountain Range. Soaring to a height of 2,938 m (9,639 ft) above sea level, Dulang-Dulang is the second highest mountain in the Philippines, second only to Apo, and slightly higher than Pulag.
The slopes of Dulang-Dulang, like those of the other peaks of the Kitanglad, are clad with ancient forests of wondrous beauty, all abounding with wildlife. From its summit, mountaineers can descry the entirety of the surrounding mountain range, and even catch a glimpse of venerable Apo in the farthest distance.
Dulang-Dulang lies within the ancestral lands of the Talaandig tribe of Lantapan, who revere the mountain as sacred. Those wishing to ascend the mountain must first obtain the blessing of the local tribe, and must abide by the rituals customary before, during, and after the climb.
5. Mount Guiting-Guiting
ELEVATION: 2,058 m (6,752 ft)
Within the province of Romblon, rising from the heart of the jeweled island of Sibuyan is Guiting-Guiting, a formidable and awe-inspiring mass of rock with an elevation of 2,058 m (6,752 ft) above sea level.
Guiting-Guiting is counted as one of the most difficult mountains in the Philippines to climb, alongside Halcon in Mindoro and Mantalingajan in Palawan. In the local tongue, the mountain’s name means “jagged”, and those who dare to scale this pinnacle will know why. To reach the summit, mountaineers must run the gauntlet dubbed as Knife Edge, a narrow, precipitous, and serrated ridge of sharp rocks. The ridge is bounded on either side by a cavernous ravine, and is barraged unceasingly by wind and weather. Beyond the ridge, the trail traverses even more daunting hurdles before eventually yielding the summit. Be warned: only experienced and determined mountaineers can survive this harrowing climb!
6. Mount Halcon
ELEVATION: 2,582 m (8,471 ft)
LOCATION: Oriental Mindoro
In the island of Mindoro, looming over the province of Oriental Mindoro is impressive Halcon, a mountain with a lofty height of 2,582 m (8,471 ft). Halcon is home to the indigenous Mangyans of Alangan, and its forests harbor a vast diversity and endemicity of floral and faunal species, some of which are critically endangered.
Along with Guiting-Guiting in Romblon and Mantalingajan in Palawan, Halcon has earned the reputation of being the most difficult mountain in the Philippines to scale. The mountain’s formidability is attributed to its exceedingly steep slopes, through which hiking trails traversing dense jungles and spanning pristine rivers have been established at great cost. Any assault on the mountain is subject to the whims of the weather – during the rainy season, the rivers become flooded, and the trails are rendered impassable.
Nevertheless, Halcon is one of the most worthwhile climbs. The majestic view from its summit alone is beyond priceless.
7. Mount Iraya
ELEVATION: 1,009 m (3,310 ft)
In the northerly province of Batanes, on the north-eastern end of Batan Island stands Iraya, the northernmost active volcano in the Philippines. At a height of 1,009 m (3,310 ft), Iraya is the highest point in Batanes. The mountain is heavily forested and home to endemic flora and fauna. Mighty winds barrage it unceasingly, earning it the name Mountain of the Winds.
Iraya is steeped in the lore of the indigenous Ivatans, who revere the mountain as hallowed. Legend has it that a ring of clouds encircle the mountain when one among the tribe dies.
Iraya draws numerous mountaineers to its steep slopes and forest-clad trails, and to its summit, which, on most days, is shrouded by clouds, rendering visibility of the surround nigh impossible. But those who chance upon a clear weather are afforded an unrivaled view of the entire beauty of Batanes and the vast, encircling seas.
8. Mount Kanlaon
ELEVATION: 2,435 m (7,989 ft)
LOCATION: Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental
In the Visayan island of Negros, straddled between the provinces of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental is mighty Kanlaon (sometimes Kanla-on or Canlaon), a massive stratovolcano elevated 2,435 m (7,989 ft) above sea level. It is the highest peak in the whole of Visayas.
Kanlaon is the third most active volcano in the Philippines, after Mayon and Taal, having had 30 eruptions since 1819. In and around the summit is a riddling of pyroclastic cones, extinct craters, and a caldera, and from its forest-clad slopes issue three hot springs. The active Lugud crater is just beneath the summit.
Kanlaon is a favorite among veteran mountaineers seeking for an exhilarating adventure rife with risk, danger, thrill, and excitement at every turn. The trails that lead to the summit traverse a rich array of environments, including rolling hills, lush forests, and crystalline lagoons formed from extinct craters.
9. Mount Kitanglad
ELEVATION: 2,899 m (9,511 ft)
In the southerly island of Mindanao, rising tall over the highland province of Bukidnon is lofty Kitanglad, one of the sister peaks of Dulang-Dulang, and the second tallest pinnacle of the Kitanglad Mountain Range. At an impressive height of 2,899 m (9,511 ft), Mount Kitanglad, an inactive volcano, is the fourth highest mountain in the Philippines.
Legend has it that a great flood once submerged the province of Bukidnon and only the tip of Mount Kitanglad, then overgrown with tanglad (lemon grass), remained visible (kita in the local tongue). Thus was the name of the mountain derived.
Kitanglad serves as a communications center, and the trails leading to the summit have been well-established to ease the passage of the people who work there. Upon the summit are a communications tower and several bunkhouses furnished with electricity. From the peak, the view of the surrounding mountains and far-off lands is absolutely incredible.
10. Mount Makiling
ELEVATION: 1,090 m (3,576 ft)
LOCATION: Batangas, Laguna
On the border of the provinces of Laguna and Batangas towers mythical Makiling, a dormant volcano rising to an elevation of 1,090 m (3,576 ft) above sea level. The mountain has long figured prominently in folk mythology, the supposed abode of Maria Makiling, a beautiful and benevolent fairy-like being (by some a deity, or anito in the local tongue) believed to be the guardian of the mountain. Maria Makiling is a common subject among the works of Filipino artists, being featured in paintings, sculptures, and even graphic novels.
Makiling is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Philippines, a mainstay for Filipino mountaineers. Hence, the trails leading to the summit have been well-established, and to climb the mountain a guide is almost always not necessary. The vast forest reserves of the mountain, which hold numerous species of plants and animals, are well-protected, and are kept in pristine condition.
11. Mount Mantalingajan
ELEVATION: 2,086 m (6,844 ft)
In the southern end of Palawan Island rears Mount Mantalingajan, the highest part of the encompassing Beaufort Mountains Ultramafics geological region, a largely unmapped array of ultramafic outcrops rising in the midst of the island. Mantalingajan, at a height of 2,086 m (6,844 ft), is the highest peak in Palawan.
Mantalingajan is regarded as one of the most difficult mountains in the Philippines to scale, alongside Guiting-Guiting in Romblon and Halcon in Mindoro, and yet is one of the most remarkable, meaningful, and worthwhile climbs. The mountain remains vastly unexplored, a primordial realm of ancient and awe-inspiring forests within which thrive a multitude of exotic and colorful plants and animals, many of which have never even been documented. At the foot of the mountain lie the villages of the indigenous tribe Tau’t Bato, the People of the Stone, who still live by the old ways and beliefs of their ancestors.
12. Mount Mariveles
ELEVATION: 1,388 m (4,554 ft)
Dominating the landscape of the province of Bataan is Mount Mariveles, a massive dormant stratovolcano looming to a height of 1,388 m (4,554 ft) above sea level. The mountain looks towards the city of Manila across Manila Bay, affording a stunning backdrop for the sunsets seen from the city.
Mariveles is known for its multiple peaks, of which the highest and the recognized summit is known as Pantingan Peak (Banayan Peak in the vernacular). Pantingan overlooks the wide caldera of the mountain, as well as the surrounding peaks.
The most well-known of the peaks is Tarak Ridge, a steep, craggy, and windswept ridge raised along the mountain’s western flank whose name is said to be a portmanteau of local words tabak (hunting knife) and tarik (steep). Tarak affords mountaineers a spectacular view of the provinces of Bataan and far-off Cavite, as well as Corregidor Island, Manila Bay, and the vastness of the West Philippine Sea.
13. Mount Mayon
ELEVATION: 2,462 m (8,077 ft)
Almost in the midst of the province of Albay stands majestic Mayon, an active stratovolcano renowned worldwide as the most perfectly formed volcano because of its perfectly symmetrical conical shape. Rising to an imposing height of 2,462 m (8,077 ft), Mayon towers above everything else in the province, and indeed in the entire Bicol Region (which encompasses Albay). This “perfect cone” is a premier tourist draw, riveting thousands of admirers from across the globe with its sheer splendor and majesty.
Mayon is no innocent beauty, as it is given to a fiery and capricious temperament. Its violent fits of anger have been well recorded throughout history; over 47 eruptions in the past 500 years have made it the most active volcano in the Philippines. Its most devastating eruption was in 1814, which buried an entire town and more than a thousand people with it.
14. Mount Palay-Palay (Pico de Loro)
ELEVATION: 664 m (2,178 ft)
On the south-western end of Luzon, in the province of Cavite looms Palay-Palay, a dormant volcano rising to a height of 664 m (2,178 ft) above sea level, the highest peak of the encompassing mountain range.
Upon its summit stands the mountain’s claim to fame – a lone vertical cliff feature known to some as the Monolith, but to most as Pico de Loro (Parrot’s Beak). The latter was the name first given to the mountain by Spanish seafarers, owing to the pointed summit’s curious resemblance to that of a parrot’s beak, especially when viewed from afar.
The mountain’s iconic peak affords mountaineers an uninterrupted 360-degree view of the wide plains of Cavite, the sandy shores of Limbones Cove, and the vast expanse of the West Philippine Sea. It is said that the salty tang of the sea is borne by the breeze all the way to rocky summit!
15. Mount Pinatubo
ELEVATION: 1,486 m (4,875 ft)
LOCATION: Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales
On the trijunction of the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales rears Pinatubo, an active stratovolcano with an infamous name and a haunting past. Pinatubo earned worldwide notoriety for its cataclysmic eruption in 1991. Before then, the mountain lay dormant for almost 500 years, forest-clad, obscure, and rather unremarkable despite standing 1,745 m (5,725 ft) above sea level.
Its eruption devastated the surrounding lands and was felt worldwide. It was the second-largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century and by far the largest eruption to affect a densely populated area. The eruption reduced the volcano’s height to 1,486 m (4,875 ft). It obliterated the volcano’s summit and replaced it with a caldera that has since then filled with rainwater, forming what is now Lake Pinatubo.
Today, numerous sightseers troop to Pinatubo to visit the caldera, the crater lake, and the seemingly alien and apocalyptic landscape formed after the fateful eruption.
16. Mount Pulag
ELEVATION: 2,922 m (9,587 ft)
LOCATION: Benguet, Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya
Where the borders of the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya meet rises Pulag, the tallest peak in the island of Luzon and the third highest mountain in the Philippines. Soaring to a height of 2,922 m (9,587 ft), Pulag is the uncontested pinnacle of the Cordilleras – the long and lofty mountain range in Northern Luzon that encompasses several provinces.
Owing to its high elevation, the climate on Pulag is extremely cold and damp, and temperatures are wont to drop below 0 °C (32 °F) during the frosty months of December to February. Nonetheless, thousands of mountaineers take to the pine-clad trails and brave the frigid conditions to reach the grass-covered summit. There, the determined are richly rewarded with resplendent views of the famed “sea of clouds” rolling beneath the mountain’s peak, or of the vast and starry expanse of the Milky Way Galaxy unfurled in the skies.
17. Mount Ragang
ELEVATION: 2,714 m (8,904 ft)
LOCATION: Lanao del Sur
On the southern end of the province of Lanao del Sur stands elusive Ragang, one of several high peaks of the Piapayungan Range. Ragang, known as the Blue Mountain to local folk, is elevated at 2,714 m (8,904 ft) above sea level and is the tenth highest mountain in the Philippines.
Very little is known about Ragang, a mountain that even now is still veiled in secrecy and mystery. The mountain is exceedingly far-flung, set in a region beset with war and violence, where peace is as elusive as a victorious conquest of the mountain peak. The mountain itself is rumored to be a stronghold of rebels. Few mountaineers have dared to walk beneath its forest canopy or trod along its hidden trails, and fewer still have stood upon its coveted summit and descried the surrounding lands. To this day, Rajang remains an elusive dream to many mountaineers.
18. Mount Taal
ELEVATION: 311 m (1,020 ft)
In the province of Batangas lies Taal, an extremely fascinating geological wonder and one of the premier tourist draws in the Philippines. Taal is a rather low volcano, rising to a height of only 311 m (1,020 ft) above sea level. Its short stature, however, belies its exceedingly violent disposition. Having had 33 recorded eruptions since 1572, Taal is the second most active volcano in the country, and is the world’s smallest active volcano.
Taal is classified as a complex volcano and fittingly so, too, since it has an island (Vulcan Point) within a lake (Main Crater Lake), that is on an island (Volcano Island) within a lake (Taal Lake), that is on an island (Luzon) within the sea (Pacific Ocean). Taal’s curious formation is part of its endearing appeal, as evidenced by the thousands of tourists who flock to the volcano to marvel at its unique and intricate beauty.
19. Mount Tabayoc
ELEVATION: 2,842 m (9,324 ft)
In the highland province of Benguet towers Tabayoc, at a height of 2,842 m (9,324 ft) the second highest mountain in the island of Luzon and the seventh highest peak in the Philippines. Along the mountain’s feet lie the four magnificent lakes of Ambulalakao, Incolos, Letep-Ngapos, and Tabeo.
The trail to the summit traverses dense, primeval forests. Trees of diverse and outlandish shapes and sizes thrust great gnarled roots across the path, and splay twisted branches clad with moss, ferns, and lichen over the trail. Mantling the forest floor is a thick carpet of rotting leaves, moss, and ferns.
Unlike the summits of Pulag and Ulap, which are wide open, grassy, and bereft of trees, the summit of Tabayoc is heavily forested. To gain an unobstructed view of the surround, mountaineers must climb the trees and seek for an advantageous position above the canopy, or clamber onto the makeshift observation deck raised above the trees.
20. Mount Ulap
ELEVATION: 1,846 m (6,056 ft)
Rising over the rugged upland province of Benguet is Mount Ulap, a lofty peak elevated 1,846 m (6,056 ft) above sea level. Despite having been opened up only fairly recently, Ulap is swiftly becoming one of the more popular hiking destinations in the Philippines, and it is easy to see why.
Ulap is situated in the high Cordilleras, where the climate is cool and the air is crisp and pine-scented. The mountain is fairly steep, clad in grass, dotted with numerous pine trees, and absolutely picturesque at every turn. Resplendent flowers bloom in fields and ridges, and fascinating rock formations await the eager eye. The trail to the summit is not especially difficult – quite manageable for beginners and yet challenging enough for veterans. The summit – a wide, windy and grassy clearing – yields mountaineers a glorious view of the surrounding mountains, and even the famed city of Baguio in the distance.