Discover the Serenity of Lake Mapanuepe: A Nature Escape in San Marcelino, Zambales

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Nature’s resilience shines at Lake Mapanuepe, a serene haven nestled amidst the remnants of Mt Pinatubo’s tumultuous eruption in 1991. Despi...
[feature] Subtle and sublime beauty of Lake Mapanuepe in the morning.

Nature’s resilience shines at Lake Mapanuepe, a serene haven nestled amidst the remnants of Mt Pinatubo’s tumultuous eruption in 1991. Despite its tragic past, this emerging camping destination in San Marcelino, Zambales, offers a tranquil retreat for nature enthusiasts seeking solace amidst breathtaking landscapes.

Unveiling Lake Mapanuepe

Located just south of Mt Pinatubo, Lake Mapanuepe boasts a picturesque setting with vast grazing lands, verdant hills adorned with towering agoho trees, and the tranquil expanse of its namesake lake. Spanning 648 hectares with a maximum depth of 25 meters, this hidden gem stands as a testament to nature’s artistry.

Before the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the area that is now Lake Mapanuepe was home to three thriving barangays – Lower Aglao, Buhawen, and Pili – located within the Mapanuepe Valley. The Mapanuepe and Marella rivers flowed freely through the valley, converging at the Sto Tomas River.

However, the eruption and subsequent rains caused lahar and sediment to dam the Mapanuepe River, leading to a rise in water levels that submerged the entire valley. Only the steeple of the Sta. Barbara Church, with its cross, remains visible above the surface, a solemn reminder of the settlement that lies beneath the serene waters of Lake Mapanuepe.

Lake Mapanuepe View Deck in Aglao.
Lake Mapanuepe View Deck in Aglao.

Journeying to Lake Mapanuepe

While reaching Lake Mapanuepe requires a bit of effort, the journey is well worth it for adventurers craving an escape from the ordinary.

The view deck also serves as the port for boats to take you to the camping sites.
The view deck also serves as the port for boats to take you to the camping sites.

DIY Commute

  • Ride a Zambales-bound bus at Victory Liner (P500) and ask to be dropped off at San Marcelino, Zambales.
  • Ride a bus to Olongapo. From the Olongapo Terminal, ride a jeep going to San Marcelino.
  • From the San Marcelino Market, ride a jeep to Aglao. Only one trip per day (usually in the morning) and the same jeep comes back in the afternoon. The schedule may change without prior notice.
  • From the Lake Mapanuepe View Deck port, ride an outrigger boat to the campsite (P350/boat up to 5 pax).
Our tour van arrived early in Aglao.
Our tour van arrived early in Aglao.

Self Drive

  • Off-road vehicles can also reach the Lake Mapanuepe campsite but should be guided by a local to safely cross the multiple streams to reach the camping grounds. Some streams can be deep and impassable even with high clearance, and the locals know the ideal routes.
  • However which way, visitors should first visit Barangay Aglao in San Marcelino, Zambales where guides can be acquired, and pay the environmental and entrance fees.
These outrigger boats can take up to 5 passengers at a time.
These outrigger boats can take up to 5 passengers at a time.

Join Group Tours or set up a Private Tour

  • The easiest way is through organized tours, joining a group, or having a private tour. For our visit, our van headed straight to the Lake Mapanuepe View Deck in Aglao and parked the van at the Barangay Hall. From here, we took a small outrigger boat to our campsite, which is only a short 15-minute ride. The dawn boat ride was surreal as the warm glow filled the sky, and the cool breeze embraced us as our boat cut through the mist hovering over the still waters of the lake.
Phase 2 camp site.
Phase 2 camp site.

Embrace Lakeside Camping

There were already campers in the area who were probably enjoying the long weekend earlier than us. Despite the numbers, the camping area is vast enough to accommodate hundreds of people. The campsite has four phases. We were camped at Phase 2, which was said to be the most scenic but could also be crowded. It has a lot of tree cover close to the lake.

Phase 1 is a lot quieter and is located near the stream and a few communities of Aetas. Phases 3 and 4 have wider grasslands and open areas. All of the phases have toilets and shower areas maintained by the Aetas. There are also some small stores in each phase.

Captivating morning mists.
Captivating morning mists.

What to Do in Lake Mapanuepe

Lake Mapanuepe
My tent.
Lake Mapanuepe
Reading on my Kobo.

Lakeside Camping

There is no cellular network in the area, but lately, Phase 2 has optional internet access available for P150 good for 24 hours, powered by Starlink. But I decided not to and just enjoyed the serenity of the place. Reading a book, walking around, birding, chatting with my camp buddies for this trip, and enjoying the food.

Obligatory camping chair photo at the lake, of course!
Obligatory camping chair photo at the lake, of course!

Car Camping

I noticed some car campers brought extra creature comforts like bigger tents, grills, and even showers/changing tents. I also saw several campers bringing in their pets, both canine and feline. A wonderful place to let them run around and explore nature.

ATV and Biking

ATVs are also available for rent at Phase 3 for a little adrenaline rush. Some car campers also brought bikes as the area is nice for some gravel biking.

Lake Mapanuepe
Explore the nearby stream.

Boat Tour

For an additional fee, visitors can also take a boat ride around the lake and visit the location of the Sta Barbara church, where a portion of its steeple can be seen protruding above the water near the shores of Barangay Pili.

A Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) hunting in Lake Mapanuepe.
A Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) hunting in Lake Mapanuepe.

Nature Photography

Nature photographers would enjoy the place. Sunrise here is sublime, with the mountain peaks rendering beautiful gradients in the morning and the lake reflecting the hues of the sky.

A medium egret (Ardea intermedia)
A medium egret (Ardea intermedia)
Lake Mapanuepe
Striated grassbird (Megalurus palustris)

In the evening, with minimal light pollution, astrophotography is ideal if the conditions are right. It is also possible to do bird photography. A lot of Brahminy kites in the area, and I photographed some striated grassbirds, medium egrets, and a Common kingfisher.

It’s also fun to fly drones here for some wonderful landscape photography. Just be careful of the eagles and falcons in the area.

Lake Mapanuepe

Essential Information for Your Journey

Prepare for your adventure with these practical tips and suggestions:

  • The easiest way to Lake Mapanuepe is via the Lake Mapanuepe View Deck port, where boats can take you to the campsite. It’s easy to find this location via Google Maps or Waze, and you can securely park your vehicle near the barangay hall. The only downside is you can’t bring some of your stuff or equipment.
  • If you are taking a vehicle, it is recommended to hire a guide to lead you to a safe route along the river and stream crossing. Guide fees can range from P500–800 back and forth. The overnight car camping fee is P600/car.
  • Bring your camping equipment like tents, cook sets, power banks/generators, and lights. There is no electricity in the area.
  • Bring water and food. There may be some small stores there, but prices are almost double since they have to bring the supplies in.
  • No cellular network in the area, but WiFi is available for P150/24-hour access via Starlink.
  • If you are staying overnight, secure your food, trash bags, and items. Cattle freely graze the area, and at night, may rummage through your trash or food bags.
  • There are plenty of toilets and shower areas, very basic but they will do. There’s a P5 fee for using the toilet and a P10 for the shower. Pay Aeta to maintain the toilets and shower areas.
  • Swimming is not recommended, as there may be unsafe structures or tree branches due to the sunken settlement. There are spots designated for dips, like the stream.
  • Aeta vendors are roaming the area selling souvenir items. Some may also sell Colassisi parrots and iguanas. Please do not condone them by buying these animals.
  • Please respect co-campers. By late evenings, tone down your noise and keep it within your camp.
  • Leave no trace. Do bring back what you brought and keep the place clean.
Lake Mapanuepe
Organized tours usually include set meals.
Lake Mapanuepe
Joiner tours are a great way to meet new people with the same passion for travel and the outdoors.

Experience the Magic of Lake Mapanuepe

Embark on an unforgettable journey to Lake Mapanuepe, where nature’s resilience and beauty converge to create an unparalleled escape from the ordinary. Embrace the tranquility, indulge in adventure, and create lasting memories amidst the wonders of San Marcelino, Zambales.

Lake Mapanuepe
Phases 3 and 4 areas of the camp sites.
Lake Mapanuepe
Following the stream.

COMMENTS

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Ironwulf En Route - A Travel Story, Photography, and Video blog by Ferdz Decena from the Philippines: Discover the Serenity of Lake Mapanuepe: A Nature Escape in San Marcelino, Zambales
Discover the Serenity of Lake Mapanuepe: A Nature Escape in San Marcelino, Zambales
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Ironwulf En Route - A Travel Story, Photography, and Video blog by Ferdz Decena from the Philippines
https://www.ironwulf.net/2024/04/discover-serenity-of-lake-mapanuepe.html
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https://www.ironwulf.net/2024/04/discover-serenity-of-lake-mapanuepe.html
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