Monday, April 30, 2012

New7Wonders of Nature: Puerto Princesa Underground River

The first time I heard about the Puerto Princesa Underground River was when it started vying for a spot as one of the New7Wonders of Nature. I have never been to Palawan before our trip this year. But I have long been hearing about the famous El Nido and its limestone rock formations which probably overshadowed this subterranean marvel...but not for long.

A customized 5x7 souvenir photo which you can buy at the Underground River's photo booth for Php 300.

There's no doubt that the Puerto Princesa Underground River is destined to become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Philippines. This wonderful waterway, which has also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an undeniable national treasure. With an underground river stretching out over five miles, that winds through a cave of beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations, this amazing phenomenon of nature definitely entices tourists from all over the globe to experience its unfathomable beauty.

I have to admit that I had been a little reluctant about this tour because I have heard so many stories about how the life vests and the hard hats (which tourists have to use) smell, how dripping water from the roof of the cave could turn out to be fruit bat excrement and how it's so dark inside the narrow underground river which could be quite a nightmare for a claustrophobe like me.

But my curiosity soon won me over and led me to an experience worthy to belong in the world-class league of natural wonders.

After staying overnight at a resort in Sabang, Puerto Princesa, we were able to acquire our underground river tour reservation as walk-in applicants.

The next day, we arrived early at the Sabang Port Tourist Assistance and Information Center for registration and to pay the necessary fees:

1) Php 175 for adults and Php 100 for minors. Senior citizens and children ages 3-12 are exempted from this charge. But senior walk-in applicants are asked to pay a discounted rate of Php 100. Children 2 years old and under are not allowed to take the tour.
2) Php 700 for the motorized boat ride to the underground river. A single boat can carry around 6-8 persons.

The Sabang Port Tourist Assistance and Information Center. 

Guests, in line, while applying for a tour permit. Some, if not most, are foreigners. 

It took around 30 minutes for us to complete the entire registration process before we were assisted to a waiting boat at the dock. 

The motorized boats at Sabang Port.

Within 15 minutes, we reached the other side of the beach where the underground river is. Make sure you wear waterproof shoes, slippers or boots as you will be unloaded on a sandy beach where waves are sure to get your feet wet. Take it from me, I ruined my favorite pair of shoes.:( 

Other things to remember:

a) If you have long hair, tie up your mane before the boat ride as strong winds will get your hair all over your face and ruin a picture perfect moment.
b) Put on an anti-mosquito patch or use an insect repellent lotion. Although, we didn't encounter a single bug or mosquito that day, it's always better to be safe than sorry.
c) A bottle of water will come in handy especially if your tour schedule falls around the time when the sun's rays are strongest.
d) Bring a flashlight. You will need it inside the cave to get a clearer look at the beautiful rock formations.
e) Lastly, don't forget your cameras. Photos and memories are the best souvenirs.:)

After signing the registration list, we were asked to put on life vests which definitely didn't smell like flowers.:) We were then asked to put on hard hats which smelled even worse than the vests.:) No matter what, just remind yourself that this is only a small price to pay to experience an amazing feat of nature.:)

A cute monkey, nibbling on a banana,  is the lone forest inhabitant who welcomed us that day.

When we reached the river, we had to wait around 20 minutes before a paddle boat fetched us for the underground river tour. The boat has a capacity of 9 people, including our boatman/tour guide.

While waiting for our paddle boat, we took the opportunity to capture images of ourselves beside nature's beautiful work-of-art.

Before you scroll down any further, I should warn readers who want to avoid spoilers for I will be posting photos from inside the cave. However, I guarantee you that even though my husband has a knack for taking good pictures, a photo just won't do the raw natural beauty we have seen any justice.:)

The white markings at the entrance of the cave was placed there by explorers who first visited this previously untouched subterranean chamber.

The Puerto Princesa Underground River was first discovered by a local tribe inhabiting the area, who was said to have been afraid to enter the cavern for fear of bad spirits that they believe lurk inside.

The giant candle stalagmite formation (mineral deposits rising up from the floor of a cavern) serves as the highlight of the cave's cathedral section, the height of which can be compared to a three-storey building.

Stalactite formations (minerals hanging from the ceiling of limestone caves formed by dripping water).

Tiny fruit bats, deep in slumber, at the cave's ceiling. They sleep during the day and will wake up in the darkness of  night to hunt for food. We were warned repeatedly by our tour guide not to open our mouths for some bat excrement cocktail.:)

A vegetable-shaped stalactite.

The Puerto Princesa Underground River management chose the use of paddle boats which pose no threat to the cave's natural habitat.

Exiting the cave.

The genuine expression of awe in our faces after the 1.5km tour which lasted for 40 minutes.

It's interesting to note that our boatman, who is probably a local, is impressively well-versed in the facets and aspects of the underground cave. He talks in straight and impeccable English and is clearly enjoying his job as a tour guide. That's why, even if it isn't required, you will definitely feel like giving him a generous tip. After all, a wonderful tour will never be complete if your tour guide fails to deliver.

Our boatman/tour guide.

Before I end this article, let me just mention how I truly applaud the city government of Puerto Princesa for not exploiting this natural wonder. I know that they can earn more money by allowing every single tourist into the cave. Instead, they imposed a limit of only 780 tourists/day to ensure the preservation of this site for many more years to come. The Php 175 per person rate is also a really cheap price to pay for the entire experience. It would also be very easy to just set a high fee which foreign tourists surely can afford. But rather than doing that, they kept the fee very reasonable to give Filipinos an equal chance to get to know the Puerto Princesa Underground River and feel the pride of having such a world-class treasure in our very midst.

The Puerto Princesa Underground River, one of the world's New7Wonders of Nature.

Puerto Princesa Underground River
Puerto Princesa City
Puerto Princesa 5300, Philippines
Telephone Numbers: +63(48) 4342509

Related Articles:
Sheridan Beach Resort, a disappointment in Palawan
Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour Permit


Anonymous said...

I will visit this world' wonder of nature soon! I'd like to believe the hype because so far, everyone is saying it's a terrific experience to be in Palawan and the underground river like no other.

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