One of the most well-known tourist destinations of all the 7,640 islands in the Philippines is the Puerto Princesa Underground River. This is a river that flows 8.2-kilometers inside of a cave! It received world-wide fame when its home, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean National Park, was included on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1999. Since then, it's also been added to the New7Wonders of Nature list in 2012. With all the hype for this underground masterpiece, we just HAD to visit it ourselves!
In this video and blog article, Deanna Troy Travels takes you through the whole journey of getting to this UNESCO site while providing tips that are great to know before you go, as well as her honest review of the experience.
People come from all over the world to see this underground river. We went by way of Puerto Princesa city, which is the capital of Palawan Island. Since we traveled by land, our transportation mostly consisted of long hours in a van. The path directly from Puerto Princesa city to the national park is only one and a half hours, but this ride picks up many other travelers from all over Palawan Island, so we spent a total of three hours in the van before getting to the rest stop which then takes you by boat to the national park. If you also plan to travel by land, my first travel tip for you is to bring an activity for the long car rides there and back!
Although we were nauseous and tired from the windy roads, we really enjoyed the rest stop where we ate our free included buffet lunch. Sabang Beach, draped with dramatic mountains, turquoise waters, scattered palm trees and boats gliding by, was the perfect spot to rest. A cute local village served coconuts, fruit shakes and delicious food to the weary travelers. My next travel tip for you is to explore this town as much as you can before the next leg of the trip!
After a 30 minute boat ride observing the gorgeous views, we arrived at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean National Park! We were greeted with huge limestone cliffs and white sands! This place was just as beautiful as the accolades claimed!
We strolled through the jungle boardwalk of this national park and collected our accouterments for the tour. We were given life vests, helmets, and an audio player that provided an in-ear tour guide in multiple languages. Then it was finally time to see the underground river.
For nature preservation, only 4.3 km of the 8.2 km is allowed for tourist exploration. But the half you get to see is amazing! Astonishing cave formations, impressive limestone cliffs, and pristine waters glide past you as you relax in a twelve person canoe driven by a local.
If you are deciding whether or not this tourist site should be on your bucket list for the Philippines, I'm going to give you my honest pros and cons list of this adventure.
Should I visit the Puerto Princesa Underground River?
Explore a cave without walking!
If you want to see a gorgeous cave and have mobility issues then this is a great option for you! You get to relax sitting in the canoe while it moves for you throughout the cave.
45 Minutes in the dark with strobing flashlights.
If you have light sensitivity problems, or are seizure prone, then this trip is not for you. We both don't have these problems, but our eyes were still sore upon exiting the cave.
A photographer's dream excursion!
If you are a professional photographer with adequate equipment, then this is your dream trip! The canoe goes very slow which provides many photo opportunities. You can also book a private tour of the cave where I'm sure the guide would stop for all of your long exposure shots!
Bats! Their sounds, their smells, with little ventilation.
I think bats are amazing creatures! I've seen many of them during cave tours throughout my travels. However, those caves had large pockets of ventilation. In this tour it's almost an hour of headache inducing stinky bat guano smells and loud clicking. Plus, if you are scared of bats and other creepy crawlies, then this trip is probably not for you.
Have a personal tour guide in your ear the whole time! Great for hearing impaired individuals!
The best part of this adventure is that you get your own headset to learn about the cave right in your ear, in your language of choice! Most tours in Southeast Asia have a soft-spoken tour guide whom you can barely hear while walking through a crowded city, but with this tour you can actually absorb all the fascinating information about the beautiful cave.
For most people this would not be a con, in fact this would be a positive for many. But as an extrovert this was hard for me, especially with the combination of being in the dark! Talking is not allowed during the boat ride so that it can be quiet enough for tourists to see the wildlife of the cave, which includes endemic species of fish, crabs, giant spiders, bats, swallows, and snakes.
So that's my honest review! Personally, I had more fun on the journey to the underground river than in the underground river itself, but it was still really cool! I would highly recommend this excursion for nature enthusiasts, photographers and those with mobility impairments.
With all that being said, we also had time to explore the Puerto Princesa Subterranean National Park itself after our river tour. It was beautiful and we got to see some wildlife hanging around the park! As soon as we got off the boat, we were greeted by a friendly long-tail macaque, probably looking for treats from the tourists. Then Cedric and I snuck off the assigned boardwalk path and ran into a Palawan Monitor Lizard (Varanus Palawanensis). I was frightened at first because these lizards look very similar to the dangerous and deadly Komodo Dragon!
Overall, the Puerto Princesa Underground River is an iconic landmark and probably a destination you shouldn't miss if you are in the area. Here are my last tips for you for a trip to the Puerto Princesa Underground River:
Know Before You Go!
Bring van activities for downtime during travel.
Site photographers will take photos with your phone, no need to buy pictures.
Wear waterproof shoes or flip flops. (Your feet will get wet during all the times you hop in and out of the boats.)
Bring a dry bag or a small backpack for easier boat transfers.
Get a fruit smoothie on the way back to Puerto Princesa City, they are delicious!
Would you want to visit this underground river? Leave a comment on this blog post or on my Underground River YouTube Video.
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