Located approximately 76 kilometres from the centre of Puerto Princesa to the northwest of Palawan in an area called Sabang and requiring a two-hour bus ride to reach there, the Puerto Princesa Underground River (UNESCO Catalogued: Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park) is renowned for its outstanding ecological value and significant natural preservation consisting of a magnificent underground river hidden beneath St Paul Mountain and listed as one of the World’s New Seven Wonders of Nature. It is also inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
According to UNESCO, Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park encompasses one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, featuring spectacular limestone karst landscapes, pristine natural beauty, and well-preserved forests and distinctive wildlife. On top of that, what makes the underground river special is the fact that it emerges directly into the sea, with its lower portion subjected to tidal influences.
Puerto Princesa Underground River’s 8.2-kilometre length is open for excursion. Travellers are taken on a boat that fits between six and eight passengers, rowed by a guide for 45 minutes, taking travellers 1.5 kilometres into dramatic speleothems, large Cathedral chambers, wide hallways and spectacular geological formations that resemble human faces, animals, and paintings.
Palawan treats this underground river as its premier ecotourism product. The local government and communities put in great effort in taking care of it as part of commitment towards ecological conservation and heritage preservation. The boat used for ferrying the passengers are not equipped with engines to avoid pollutions such as carbon emissions, oil leaks, and noise. Furthermore, each passenger is equipped with an audio device complete with multi-lingual preset commentary adjusted for every turn and corner.
What to wear: Light/Casual clothing, sturdy but lightweight footwear, including sunscreen during the bright summer days and cap. Also bring a raincoat if you come during the low season. Do not forget to bring bug repellents too. Do not wear a bikini, shorts and bras, and being half-naked is unacceptable. Also, avoid bringing any plastic bag at the risk of it being thrown into the pristine environment in Puerto Princesa Underground River.
When to visit: Although Palawan is an all-year destination, the best time is from April to June, claimed by locals as their true summer. The weather is cooler from January to March with a significant number of rainy days. During other months, there are sunny days in between. Palawan is usually wet during the southwest monsoon (early July to early November), with heavy rain, at least in the afternoon.
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How to get there: If travellers are staying in the Puerto Princesa city, they need to take the Whole-Day Tour due to the 2-hour journey from the city. However, these tours may be cancelled due to weather, heavy wave or high tide. Children below 3 years old are not be permitted to join the tour. Tours to Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park usually cost around USD 35 to USD 40.
For travellers who are feeling adventurous, they can take the bus or jeepney to Sabang from the terminal near San Jose New Market in Puerto Princesa city. However, travellers need to be sure that they have the permit from the Underground River Booking Officer at the City Coliseum (e-mail: email@example.com) and pay the fee of PHP275 per person first before going for the underground river tour. Once in Sabang, travellers can present their permits to the Underground River Office and register.
Check out Ed Junaidi’s trip to Puerto Princesa with AirAsia in Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 11.6 (January/February 2017), in conjunction with Visit ASEAN@50: Golden Celebration, whereby AirAsia is the campaign’s strategic partner to promote its ASEAN Pass and encourage travellers to use its network of 140 routes throughout Southeast Asia. Browse www.airasia.com/AseanPass for more info.