A trip to the Palawan province wouldn’t be complete without going to the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Previously known as Saint Paul Underground River, the park is situated in the Saint Paul Mountain Range on the northern portion of the island. It lies 50 kilometers to the north of Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan. By virtue of Proclamation 212 issued by former President Joseph Estrada, the park got its current name and was declared a protected area.
Stretching at 8.2 kilometers, the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River prides itself as being the longest navigable underground river in the world. It is vying for a spot in the list of “New Seven Wonders of the World” as the official nominee of the Philippines. In the latest online poll released during the second half of 2010, it bested 27 other nominations from all over the world including the Dead Sea in Jordan, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Grand Canyon in Arizona, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
This popular tourist destination was named a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1999, an ASEAN Heritage Park in 2005, and a National Geological Site by the National Committee on Geological Sciences in 2003. Indeed, the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park has so many laurels in its cap that it compares to a decorated general.
What to See
A tour to the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park starts in Sabang, about an hour and a half drive from Puerto Princesa. At the start of the tour, you will go aboard a paddled banca and are given a helmet and life jacket as safety precaution. As the boat approaches the cave, you’ll be amazed by the clear, turquoise river set against a backdrop of towering limestone cliffs and lush green forests. The main feature of the river is that it runs through a cave before flowing directly into the sea.
Once inside the cave, you will be surrounded by stalactites and stalagmites. The guide will point various rock formations and you work your imagination as the rocks take the shape of a giant mushroom, candle or the Nativity scene. As with other caves, this one is home to a lot of bats so watch out for those bat droppings!
Most of the trips to the underground river are done from mid morning to mid afternoon. The whole tour takes around 45 minutes and would only cover 1.5 kilometers. To explore the rest of the river, guests would need a special permit and special equipment.
How to Get There
The best option is to arrange for a whole day tour package with guest houses or hotels in Puerto Princesa that usually includes hotel pickup, transportation, entrance fees and lunch.
If you want to go for a do-it-yourself tour to the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, you can take a jeepney from the San Jose terminal going to Sabang. The trip normally takes three hours. When in Sabang, you hire a motorized banca that will take you to a beach and from there, you take a short walk to the cove where the paddled bancas wait for visitors of the underground river.