Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park features a limestone karst mountain landscape with an 8.2 km. navigable underground river.
A distinguishing feature of the river is that it winds through a cave before flowing directly into the South China Sea. It includes major formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and several large chambers. The lower portion of the river is subject to tidal influences. The underground river is reputed to be the world's longest.
The area also represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full mountain-to-the-sea ecosystem and has some of the most important forests in Asia.
Map of Puerto-Princesa Subterranean RiverLoad map
I am probably going to make “enemies” with this review but it has been in my head ever since visiting back in 2015. This is one of the worst tourist traps in the world! The reason why one has to be careful about saying that is because in the Philippines the world heritage underground river is almost holy. It is the #1 tourist destination for Filipinos, it is printed proudly on their currency, it was upvoted into the 7Wonder poll and it is a “must see” item on every visitor's list. So why am I so cynical to call it one of the worst places to visit?
There is nothing special to see. Nothing. You get on a boat ride after a 2h bumpy ride from Puerto Princesa and then you need to line up for a ferry ride (which if not in a preorganized group can be tricky as they are pooling them together) and the again queue up for a boat ride into the cave with a boring audio guide. At the same time the “no talking” rule is disobeyed by both tourists and the boat captain so the audio guide is useless. The ride is a short 30min, 30min for a whole day of driving and lining up. What you see on the way are the usual “cauliflower” formations, mushrooms, stalagmites of course shapes that only really look like what the guide said if you use a lot a lot a lot of imagination, and that's it. I'm sorry but for anyone who has been to a generic cave before this is nothing new, with the only real gimmick being the boat ride and you can get that in several places too (New Zealand, Lebanon to name a couple off the top of my head). Thus I have to assume most people who say this place is *amazing* haven't been around the world much, or anywhere else?! It sure can seem impressive if it is the first cave you visit in your life.
So are the caves all bad? No, they sound stunning actually! Read up on them and there are fascinating facts about the length, creatures, explorations, it is truly world heritage material...but, not to visit. Not the part you see on this tour. In fact I doubt anyone here has the chance to go further in unless you work as a researcher. At least they should have a museum at the queue spot for this interesting stuff but actually I doubt the crowd who comes for the cave trip are interested in it. They want to have the boat ride, take pictures, see a “female breast” rock or whatever the shapes were.
If you want to see a good cave there are many better ones, Blue Mountains, Ali-Sadr, so many in China with tacky illumination effects are cooler, Mulu NP is my personal favourite, Carlsbad or Mammoth cave for the WHS fans in North America.
I shouldn't feel apologetic for it, it is not like I told everyone in the Vatican that the Catholic Church is corrupt or went to Citi Field and asked why the Mets don't win anymore, but there is a huge weight for promoting the caves simply due to national pride. Palawan is BEAUTIFUL, the area at the entrance is nice if not crowded, and it wasn't exactly hell to be there in May, maybe if it gets hotter and you sit around waiting for your helmet to start the long anticipated trip into the most average cave then it is. Would rate it lower if not for the “potential greatness” beyond the pitch black when the boat turns around and I look sad, the “WTF, that's it!?” look you don't want to see.
Reachable only via a short boat trip, the entrance of the subterranean river cavern lies close to the coastline north of Puerta Princessa. The cave itself is stunning, with enormous stone formations and caverns deep in the mountain. The river is navigable by canoes, in which small groups are guided through the caverns. The total absence of light gives the tour a bit of a spooky atmosphere. Having seen some large caves, this is definitely one of the more interesting and astonishing ones. If you get the chance, go and visit!
What actually is a downside of the trip are the masses of tourists visiting the site, some of which show little or no respect to this natural wonder. While guides ask you to remain silent and under no circumstances touch the rock formations some individuals ignore such requests entirely, ruining the experience for others and - even worse - in some cases damaging the site. In my opinion, the amount of tourists per day should be strictly regulated.
I visited the subterranean river in 2007.
The underground river is one of the top attractions and was recently named one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.
While it is interesting, I would in no way put it among the top 7 natural attractions on Earth. I don't even think it is the most interesting cave, and it certainly isn't a greater attraction than the Grand Canyon, which beat out in the 7 Wonders contest.
If you are going to Palawan, I certainly recommend a trip to the underground river. Along with El Nido, it is the top attraction on the island, but I think its significance has been overstated with the recent 7 Wonders competition.
Read more about the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park on my website.
It was my second visit to the Philippines' Palawan islands. Way back 2011 when I roamed around the Puerto Princesa City, but my main destination then was the surfing and diving capital, which is the Island of Coron, a very preserved and very remarkable place I've ever seen.
Moving forward, this time I had my 1 week vacation to Palawan again. The most exciting part of this trip was because it's very unplanned! My first 2 days were spent in the land tour, which I started by asking for "forgiveness" and thanking for all the blessings I got at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. Just when I thought I could also visit the Plaza Cuartel, as it's just in the opposite side of the Cathedral when you browse it in the friendly google map, unfortunately I haven't gone there. I had my several attempts to see this place - asking a gasoline boy, a tricycle driver, a fish vendor, whom were all unfamiliar also with the place, but really the latter was very aloof. I ended up drinking beers in my lodging's nearby bar.
The following day (2nd day), I started to think again of getting the Plaza Cuartel for the nth time but it didn't happen. In the afternoon, I reached the Crocodile Farm and Nature Park, which another thing that amazed me. I met Ella, the Palawan Binturong. She's a very friendly and intelligent from the cats family. Later before the dusk, i spent the night for a drinking session again at the Baywalk, where a lot of fresh see food and other meaty food you could experience.
The following day before lunch, I managed to travel to El Nido with an approximately 7-8hours land trip via a private van. Here, all types of road you could surely experience, there is the asphalt, rocky, wavy, zigzag, muddy, and to name a few!
But as soon as you get to El Nido, all the negativity and the physical injuries you got would be payed off! Very welcoming people, refreshing and relaxing environment.
I had my island hopping on the next day. There were 4 sets of island tour you could choose from. I chose the cheaper but interesting Set A Tour. I had with me a Korean, and other balikbayans on the same boat for this activity. :) We reached the small lagoon, zhimizu island, big lagoon, and the seven commandos island. Unfortunately, due to the bad weather brought by typhoon Odette, we didn't go to the secret lagoon. :(
I spent the rest of the day swimming and by the night drinking beers, a lot of shrimp. haha I really enjoyed life!
The next morning I woke up and took an errand by the beach. Here I met this Badjao, from a group of native Filipinos, selling some souvenir items. Her name was "Lady", 22 year old as she said. I bought a bracelet, and in return I sampled here a joke.
I told her, "Alam mo, Lady and pangalan mo parang tatakbo!".
She replied, "Huh? Baket naman, Sir?".
I answered, "Kasi, Lady, one, two, three, go!". Hahahahaha
By 12noon, I went to the Las Cabanas beach resort. Sort of a virgin Island. You should have seen my photos particularly in this place. A terrible thing happened. (facebook.com/rgsuyom)
Then I took the 5pm trip going back to Puerto Princesa City.
On my 6th day, it was a rest day during my rest days! I went to Robinsons Palawan only to by beers. lol
On the 7th day, my lodging landlord managed (Dallas) to seek me a permit for the N7Wonders of Nature's Underground River Navigation. So much first experiences happened. I also tasted the Tamilok! ;)
Late afternoon after the most prestigious heritage park, I ended up again with another cave, the Ugong Rocks. At night I enjoyed a semi nightlife drinking beers at Ugong Rock Bar, near the centre town. Then, bought a few pasalubong for my flight to Manila the next day!
I truly love Palawan for all of these. After all that I've said, I am still speechless about this amazingly beautiful place - the people, the places themselves, the food, and of course the highlight - beers!
Another World Heritage Site that become a New Seven Wonders of Nature I have visited this year, the heavily advertised underground river of Puerto Princesa on the beautiful island of Palawan which at present claimed to be the most desired tourist destination in the Philippines at least in the eyes of Filipinos. I began my trip at the airport of Puerto Princesa which is the capital of Palawan, after almost two hours drive on the almost perfect concrete road passed many beautiful bays and forest; I finally arrived at the small beach village of Sabang which located on the different side of the island. It is important to note that after the Underground River become world famous, the park authorities started to limit the number of visitor per days, so it is necessary to book the time slot in advance especially in the high season. So the best advice is to deal with travel agent or hotel to arrange all permit and transportation before you decided to visit.
After relax in my hotel, my guide took me to the port where I realized that the place is really popular for locals, I saw hundreds of Filipinos were waiting for their queue to be on boat in the large tent. Looking at locals was quite interesting, as most of them already worn the souvenir T-shirt with catching phrases liked I've been to Underground River, Underground River Conqueror, even before they actual visit the site! After waiting for an hour, I finally able to be on boat, the ride took around 30 minutes along the coastline of pretty Karsts Mountain and forest before mooring in the small lovely bay. Then I walked into the forest until I reached the small lagoon which is the Underground River's entrance. Here I saw another large crowd waiting for another boat trip to go inside the Underground River, this place seem to be less organized than at the port, tourists have to wait and sit in the forest or on the beach and let their guide to fight for the boat queue (another reason to have guide)! I waited in the forest about 20 minutes then my guide gave me helmet and life jacket and took me the boat. Each boat can carry 8-10 persons including boatman. On my boat, there were Filipinos and two Japanese, but the boatman welcomed us with English, Korean, Japanese then local language. The boatman paddled us into the cave and warned us about bat shit which sometime dropped like a shower rain inside the cave!
The cave inside was so dark, the boatman and person who sat on the front row had to work together to light the way. There were many nice dripstones and strange shape rock formations. It is very interesting to hear what locals imagined and named those bizarre rocks, and the Christian Filipino did their best to suit their faith, so I saw rocks looked like Virgin Mary, Nativity, biblical places etc. and the biggest chamber called the Cathedral. Some stones named normally like mushroom, corn etc, but some got strange name like Sharon Stone because it looked like sexy lady! The boatman took me back to the entrance but the different port, before back to Sabang by boat. The tour was surprisingly enjoyable, the cave and the underground river were very interesting, and the locals on the boat always praised the wonder of the cave as god's genius creation. For Filipino, the cave is a real wonder by god, but for me this is not the first time I saw subterranean river, I saw the similar ones at Gunung Mulu in nearby Malaysia which is not developed as tourist attraction at all and Wulingyuan National Park in China which dammed the subterranean river to high enough for boat riding! However, the one in Philippine is in the middle, they developed the place for tourist industry while keep the cave pristine as much as they can, and that really nice for preservation. In my opinion, Puerto Princesa's underground river is not a world wonder, but a really nice World Heritage Site.
I really enjoyed this place a lot. After all, in general, Palawan as whole is truly a pristine paradise. Getting to the site is already an experience in itself as one would pass by the beautiful karst formations - both on land and sea - towards the underground river's opening.
Tours going to the site are almost offered everywhere in Puerto Princesa City, but I would suggest that you take the service of Jas at firstname.lastname@example.org - he is a freelancing licensed tour guide and he knows how to maximize the trip well.
In hindsight, It has to be known that the underground river was also nominated earlier in 1993 but was eventually abandoned by the nominating party. Eventually, however, it got inscribed in 1999 (together with Vigan). Just this year, furthermore, the park was listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature via popular voting (I still think that the WHS title is still a more important achievement as it is based on - at least in theory - merits). The national park consists of 8 known forest formations, containing rich collections of flora and fauna. It is normal to see monitor lizards roaming around, as well as local monkeys and frequent migratory and endemic birds. The tour inside the underground river takes around 45 minutes to cover the first 1.5 kilometers inward -- the deeper parts of the cave are only reserved for scientific studies and are, therefore, inaccessible for tourists. Nevertheless, the trip inside is worth it and the guide should be able to explain different stalagmite/stalactite formations and the creative images they represent (eg., head of a lion, the holy family, the banana blossom, the dragon, etc.). The trip is fun in a way that it tests your creativity and playfulness in deciphering formations. This place should work well for kids with wide imaginations.
Within the inscribed site is also a mangrove forest wherein some locals offer "tilamok", an edible worm thriving in mangroves. It's a must try! I was thinking if there are still ways wherein they can improve the "tourism experience and value" of the site, but I believe it is better that they maintain current practices that are considerably low-impact and generally sustainable. Key to appreciating this site is to have to good guide who can explain everything well; otherwise, it will just be one ordinary cave trip like others elsewhere. While the time inside the cave is limited, one can take a longer time at Sabang beach that is also within the inscribed area.
Also, I'm reminded that there were proposals before of making a separate category for karst formations to the listing options. Any update on that?
Lastly, my guess is that: this karst formation site may be related to the other mainland Asian WHS karst formations(Ha Long, Southern China Karst Forests, etc.) as, geologically speaking, Palawan island is one of the two islands (the other being Mindoro, which is home to the tentative site of Iglit-Baco National Park) in the Philippines that are not within the Philippine plate; rather, they are an extension of the mainland plate. Again, it's just my hypothesis (for the record, I think I'm the first to posit this idea though :p).
To avoid hassles, most travelers join the tour group to the Underground River. For 1500PHP /person (standard price), tour companies will secure permit to the natural park, provide lunch, provide transportation to and from Puerto Princesa City and Sabang, the motorboat ride from the Sabang port to the park/cave entrance and finally, the boat trip inside the cave. Independent travel to the park is still an option; but considering the difficulty to get to the place itself, joining the tour group isn't a bad choice.
Originally, I was afraid the place would turn out to be like Disneyland; but all in all, the site is properly managed. Sure, crowds swell at the entrance of the underground river but this is only because of the limited number of boatmen. Our tour guide also says the number of visitors per day is also being monitored within manageable level
The cave tour is a rewarding experience perhaps even for those who have joined cave explorations in the past. PPSNP did not install any colorful lighting inside and requests visitors to remain quiet. An eerie but unforgettable experience.
HOPE F. SIGUA
Our visit to the Underground river in Sabang Pto. Princesa City was one of the most exciting part of our vacation in May-Sept. 2009. We stayed there for 3 days. We enjoyed the beautiful sceneries going to the underground river because we went there hiking through the monkey trail. My husband and me were with my sister Gem's family with three young kids aged 7,9,11. We thought they will be a problem for us but to our amazement they were still full of energy when we finished our three hour hike!! We specially enjoyed the untouched forest and beautiful flowers and the amazing construction of the stairs going up the mountain and the beautiful stones laid on the trails. We are also thankful to our guides who went with us, Mar and his son. We had stop overs in some station were we enjoyed seeing a molitor lizard, I believe the biggest I have ever seen. At first I thought is was a komodo dragon. We also saw small turtles, in a small pond in one of the stations, and also some monkeys and birds and pass small white beaches on the way. I encouraged visitors to go through the trails. It's very chalenging but worth the effort!! We took the boat going back to our cottage. We would want to back there again since we ran out of battery for our videos. Thank you and MABUHAY PHILIPPINES!!!!
casinao a. navarro
Spectacularly magnificent! that is Puerto Princesa's underground river some 50 kilometers northwest of the island's capital. the 40-minute or so boat-ride inside that amazing cave that is populated by bats of all sizes and swallows flying in the dark and many reptiles foraging along its banks, is not enough for all who love to witness the wonders of God's creation. It has to be kept the way it is - unadulterated and kept in their natural state - for the next generations to enjoy. Soon, I can see that reaching the place would be much easier, at the pace the roads and other infrastructures are rising and are being kept at a distance from this heritage. Going there now is, by itself, an adventure. Traversing the canopy of a real virgin forest and witnessing some scared wildlife either crossing the streets or flying above you, will sure surely linger in your memory for a lifetime. my one day experience was not enough. I vow that in the near future, I will return with my wife, children and children and grandchildren because this, to me, is an ultimate tourist destination. I have been to so many tourist destinations in so many country and have read lots about them, but this one is outstanding. you will love it, i tell you.
Last April 26, 08, I went to Puerto-Princesa with my boyfriend's family. Of course the trip wont be complete without the trip to the Subterranean River National Park. It is like 2-3 hrs from the city to Sabang.
It is very special for me because it was the first time I went out with my boyfriend's mom and dad and of course with my beloved. On the way to Sabang, it's like cloudy as it is about to rain but it didnt change our determination to go there. It is worthy, way beyond. You'll see the forest along the road, and when we reach the port you will see the beautiful beach.. You need to ride a boat to go the main island going to the river itself and on the way there you will see the amazing rock formations.. In the main island are different animals including small monkeys (tsonggo) and birds.
Breathtaking, amazing, great! These are the words you will commonly hear. Especially inside the cave, the very cold water that will occasionaly fall into your face, the amazing rock formations like fruits, veges and even the Holy Family at the cathedral. It's the part of the cave that they called it as such because of the rock formations that look like the Virgin Mary, Angels and other.
All in all, the experience is great because of the beautiful sceneries and of course the fact that I'm now close to my boyfriend's family.
Hopefully, they can preserve this very beautiful gift from our creator.
The Cave is really cool. Other than that...everything sucks. It's still the same as it was 5 years ago. I think the PAMB should move to another level of strategy in pushing ecotourism in the Subterranean River National Park. The idea of Kayaking/Mangrove tour is a blast! Something like this is what the PAMB or whatever is the right authority in the management should think about. More camp site, trails, maybe a rock climbing wall would be fun. Anything that would keep the guests longer in the area will advance its income from tourism.
Evangelina S. Ella
I visited Puerto Princesa for the first time only last weekend. I stayed in the Legend Hotel where checked-in visitors were given a city tour (courtesy of the Department of Tourism) to visit Ihawig Penal Colony, Crocodile Farm, Baker's Hill, Mitra Ranch, and Butterfly Farm. Then I joined a smaller group in a tour to the Mt. St. Paul underground river in barangay Sabang. It took us 2.5 hours one way because of the rough road going to barangay Sabang where the river is located. By the time we reached Sabang, rain poured hard and we waited for almost an hour and good enough the rain stopped. We had two boat rides, the first was from the main port in Sabang going to the entrance of the underground river where we took another boat ride (boatman also served as our guide) to tour the cave with underground river. I really enjoyed our guide's company, his sense of humor and ability to establish good rapport among his passengers. He had associated some stories with the rock formation inside the cave. It was my first time to see a spectacular limestone karst landscape with an underground river. According to our guide, this river stretches 8+ kms but the tour allowed us to travel only 1.3 kms. I consider this river a special one because of its distinguishing feature, that it emerges directly into the sea, the South China Sea, while its lower portion is subject to tidal influences making its waters brackish. The area also represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation for it has a full 'mountain-to-sea' ecosystem that houses a variety of plant and animal species, among which I saw bats of different sizes and birds of different kinds. I told to myself, though I felt so tired and got wet, had to buy extra shirt to keep myself dry (I got wet for a few hours before I was able to buy shirt to keep me warm), the experience is worth it. Now that I am back home in Los Banos, Laguna and though I felt bit feverish because I had colds, I still strongly recommend to the visitors of Puerto Princesa to allocate time to tour the area. I really enjoyed my brief stay in Puerto Princesa-the beautiful mainland, the limestone karst landscape with an underground river, and the many beaches in its shoreline coupled with the courteousness and hospitality of Palawenos. I am looking forward to being there once again, hopefully with my immediate family and other relatives.
My girlfriend and I visited Sabang last May, and it was an amazing experience for both of us. It is, without doubt, the most beautiful place I have ever been. The karst forests look like the landscape of another world. The hike up the Jungle Trail was surprisingly difficult, although Claire made it look easy (and made me look old and flabby). The Underground River passes through some hauntingly beautiful caverns, and Claire and I made the most of the dark by holding hands. (Ok, we're old-fashioned, so what!?) The brown-sugar sand on the beaches is soft and spongy, and very comfortable to walk through. The water is bathtub-warm, especially during the spring and summer months. Overall it was a great experience for Claire and I, and we both look forward to coming back soon.
My most vivid remembrance of this river is this:
1. Huge and spectacular salt(?) rock formations.
2. Water was a perfect tropical green.
3. Bats fluttering around.
4. The guides repeating that guests should not put their hands in the water lest you get bitten by huge water snakes!
I never liked the sea but when we sailed off from Sabang to the underground river, the beautiful color of the sea that blends well with the clouds, the sky, the wet and dry sand of the beach - a magnificent work of a Master artist... how can I not like the sea?
The St. Paul Subterranean River National Park is the best place to go in Puerto Princesa. I wish that:
1. the road leading to this famous park is improved to lessen the travel time. Someone said that rough road is part of the adventure (duh!). We wanted to enjoy the place more and talk about it after but we were all shook up during the trip.
2. the person holding the flashlight should be a trained person. One we had kept on moving the light. It was another dyzzying spell cast on us.
3. Yes, Monkeys should not be fed. The forest vegetation takes care of them. When they start becoming friendly, they become demanding and grabs anything you have. Monkeys normally go away when there are people.
I am going again end of January. I'll update.
Grace P. Sapuay
I have been to the Pueto Princesa Subterranean River National Park just last week, Aug. 11, 2004. It was an exciting day for me. My husband and my companions braved the rain just to get there. The sea was swollen and murky so it was a little bit scary. But excitement at seeing the world-famous underground river got the better of us. I was most impressed by the length of that underground river. It was amazing nature at its best! I've seen many rivers big and small, but underneath the earth? I thought this was one of a kind. You gotta see it too! Especially during the rainy season! 'Cause that makes it even more exciting!
However, I'd like to let the PCSD know that people should be warned not to eat at the park because it is affecting the monkeys there. They get attracted to people's food and would therefore try to snatch the food. Aside from affecting their behavior, they might also get diseases from people like colds and other viruses that are food-borne. We know how deadly viruses become when they mutate as a result of the combination of human and animal virus interaction. So please...ban eating at the park! thank you.
Successor to former TWHS St Paul Subterranean NP (1993)
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