6 reasons why you should see the Puerto Princesa Underground River for yourself

Monday, 27 June 2016

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The Puerto Princesa Underground River is perhaps the crown jewel in Puerto Princesa’s rich collection of natural attractions. 

Formally known as the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, the underground river is located at the western side of the Saint Paul Mountain Range. It is a must-see destination, one that you have to include in your bucket list because the experience of going inside the underground river is both surreal and breathtaking.

A boat entering the mouth of the Puerto Princesa Underground River
The Puerto Princesa Underground River

6 reasons why you should see the Puerto Princesa Underground River for yourself


    The Puerto Princesa Underground River tour is great for adventure-seekers but it also caters to those who are looking for low-impact physical activities since there is no climbing, running, or swimming involved. You just need to be prepared for a moderately-long trek to get to the mouth of the underground river.


    A view of Honda Bay on the way to the Puerto Princesa Underground River
    View of Honda Bay

    If you are still not convinced, here are 6 reasons why you should see for yourself the Puerto Princesa Underground River:

    1. A visit here is a chance to commune with nature


    Boat ride going to the Puerto Princesa Underground River
    Boat ride going to the Puerto Princesa Underground River

    Sure, communing with nature may not necessarily be your primary reason for going to the Puerto Princesa Underground River. However, when you get there, you will realize that it’s a good side activity that you can take advantage of and definitely at no extra cost to you (except if you are availing of the mangrove tour).


    Enjoying the stunning scenery around us as we wait for out turn to go into the Puerto Princesa Underground River
    Enjoying the beautiful scenery around the Puerto Princesa Underground River

    Since the Puerto Princesa Underground River is located in the protected area of the St. Paul Mountain, a trip here, not just in the river itself but in the surrounding area, is a wonderful opportunity to marvel at nature in its pure, unadulterated glory. See stunning limestone cliffs that abound in the vicinity as well as trees, birds, monkeys, and stretches of white sand beaches. Speaking of monkeys, always be alert when they are around as they are naughty and notorious for snatching things like bags and food from tourists.

    2. It is one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site


    In 2012, the Puerto Princesa Underground River was officially named as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The New 7 Wonders of Nature is a movement that aims to highlight awareness on natural wonders and preserve it so that generations to come will still get to see it for themselves.


    Marker going to the Puerto Princesa Underground River
    The Puerto Princesa Underground River marker

    Among 28 finalists from all over the globe, the Puerto Princesa Underground River was chosen as among the seven wonders. 

    In addition to being one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, the Puerto Princesa Underground River is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site

    According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it seeks to encourage the identification, protection, and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world that are considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. Sites that are part to the World Heritage group belong to all people of the globe, notwithstanding the territory in which they are located. 


    The beach at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
    Breathtaking karst limestone formation

    It is not all the time that one may get to travel and marvel at or explore a destination that has been confirmed the honor of being in the New Seven Wonders of Nature as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thankfully, Puerto Princesa City is just a plane ride away from Metro Manila so it is easy to see the Puerto Princesa Underground River if you would like to do so.

    3. Time to beef up your knowledge about mangroves


    Waiting time before tourists may enter the Puerto Princesa Underground River can be long. At times, you may even have to kill four hours before your actual tour. As such, there are activities that you can avail of in order to pass the time. One of which is the Mangrove Forest Tour. It’s a tour via paddle boat into a river that is overgrown with mangroves on each side.


    Mangrove paddle boat tour at the Puerto Princesa Underground River
    Mangroves

    During the Mangrove Forest Tour, we learned from the locals the life cycle of mangroves as well as the difference between male and female trees. The guides also explained that the dead mangrove tree trunks serve as home to the famous delicacy "tamilok."


    Mangrove forest tour at the Puerto Princesa Underground River
    Mangrove paddle boat tour

    Tamilok is better known as wood worm and is eaten raw as a local exotic dish. It is actually a shell-less mollusk and is related to oysters, hence the similarity in flavor. Tamilok is served fresh and can be eaten straight after it has been dipped in spicy vinegar (alternatively, it can be marinated ahead in spicy vinegar). Our guides ended the mangrove forest tour with a local song.

    4. You are helping out locals


    waiting for our turn before the Puerto Princesa Underground River tour
    Photo souvenir before the mangrove paddle boat tour

    Just like in any famous tourist destination, most of the activities and services are conducted by locals. The boat operators at the Puerto Princesa Underground River are all local residents. The Mangrove Forest Tour, we learned from our guide, is conducted by a cooperative whose members are all locals. One guide also shared that he was once unemployed but the tour and the influx of tourists benefited them greatly. In fact, he was able to send his children to school just by being a tour guide.

    5. Learn a thing or two about caves


    The actual Puerto Princesa Underground River tour is filled with facts and trivia about life inside the dark cave. We were provided a recorded narrative of the history of how the underground river was discovered as well as how the different formations inside the cave have been shaped and molded over a long period of time, sometimes even spanning millennia. We were warned never to touch any of these formations because the acidity of our skin would destroy these delicate natural figures.


    The cave wall of the Puerto Princesa Underground River
    The cave wall of the Puerto Princesa Underground River

    From time to time, we will be asked by our tour guide to pause the recorded narrative and then proceed to tell us stories about the large grouper fishes and other marine animals that lurk in the pitch darkness.

    6. The underground river is breathtaking


    From outside the Puerto Princesa Underground River, it was really hard to tell what to expect inside. As such, when our boatman slowly paddled our way inside the pitch-black cave, we were quite taken aback and somehow a bit panicked. It was like venturing into a world that is completely not ours, a world that has never seen a single sunlight.


    Stalactites inside the Puerto Princesa Underground River
    Stalactites

    Of course, that odd feeling was soon replaced by awe as we soon saw the breathtaking formations around us. Throughout our journey, our guide would point out different shapes that are similar to vegetables, religious figures, sea creatures, and even human forms. 


    The cathedral inside the Puerto Princesa Underground River
    The Cathedral

    The highlight of the tour though was the “cathedral,” a portion of the cave that contained the highest ceiling. On our way out, our guide pointed out more oddly-shaped rock formations. The tour was indeed an experience of a lifetime and we did not regret seeing the Puerto Princesa Underground River

    Sample itinerary


    If you would like to go to the Puerto Princesa Underground River, it is advisable that you allot a full day for it as you do not have control over the number of tourists waiting in line to go inside the cave. As such, you do not really need a full itinerary for it.

    But just to give you an idea, here is how you can spend the day at the Puerto Princesa Underground River:

    • Van to Sabang Beach (8:00 AM to 10:00 AM)
    • Boat ride to Princesa Underground River (10:15 AM to 10:40 AM)
    • Mangrove Forest Tour (11:00 AM to 12:00 NN)
    • Lunch (12:00 NN to 1:00 PM)
    • Zipline – depending on availability (1:00 PM to 2:00 PM)
    • Princesa Underground River Tour (2:30 PM to 3:30 PM) - this is an ideal scenario wherein the line of tourists is not too long
    • Boat ride to the port/Sabang Beach (3:45 PM to 5:05 PM)
    • Van to hotel (5:15 PM to 7:15 PM)

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    If you would like to read more stories about Puerto Princesa City, please check the following articles:

    1. Puerto Princesa Travel Guide: Things To Do + Where To Stay (Updated 2019)
    2. Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour (Puerto Princesa, Palawan)
    3. Puerto Princesa Food Diary: What To Eat + Restaurant Guide (Updated)
    4. Enjoying the Quietude of Dos Palmas Island Resort And Spa


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