Pause that flight reservation! Read this post about what to expect when you travel from Puerto Princesa to the Underground River.
This will save you time and provide you with the proper expectation as soon as you arrive on the island.
As a starter, I had my expectations debunked when i step foot on the island. This is the reason why i created the post.
For my fellow travelers to be better prepared on what to expect when on a travel from Puerto Princesa to the Underground River.
A Quick Intro on Palawan
The Philippines is composed of 7107 Islands and mind you not all of them are inhabited.
There are a lot of places you can visit while in the Philippines. The capital, Manila boost a lot of historic landmarks.
Cebu has great food finds and white sand beaches. While Boracay is a place where you can party and do some water sports adventure.
Aside from the cities mentioned. One of the famous islands of the Philippines that tourist flock to is the island of Palawan.
Located in the Western most part of the Philippines. This island is a hub for both local and foreign tourist because of its rich fauna and flora.
Tourists who wish to dip their toes on fine white sand or scuba dive with marine animals head to this natural beauty.
For those who has an interest particularly in scuba diving they visit Coron in Palawan. While for those island hopping enthusiasts they visit El Nido.
But if you want to see the Underground river and visit the capital of Palawan then your destination should be Puerto Princesa.
A UNESCO Heritage Site
The Palawan Underground River has always been a hot destination for travelers.
Located 80 km from Puerto Princesa. The Underground River is one of UNESCO’s 7 Wonders of the Modern World.
And now that Boracay is on a 6 months rehabilitation plan (which I 100% support by the way) it is more likely that we will be having more tourists on this island.
Update: Boracay is now open for tourist. Check out my latest blog post about it: The New Boracay: What Changed 10 Months After it Reopened?
But there are quiet a handful of posts that talk about how wonderful and mesmerizing the Underground river is.
And I for one can attest to the beauty of the place.
However, what is not talked about are the details like how to get there, what to expect while in the cave, how long does it take to visit the cave etc.
Well today is your lucky day as I am about to give you a tell all insight of the Things to know when you travel from Puerto Princesa to the Underground River.
1.The Best Route is Flying to Puerto Princesa
The usual and the shortest route would be traveling by plane to Puerto Princesa Palawan.
I hail from Cebu City Philippines thus in order for me to get to Palawan I took a direct flight from Cebu to Puerto Princesa.
For those arriving in Manila then there is also a direct flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa.
Puerto Princesa to the Underground River Journey
Puerto Princesa Palawan is a very peaceful town.
Upon landing and contrary to my expectation I was not greeted by a shoreline nor a beach.
But instead with a progressive town that has maintained its natural beauty.
When you travel from Puerto Princesa to the underground river, one must be prepared for an 80 kilometers or 50 miles drive from the city proper to reach your destination.
Did not expect that to be quiet a long ride huh?
From my experience it was a half day travel sitting at the back of a van with other excited tourists.
The tour van picked me up at 6 am and I arrived at the port (yes we still have a long way to go from here) at around 10 am.
The Port of Agony
As you may have now imagined the travel from Puerto Princesa to the underground river is paved with numerous stops.
Upon arriving at the port you will have to wait for an indefinite time before your group can ride a boat that will take you to the island where the underground river is located.
I applaud the efforts of the government in the attempt to organize this leg of the travel.
However, due to the number of tourists it was just agonizing for me to just wait until our group will be called to ride the boat to take us to the island.
When Weather Conditions Are Not In Your Favor
There are times when cancellation of boat trips happen. This is because of poor weather conditions.
Good thing it was bright and sunny while I was there.
Well, It is not the poor weather per se that causes the cancellation but the strong waves that makes the seas rough to travel.
Thus it is very important to check the weather bulletin prior to your trip to the underground river. You do not want traveling all that way for the trip to get cancelled, right?
What Made the Waiting Time Bearable
No boats are allowed to sail from the port to the underground river by late afternoon.
According to our guide the earliest that they end the trip is at 4pm.
With this said it is almost always that your journey from Puerto Princesa to the underground river will start early.
But do not worry. One redeeming factor of the port is the abundance of food stalls. From fruit shakes, to street food the place is teeming with vendors. And they are quiet affordable.
Although one might also take caution as there are also an abundance of vendors selling waterproof bags, cellphone cases and pearls and they do not take no for an answer.
Well at least they do not take no up until you start getting mad.
Book a Tour Ahead of Time
You may probably think that this tip came out of nowhere but this is the best part to insert this.
If you want to be spontaneous with your underground river tour, please DO NOT do so.
Chances are it will only be a waste of both your money and your time. Finding a van or a car for your travel from Puerto Princesa to the underground river is easy.
What’s challenging is the “leg” work of getting to the underground river itself.
While on the port I noticed that almost all tourists had travel agents processing their boat schedule.
The travel agents also did the talking with the local government unit manning the tourist spot.
Finally, all tourists prior to the day of their trip must have an environmental permit so that they can visit the underground river.
The best way to get that without any hassle is through a travel agent.
I got my Underground river tour package for 1540.00 Php / 29 USD.
This is already inclusive of van and boat transfers and lunch buffet. A good deal I shall say.
How Long Does the Tour Last?
With all the waiting time of the travel from Puerto Princesa to the underground river you would expect a longer tour in the cave itself.
Well, the tour only takes 15 minutes. But lets back track a bit.
Upon arriving at the beach where the underground river is located. One must walk a good 5-10 minutes (depending on your pace) to get to a secluded area where the mouth of the cave can be seen.
There you would need to again wait in line for your turn to hop on a paddle boat that will take you to the underground river.
The difference between the waiting game here versus at the port is the scenery.
While waiting for your turn for the actual tour you can take in the beautiful scenery and dip your toes on the cold river.
But do not wander to far because lurking in the forest are mischievous little monkeys.
Don’t be fooled by their Cuteness
As discussed getting to the mouth of the underground river you would need to walk a good 10 minutes max.
What I did not explain is that you will be walking in a forest inhabited by monkeys.
Prior to us getting to the island. Our tour guide reminded us to be mindful with our belongings.
That if we can avoid it, we must not open food while at the area.
She said that the monkeys on the island are not shy in asking for food or ransacking a tourist’s bag if it is left unattended.
To be honest I got very nervous. While some find these creatures cute I actually think of them as scary animals.
Good thing I had no run ins with monkeys while there.
The Highlight: Finally On to the Underground River
Despite the long hours of waiting . All your exhaustion will extinguish as soon as your tour to the underground river starts.
In every boat which approximately has 12 victims I mean people. You will receive a life vest, a hard hat and a listening device that you will use throughout the tour.
The listening device comes with free earphones that you can take home with you as a souvenir. Yey for that!
On the first few minutes you will have to listen to a brief history of underground river . How long it is, when it was discovered and all those interesting facts that you need to know as a tourist.
As soon as the audio tour is done your designated “boat driver” would take the lead as the tour guide while cruising the underground river.
A Tour for the Senses
The tour is pretty much a cruise in the dark, and by dark I mean pitch black if the boat driver turns off his lamp.
While on the boat your driver will point at specific stalactites and stalagmites that resemble a certain shapes.
Some made sense while other shapes need more imagination and a lot of squinting to figure it out.
He would throw in corny jokes once in a while in which I feel obligated to laugh for fear that he might toss me in the dark water if I make any snarky or sarcastic remarks.
The whole underground river is only one eight of the length of the whole underground river.
In the tour they will point out areas that are still being explored. Being that I have a wild imagination I had an eerie feeling that a sea serpent can at anytime attack us.
And I’m pretty sure I was not the only one that thought of that too as I heard a shrieking from a tourist when our guide intentionally splashed the water.
And yes I chuckled and it was heard all throughout the cave. Good thing it was dark that tourist could not identify me laughing at him.
The Palawan underground river tour starts at the cave’s entrance and culminates in an open space before heading back to shore.
Is It Worth the Journey?
The travel from Puerto Princesa to the underground river would require almost a full day of getting there to heading back to your hotel in Puerto Princessa.
And most of it is spent traveling to the place. So the question is, should you allocate time on your travels to visit the underground river?
My short sweet answer is YES!
Despite the long journey ahead the experience is worthwhile. Despite the long hours of traveling the 15 minute tour for me was one for the books.
To be honest I may not want to go back there again as it does not offer anything exciting on a second visit.
But being inside an ecological masterpiece even once in your lifetime is milestone. Well at least for me that is.
While inside the underground river you could not help but pretend to be in a different world.
A world that took millions of years to build. A world untouched by reality and where mother nature has full control of its creation.
Yes part of the experience is the eeriness of the place. But as soon as your eyes get the hang of it you will have a better appreciation of the tour.
Kudos to the Local Government Unit
I have to give credit to the Puerto Princesa government for doing a good job in organizing and putting everything in order.
Although you can not really say it is a smooth tourism management but hey considering that this is a prime tourist attraction in the Philippines they did a good job!
My Experience While in Puerto Princesa Palawan
My travel from Puerto Princesa to the Underground River taught me important lessons:
- Masterpieces takes time to create. And this is probably the reason why it will take you almost a day to visit such a masterpiece for you to appreciate it in its full glory.
- Man has the power to create and destroy a masterpiece that took millions of years to create.
We need to remind ourselves to be responsible tourist. What has taken millions of years to create can be destroyed in just a matter of minutes.
So there we have it my guide and travel tips on navigating through your travel from Puerto Princesa to the Underground River.
I hope it gave you a lot of helpful insights and can better prepare you on what to expect if you intend on visiting the underground river.
I assure you that yes it is a long journey. One must travel by air, land and sea to visit the underground river.
But hey, something that took millions of years to be built deserves all the time in the world.