Pampanga Province is gaining a reputation as one of the Philippines’ fastest-growing tourism destinations. Well known for golfing, entertainment, and great food, the area around Clark International Airport also offers a surprising level of adventure.
In 1991 Mount Pinatubo exploded in what has been called the second-biggest eruption of the 20th century. The disaster was effectively the last word in what had been an increasingly hot debate over control of Clark Air Base, and the US handed the airport over to Filipino authorities later the same year.
Official Language: Filipino, English
Currency: Peso (PHP)
Time Zone: UTC+8
Calling Code: +63
From Clarke, it takes about two hours in a jeep to reach the foot of Mount Pinatubo. As you rattle your way up Crow Valley, you pass over the concrete roofs of threetory American military installations that were buried during the eruption.
From the end of the valley it takes another two hours to hike to Pinatubo’s summit. You splosh knee-deep through river-crossings, passing convoys of buffalo carts bearing cargos of sweet potatoes and charcoal. The inhabitants of these hills are known for their resilience and some now make a living “mining” seams of charcoal from incinerated trees that lie buried in the ash.
From Pinatubo’s summit you look down into one of the world’s most recently formed crater lakes. The tropical vegetation is taking hold around the crater again but it is strange to think that most of the local inhabitants can recall a time when this landscape was dominated by giant trees.
Horses played an important part in the early history of Clark. In 1689, when pirate-explorer William Dampier arrived on Luzon Island, he discovered that horses were already abundant. Two hundred years later the Americans established Fort Stotsenburg in what would become Pampanga province and grazed their cavalry horses on the meadow in Clark that is still known today as the Parade Grounds.
Less than 3km from the Parade Grounds you find El Kabayo (www.elkabayo.com), a complex of shops, restaurants, and entertainment facilities built to resemble a cowboy town in the American wild west. El Kabayo borrowed its name from the Spanish word caballo meaning “horse,” but everything else here is certainly unashamedly Yankee, from the Blacksmith Shop to the Saloon, Trading Post, and County Jail. The quirky Main Street makes for an irresistible photo opportunity, and riding lessons and short horseback tours around Clark’s greenbelt are available.
Wet and Wild
Just an hour’s drive from Clark, Subic Bay — once the second-largest US naval base outside America — has become a leisure area in its own right, with pretty beaches and world-class wreck-diving.
Closer to Clark, Deca Wake Park is a wakeboarding complex that features overhead cables that tow riders through bends, straights, and even over jumps and ramps.
Aqua Planet waterpark opened in 2018 and is now one of the area’s most popular tourism attractions. With 38 slides spread across 10 hectares, it offers more than enough entertainment for kids of all ages. Adrenalin junkies will appreciate the Aqua Loops that launch you via trapdoors into a 100m freefall, passing through a 360-degree loop. There’s also the Sky Shuttle, which sends four riders at a time “flying” up a near-vertical cascade in an inflatable float.
Photography: Shutterstock / Getty Images/ IG: @JATRAVELING / Mark Eveleigh