Puerto Princesa, Palawan: The Undergroud River Tour

by - 2:05 PM

Puerto Princesa City in Palawan has always been synonymous to the Underground River. It became all the more popular when it was hailed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2012 on top of its already existing recognition as a World Heritage Site in 1999. Not only that, it is also known as the second longest underground river in the world at 8.2 kilometers. So we didn’t let the opportunity pass to visit this underground wonder when we went to Palawan last March 2014.

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, as it is formally called, is actually located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range and is about an hour and a half to two hours of travel time from Puerto Princesa City. Since we went straight to El Nido on this vacation, we decided to have our Underground River Tour the day before our departure and had it arranged by Northern Hope Tours, the same travel agency who took care of all our El Nido activities. 

Quick Tip: When going on a peak season, better have a travel agency arrange the tour for you since you need to secure a clearance and they also limit the number of tourists per day.

The van promptly picked us up at our hotel around 7 am and the guide cheerfully introduced us to the rest of the group composed mainly of balikbayans with their families. About 45 minutes or so, we made a quick stopover at Taratitat Half Way, a small community offering handmade and indigenous souvenirs. This was also the point when everyone in the van took a quick pee break to prepare for the bumpy ride ahead.

The Taratitat Half Way where you can buy native decors and pasalubong.

Great stuff to choose from. Someday when I have a home of my own, I would buy stuff from my travels. For now, I'll just content myself to appreciating them.

We also had a quick photo opportunity at the Karst Mountain - Elephant Cave marker. Depending on the tour package you avail, some tour operators offer Ugong Rock and Elephant Cave Adventure together with the Underground River tour.

The Karst Mountain which some would call as the Elephant Cave. The cave is just a small part of the entire mountain made up of karst walls.

Tourists taking in and taking advantage of the scenic view. 

Arriving at around 11 in the morning, we were greeted with a buffet lunch of Filipino food to satisfy our hungry tummy. The buffet is actually part of the tour fee. Though the food may be average, what I liked most was the free fresh buko juice they give out to their customers. They also sell Tamilok for a minimal amount, a local delicacy that Palawan is known for. More about this “woodworm” delicacy in this post.

That's my plate on the left side. Looks like boyfie's on a diet. Haha!

Waiting time can be long during the peak season and it can sometimes be a pain in the ass so good thing that Sabang beach is picturesque! I thoroughly enjoyed just sitting down and looking at the beautiful view beyond.

Sabang Beach can be great too for a day of frolicking under the sun. 

There are actually two ways to reach the mouth of the Underground River. One is via the Monkey Trail while the other is by boat which we took. If given the choice, I would choose the short trek through the Monkey trail not only because it is free but also for the scenic view and friendly monkeys all around.

An alternative to the Monkey Trail trek is the short banca ride. Choosing this route can be great too especially since you are supporting tourism that gives decent livelihood to the locals.

Just behind that rock is the cove where we dock! 

Quick Tip: The sea was a little bit rough the day we visited and it was raining too but I didn't mind getting wet at all. To be safe, better keep your electronics and important things in a ziplock.

After the short banca ride from Sabang Port, we finally reached the cove. Yay! As usual, we still had to wait for our turn to get inside the cave so we busied ourselves instead with taking pictures.

If my memory serves me right, that structure in the picture is the comfort room. Best to empty your bladder since the waiting area at the mouth of the cave is a short walk away.

The picture-worthy pathway to the other side. 

After docking in the cove, tourists still have to walk and follow the pathway as shown above to the actual entrance of the cave. This area is part of a protected forest. Watch out for the monkeys, monitor lizards and squirrels!

And there you go, we spotted a monkey! 

The guide already warned us not to feed the numerous monkeys roaming around the area. As a result of tourists feeding them in the past, they have become aggressive and would often snatch anything that catches their eyes like colorful plastics and even hats.

The scenic view that greeted us at the end of the pathway. Look at that boat full of tourists about to enter the cave shining brightly against the clear turquoise water. There are also tiny fishes swimming about in its brackish water - a combination of fresh and saltwater.

Where the river meets the sea.

The water supplying the Underground River is said to be coming from the waterfalls inside the cave then finds its way through and out into the South China Sea. This is the point where the river kisses the sea.

If the tent with chairs (lower left in the picture) gets too full with tourists, huge tree branches can also serve as shade from the scorching heat of the sun.

After almost an hour of waiting, it's finally our turn! This time we rode a paddle boat and the boatman served as the tour guide of the group. Prior to this, the group should decide as to who will hold the light and point it to what the guide will be instructing him to point at (that guy will be seated in front). That will be an important job to do but that would also hinder you from taking pictures because you'll be busy pointing the light in an unfamiliar cavern.

Row, row, row your boat gently into the undergound river. Now I bet you were singing along with me off key. haha!

The huge limestone formations at the entrance of the cave. In the darkness beyond is a tiny light from a canoe about to leave the underground river. 

Entering the cave of the underground river now. That's another boat about to leave the cavern. 

Going through narrow passages.

If you are claustrophobic, you may feel "boxed" up with this narrow passageway. But this is just a short part of the entire stretch. Once you get past this, you'd be in awe as to how high and big the Underground River really is.

And through huge passageways.

I don't have a lot of decent pictures taken inside the cave to show because my simple camera can't cope with the low light but I tell you, you'd be amazed on how enormous it is inside! The guide also entertained us and directed our attention to the different formations. It was a bit eerie and cold inside and I think one of the older balikbayans may have dozed off during the trip. Hundreds of bats can also be heard "talking" and fluttering about and good thing they let us wear hard hats not only as protection from any falling debris but also from bat droppings. It was amazing, to say the least.

And just when I thought I could enjoy the coolness of the air and the soothing silence saved for the guide's voice and take a nap; we reached the end of the trip and we had to turn around and go back. The guide said that a special permit is required if we want to scale farther into the underground river. The trip just took about 45 minutes back and forth; short but sweet.

While the others were busy buying overpriced pictures that the official photographers took, I decided to explore the area a bit more and was surprised to see this tall backdrop of limestone wall right where we docked! So that's the reason why there were a couple of official photographers snapping pictures of us while we were disembarking from the motorized boat. Silly me for not noticing. 

Right by the beach opposite the postcard-perfect limestone wall is where the motorized bancas will wait for the return trip back to Sabang port. Don't forget your banca number because that's the same boat you'll take on the way back. 

Though it was raining a little when we arrived, the sun showed up in all its glory as we head back to Puerto Princesa City. Tiring day but definitely worth it.

Note: The entire trip costs Php 1,500 inclusive of roundtrip van transfer, buffet lunch and all Underground River tour fees. 

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