I Recommend a Visit to the Underground River of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines
Have you ever visited an underground river? You have? Well, you are lucky. I am lucky too for having been able to visit one just very recently.
More importantly, the underground river I visited is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Not only that, after years of search and voting, it is now officially one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Yipee!!! Isn’t that exciting?
So come and join me as I take you to a tour of this underground river in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines
A Bit of Background First
The Underground River is found in Palawan, one of the 7,000+ islands of the Philippines. The capital of Palawan is the city of Puerto Princesa and this is about an hour by plane from Manila.
There are several
flights by different airlines, daily to the island. There are also several hotels in
the island, so there is no problem looking for accommodation. There are even resorts beside the beach near the underground river.
Road Trip First
To go to the underground river, you have to take a road trip from the city proper to the town of Sabang.
You can easily arrange this road trip with the local office of the Department of Tourism. This is about a 2 -3 hour trip depending on how fast you drive.
Except for a short stretch of gravel road, the long road from the city to Sabang is well paved.
There are two stops along the way where you can view several parts of Puerto Princesa from view decks.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the view decks is named after me. No, not “Jill of alltrades” but my real name! Hahaha! Imagine that! If you come for a tour then you will discover what my real name is.
The Gateway to the Underground River
The gateway to the underground river is the town of Sabang.
A ferry from the Sabang port will take you to the small island where the underground river is located. You have to line up for the ferry or your tour guide can do it for you and will just call you when you are ready to board. The same ferry will also take you back from the underground river to Sabang port, so you have to remember your boat number.
By the way, Sabang also has another point of interest – a “paddle along the mangrove” tour. This is also another interesting tour and I have written another hub about it here, I-Recommend-a-Mangrove-Paddle-Tour-in-Puerto-Princesa.
The Underground River, At Last!
It is just a few minutes ferry boat ride from Sabang port to the underground river. As I said earlier, you have to remember your boat number because the same boat will take you back to the port.
From the beach where you disembark, you have to walk a short trail to where the underground river is. There are many monkeys and old trees in this short trail. So if you are a nature lover, you will see many species of plants and some animals along the way.
Your guide will also warn you not to carry plastic bags with you because the monkeys are fond of snatching brightly colored plastic bags from unsuspecting tourists.
A guide told us that the monkeys got used to being fed by people who used to come to this site before it was declared a World Heritage Site. Thus, they (the monkeys) always think that you are carrying food if you have a plastic bag with you. Feeding the monkeys is no longer allowed in this park.
By the way, the mountain that covers the underground river is called St. Paul’s Mountain Range. Thus, the park is also known as St. Paul’s Subterranean River National Park or St. Paul’s Underground River. This mountain is made up mainly of limestone.
A Journey into the Dark
Only a few paddle boats at a time are allowed to navigate the underground river. So you have to wait for your turn at the boarding/dropping off point.
Each boat is assigned a boatman and a battery (car battery) operated beam light is given to a passenger so you can move the light around as the boatman paddles along.
There was a hush and a slight eerie effect when we finally entered the mouth of the cave. Except for the light coming from our boat and other boats ahead or behind us, the whole site is totally dark. Droplets of water oozing from the mountain above would fall on us at certain points.
Sometimes we would all be alone at some points and it felt like a journey into the unknown. At other points, we would meet some other boats coming from another part of the cavernous river.
Our boatman however knows all the nooks and crannies of the underground river and would direct the one holding the light to light up the oddly-shaped stalactites and stalagmites that surround the river.
To lighten up the eerie effect of the dark, our boatman would point out some “religious” formations, “fruits and vegetables” section and even some sexy figures created by the stalactites and stalagmites.
Sometimes, bats would fly around when our light would beam over their hiding places. We would laugh nervously when the bats flew too close to us.
All too soon however, we saw the light coming from the entrance of the cave and our tour of the river ended. Our 45-minute trip was over.
I wanted to tell our boatman to make a turn around because I wanted to stay longer inside, but of course it was not possible. Sigh!
Back to the Light
There is a continuous stream of tourists in this park. Several of them (tourists) were waiting for their turn to journey into the dark so each tour cannot exceed the 45-min allotted time.
was told that this site is especially busy from February – June. These are the
months that are “dry”. It’s rather hard to navigate the place during the rainy
months. Water will probably be dripping from all over the cave.
More about the Underground River
According to tourist information about the park, the whole navigable underground river is about 8.2 kilometers long. However, the tour covered only half (about 4.3 km) of this because some parts are too narrow for the boat to pass through.
Our guide told us that if you really want to navigate the whole river, you will have to disembark from the boat at certain points and just follow the rest of the river by foot. The boat can then meet you at another point. This is not part of the regular tour however.
The river and its tributaries wind through a deep cave before it flows directly out into the South China Sea.
For the more adventurous and nature lover among you, a trek through a jungle will also bring you to the mouth of the river and cave. Then you can join the river tour and go back through your jungle trek again. The jungle trek will allow you to observe wildlife and hear the sounds of nature along the way.
The New Seven Wonders of the World
The Underground River of Puerto Princesa, Palawan is now officially among the New 7 Wonders of Nature in the World!
The official announcement is here! http://nature.n7w.com/