Taal Volcano’s Lakeside Towns (Updated)

January 13, 2020: Taal Volcano erupted yesterday at 2 PM Manila time belching steam, ash and small rocks. Evacuation of the towns and villages around the lake is now ongoing. Although the magmatic eruption and subsequent lava fountaning is not yet that destructive, the Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology has raised the Alert Level to 4 (5 being the maximum) meaning a destructive eruption is very possible within the next several hours or days. Taal has a long history of violent explosions with the 1911 eruption being particularly destructive, claiming the lives of almost 1,500 people.

Taal Volcano erupting, Jan. 12, 2020
Taal Volcano erupting on the afternoon of Jan. 12, 2020. Photo by Exec8 via Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0.

Although we live 50 kilometers north of Taal, we’ve been experiencing ash fall in our place since last night. Many people have opted to stay indoors even here in Metro Manila due to the hazardous effects of the ash fall. We’re praying for everyone’s safety, particularly those who live within the 15 kilometer radius of Taal – a volcano so beautiful as it is violent.

Below is our post about Taal Lake and volcano in September 2019.

When accompanying first-time visitors to Taal Lake and Volcano, local hosts usually take them to the ridge at Tagaytay City in Cavite. Popular panoramic photos of Taal Crater Lake and Volcano Island are usually taken from this point. However, Tagaytay has become crowded as a tourist destination in recent years. Wanting a more tranquil setting and a different view of Taal, we decided on a short road trip to the lakeside towns of Talisay and Laurel in Batangas province.

Taal Lake and Volcano Island viewed from Tagaytay Ridge

Talisay and Laurel lie on the northern and northwestern shores of Taal Lake respectively. We were intrigued by the town of Laurel not just for the view of the lake and volcano but for the lesser known destinations of Ambon-Ambon Falls and Malagaslas Spring.

Laurel’s Ambon-Ambon Falls and Malagaslas Spring

September is usually considered off-season for visiting these two spots. Rainy weather could make the hike to Ambon-Ambon Falls difficult and even risky if the water level rises too much. However, a break in the rainy season allowed us to make the trek.

the hike to Ambon-Ambon Falls, Laurel
LEFT: Crossing a metal footbridge at the start of the hike to Ambon-Ambon Falls. RIGHT: At least 3 stream crossings meant getting our feet wet with murky water from recent rains.

We got to bring the car all the way to the jump-off point at Sitio Salipit in Barangay San Gabriel although we had to detour through a short stretch of rough road at an area where the road was being repaired. (If it had been raining we doubt if the car could have made it through this detour.) At the jump-off point we were met by Christian, a local on a short break from his work in Metro Manila who offered to be our guide to Ambon-Ambon.

Malagaslas Spring in Laurel
Malagaslas Spring

We were the only visitor at Ambon-Ambon Falls on this day due to the reasons previously mentioned which delighted us. The hike is easy but will require crossing a stream at 2 points before reaching Malagaslas Spring, our first destination. Because of recent rains, a makeshift bamboo bridge at one of the crossings was washed away forcing us to cross on foot. Also because of the recent rains the water turned silty brown and sand often got between our feet and sandals.

After a little more than 10 minutes we reached Malagaslas Spring. Compared to the streams we crossed, the water here is very clean, so clean that visitors are able to drink water flowing from one of the bamboo pipes.

Ambon Ambon Falls, Laurel, Batangas
The two-tiered Ambon-Ambon Falls

From Malagaslas we needed to trek just 10-15 minutes more before reaching Ambon-Ambon Falls. This part of the hike took us along a stream studded with rocks and completely surrounded by forest canopy. Actually most of the trek is done through forested cover, shielding us from the sun’s heat.

the lower tier of Ambon-Ambon Falls
At the lower tier of Ambon-Ambon

Ambon-Ambon Falls is a relatively narrow two-tiered cascade that drops into a shallow catch basin from a height of 60 meters. The water volume isn’t what we expected from a waterfall that tall but you could get some spray when standing at a certain point. The spray is probably where this cascade got its name. The muddy water discouraged swimming here; Christian mentioned that visitors get to swim here during the dry months when the water is much clearer. There are also 2 smaller cascades and water pools at the top level of Ambon-Ambon but going up there is too risky at this time due to the slippery nature of the nearly vertical ascent.

view of Taal Lake from a Laurel fish port
View of Taal Lake and Volcano Island from the fish port at Laurel

Taal Lake Views from Laurel and Talisay

After the hike back to Sitio Salipit it was time to drive back to Talisay where we planned to have lunch. The road along this route took us along the shores of Taal Lake. At the Taal Lake Central Fish Port in Laurel and along the Talisay-Laurel Road we found out we could park the car inside the complex and proceed to the port area for unobstructed views of the lake.

Taal Lake and Volcano Island
The small coned volcano in the left background is often thought to be Taal Volcano but it’s actually a smaller volcano called Binintiang Malaki, still a part of the volcano complex. The real Taal Volcano is located at the bigger mass on left and right behind Binintiang Malaki.

Talisay is the next town on the main road going northeast to Tanuan. A winding stretch of road on a low hill would have been the perfect viewpoint for Lake Taal but there was only a small space where it was possible to park a trike or a smaller car so we had to pass up that chance. Talisay is actually the jump-off point for most boats taking visitors on a hike to Taal’s crater lake on Volcano Island. We’ve thought about doing that hike on this trip but decided we’ll have to do it during the cool but drier months of December to February since there is practically no shade or tree cover on the route.

Cafe Diem, Talisay, Batangas
Café Diem in Talisay

Dining in Talisay

We arrived at Talisay town proper just in time for lunch. There are a few restaurants in town that showed up on TripAdvisor but we decided on Café Diem which somehow didn’t figure too prominently in that website’s top ranked dining places in town. Trusting in our intuition had mixed results. Café Diem’s service was rather slow but the food was quite good. But since we really weren’t in a hurry we didn’t mind waiting.

vegetarian dishes for lunch, Cafe Diem
Vege options at Café Diem

Another reason we chose Café Diem: coffee and dessert. We found out we could get a 16 oz. mug of the famous Batangas Barako coffee (liberica coffee) for only P40 (!). Paired with freshly baked cheese roll after lunch (we cheated on the cheese roll), the strong coffee was a good antidote for eyes made sleepy after a late morning hike and a filling lunch.

coffee and cheese bread, Cafe Diem

That coffee helped keep Leo awake to face an unusually long traffic jam coming home on the C5 road, something we haven’t experienced in a while. (We could only imagine how things could be in December.) Still, the traffic snarl wasn’t enough to spoil a short but satisfying visit to Taal’s lakeside environs.

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