Miracles do exist. One of them is located on the beautiful island of Palawan, the one I explored for 3 weeks. I briefly told you about it, here. In this article, I intend to look into the reasons for which I wished to add Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan, on my travel itinerary. “Guilty” is The Underground River, now on the list of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, officially declared in 2012, and, at the same time, part of the UNESCO World Heritage. The Underground River is located about 76 km north of Puerto Princesa. The road to it is really very long, but the landscapes are spectacular and worth the few hours spent on the back seats of the van.
In the case of this wonderful sightseeing, nature has shown us, once again, how strong and beautiful it is, such that in a few million years, it managed to dig into the mountain, a stream that goes for 8.2 km through the stalactites and stalagmites formed inside the cave, and then flows directly into the emerald green sea water. Although it is one of the longest underground rivers on the planet, due to factors related to climate and structure, only 4.3 km are navigable.
The Underground River is one of those places and experiences that actually leaves you open-mouthed of amazement, in the best possible sense. Thanks to the title obtained in 2012, as “One of the 7 Wonders of Nature” tourism in this area has exploded in recent years, more and more people from all over the world wanting to visit the river. It is still early in the glory to be stormed completely, so now is your chance to discover it, when it still kept in a natural form and little affected by the human.
I visited The Underground River in the month of January 2017; only two months have passed since then, and my memories are still very fresh. Puerto Princesa was part of the trip to South East Asia, about which I wrote here. In the following lines, I will tell you about my experience at The Underground River, and I will provide you a complete guide, following a few steps, about all you need to know when visiting this fairytale place.
Visiting The Underground River
1. Purchasing the tickets
You’ll probably stay somewhere downtown or nearby Puerto Princesa. Although tourism is not very developed here, when talking about The Underground River, there are many agencies that are in charge of organizing visits. You can sign up at the hotel where you’re staying (if they don’t make tours, they definitely have a partner agency) or you can wander the city and you will find many people who will try to sell you this tour at negotiable prices. I stayed at Rodolfo Royale Hotel, and although they had this trip in their offers, I chose to go with another agency, recommended by Max, a super nice local that transported us the first day when we arrived, with his personal tricycle, from the airport to the hotel. I was very lucky and managed to reserve the day before, but if you want to ensure that you will be one of the 600 tourists in a certain day, should you try to book a few days before.
2. The way to Sabang Beach
Early in the morning, around 8 o’clock, we were taken right from the hotel in a large van, quite comfortable and equipped with the indispensable air conditioning. Immediately, we familiarized with our tour guide, a local, with good English and little stories meant to entertain us, in the 2 hours spent on the road. Her name was Elvie. We were the first tourists, so we had to stop several times at several other hotels in the area, and then we finally hit the road. After 2 hours of ups and downs, in beautiful forested hills, at breakneck speed, in contradiction with the number of curves on the road, we finally arrived at our destination.
3. The waiting and the transport with the motorized boat
The destination where you will arrive is not the river itself, but a lovely beach, Sabang Beach, on which you will have to wait for about an hour or two, during which your guide will go and get the visiting permission from the authorities in Sabang. I know that your first reaction when you read these lines will be “and what am I going to do all this time?”. Basically, all this time you’ll be on your own, and you can decide how you will spend the two hours. You can either walk among the stalls, you can enjoy a mango, banana, or pineapple fresh, you can take pictures, or you can sit at the beach and enjoy the turquoise waves of the sea.
Even after your guide will be returning, there will still be another period of waiting, for a boat that will take you to another beach. Do not despair though, the surrounding landscapes are tempting enough to make you not feel the time wasted. Everything you’ll need is patience and the thought of going to visit one of the wonders of the world.
The wait is over, and one of the dozens of boats with wooden frames will be your ride to the beach that separates a forest to the hidden miracle, The Underground River. The boat trip is very well marked on this map taken from Google Maps.
Once on the beach, it is a must to capture the impressive cliffs in some amazing pictures and especially the indicator on which is written the name of the place that you are about to visit. Attention, do not miss the group you belong to because they will also be your companions inside the cave. Cross the forest together until you are greeted by an unbelievably beautiful sight, a mini green lake.
4. Going through The Underground River
You are already equipped with life jackets, so now you have to get the other piece of the equipment, a helmet to protect you from harmful drops inside the cave, and audio equipment, useful throughout the route. You will climb into a kayak with 9 other visitors + the guide that will handle it, and you will spend the next 45 minutes listening to the audio guide in English or another language of your choice, from the available ones. You will hear astonishing and impressive statistics about the rock formations, but also about the fauna inside the mountain.
I found the audio guide very well done, and our boy took care to illuminate with a flashlight, all the stalactites mentioned, so we can understand with life examples, the whole presentation. What impressed me the most, is the nativity scene, very well defined by the droplets fallen over millions of years, and also one of the largest rooms in the world, located inside a cave, called the Cathedral.
Inside the cave, once you’ve moved a few meters from the entrance, total darkness reigns. Everything you can observe are the bats hanging from the ceiling, and other kayaks returning or entering the cave. The experience is definitely unique and makes you reflect on the power of nature, but also to respect its work, produced in a very long time.
One of the best things in the tours in Puerto Princesa or all across the Palawan island, are the meals that are included in the price of the tour, meals that are downright hearty and tasty. That happened when I visited The Underground River. At the end of the tour, we were transported by boat back to Sabang beach and invited to a buffet in a local restaurant. From the menu did not lack rice, vegetables, chicken meat, and noodles.
Tip: On the beach, there are some dogs, starved and dowdy. Perhaps you could offer them a glimpse of your lunch. They will be grateful, and you will see it in their eyes.
6. The way back
There is no surprise in the last step. You will be returned to the hotel in the same way that you were taken from it. True, the fatigue will be present at some point, and the scenery will not be admired by you with that much enthusiasm. My advice is to sleep all the way, so you don’t have to do that when you arrive at the hotel. Palawan is a place where any time wasted will certainly be regretted by the end of the trip.
1. Make sure you have a waterproof bag in which to keep your things because you’re likely to find some big waves. If you do not have one, you will find it at the street vendors on the beach.
2. Try to not book from the hotel where you stay for the price is generally higher. Certainly, you will find agencies that will offer you great deals. We managed to buy tickets for 400 pesos less than the original price. That would be translated to – $ 8 / person discount.
3. Reserve the tour at least two days in advance. Puerto Princesa started to be a popular place, and given that the maximum number of visitors in one day is 600, you must make sure that you will be one of them.
4. Do not make other plans for the day. You have to wake up very early, and the activity will last all day, so you will not have time to do something else, or else you’ll be too tired. If you still insist, follow my advice above, in step number 6 🙂
5. Wear flip flops and bathing suit or shorts and shirt as your clothes will get wet.
What you must remember:
- The Underground River is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
- It is also one of the longest underground rivers in the world, with a length of 8.2 km.
- In 2012, it received the title of one of the “7 Wonders of Nature”, which brought fame and obviously many visitors.
- In the cave formed by the river, there is a fairly rich fauna with bats, monkeys, and eagles.
- Would you like to visit The Underground River?
- Have you visited any of the 7 Wonders of Nature? If yes, which one?