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The Quest for the Puerto Princesa Underground River

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It was a sunny morning in Sabang as I dropped to the ticket office to buy myself a ticket for the Puerto Princesa Underground River. I then continued to loiter around, watching other people to come buy tickets. This wasn’t just to be creepy, I needed to share a boat with someone; I wasn’t going to rent a whole boat just for myself. That would be expensive and boring.

Quickly a couple came up, so I hit a conversation with them and they were happy to have me in their boat to share some of the cost. That’s the thing; the boats that you can hire to go to the Puerto Princesa Underground River from Sabang fit six people, so you are better off sharing.

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And besides you’ll meet new people; the couple I was sharing the boat with was actually from Manila and this was their last day on their work/holiday trip to Palawan.

The waves were a bit choppy, but quickly we arrived to a picturesque sand beach surrounded by high cliffs and jungles. We then jumped into the water as there was no pier; this is Philippines so you have to be prepared to get your feet wet.

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The Puerto Princesa underground river in Palawan has become hugely popular lately after it was selected into the new 7 world wonders list. That achievement should however be taken with a pinch of salt. I recommend excellent article New 7 Wonders of the World: The Scam Behind the Sham by Michael from http://www.goseewrite.com/; the article is about the organization and the person behind the the new 7 world wonders list.

I you haven’t read the article, I recommend reading it now, don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Done?

Good.

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So when I decided to visit the Puerto Princesa Underground River, it wasn’t totally based on its recent triumphs. I was already coming to Palawan and I had heard good things about Sabang and the river, so I figured why not.

Anyway, as we walked up from the shore, there were plenty of people waiting around; we got signed up by our boat captain and then we were lead to the river leading to the cave. To my surprise we were handed a helmets and lifejackets; and told these were mandatory.

What?

Lifejackets, really?

But apparently there was no getting into the cave without the safety equipment which I then grudgingly pulled on.

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I mean I will wear a lifejacket when the situation demands it, usually when there is a raging level IV river involved or when I am about to do something equally stupid involving water, but on a rowing boat on a calm river?

We hopped on board our small boat and people in the front were given a car battery that was attached to a big lamp with two wires, they were tasked with showing us the sights as our tour guide was doing the rowing.

So we get lifejackets and helmets, but then we also get a car battery in tiny wobbly boat that is attached with two wires to a big lamp. Oh well, I suppose it evens it out.

Our little boat set off and we started gliding towards the cave entrance. Our guide explained the history of the cave; and then pointed out various rock formations, well, told the lamp operator in the front to point at a certain formation while he talked about it.

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It used to be worlds longest underground river, but apparently someone found an even longer one in Mexico in 2007. It’s always good to know that not everything is discovered yet, if you can sill find something like that. However because of that, the 8.2 kilometres long river is now the worlds longest navigable underground river.

After half an hour of gazing at various rock formations in awe, we turned back. The river still went on, but our guide explained that you needed a special permit to go there. It is impressive I do have to give you that, it’s surprisingly wide at points and has all sorts of crazy rock formations. There are also bats flying around constantly.

The way back was faster because of the current and soon we were blinking vigorously trying to get used to the blinding sunshine again. We hopped off from the boat and thanked our excellent tour guide and started heading back.

Our boat driver picked us up, but I had other plans. I was going to hike thru the unsurpassable mountains and impenetrable jungles guarded by the fierce and deadly Monitor Lizard.

But thankfully there was a path build thru all those obstacles as I was hardly prepared for such a perilous journey. And also the Monitor Lizard, while it may grow over a meter tall, is usually not dangerous to humans. But that’s how I like to think about all my hikes thru jungles.

The rangers pointed me to the right direction and off I went into the jungle. The first part of the trek was called Monkey Trail which is a collection of over 700 stairs navigating thru the mountains and the steep cliffs. Without the stairs it would be quite the adventure to try to navigate the steep cliffs.

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After the monkey trail there is the jungle trail that goes through the impenetrable jungle, alright that’s a bit harsh, it’s not really that impenetrable, you could still could get thru here even without a trail, if you knew were you were going that is. Few times I wasn’t quite sure where I was going even with the trail!

Unfortunately I didn’t see any of the famous Monitor Lizards, which live in the area and you can sometimes see on the trail. But no, the big reptile was playing hide-and-seek with me and what was worse, the sly bastard was winning.

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Eventually I made it out of the jungle and on to the beach. My joy was however premature as the path quickly climbed upwards again. Up until I finally reached this view.

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I wasn’t too far from Sabang anymore. I could see it down there. I was however exhausted as I was still recovering from a bug that had gotten to me a few days earlier. But as I was contemplating the hike I had left, I noticed that there seemed to be a wire going down to the beach. And there were a set of harnesses you could put on; and it looked like you could maybe somehow attach the harness to the wire. Now if you could glide down like that, that would be very convenient and save me a lot of walking.

So I figured I’ll give the zip-line, which had opened less than two weeks ago, a go. That was after I had of course casually negotiated with the staff for over twenty minutes. It isn’t the most exciting zip-line you’ll see but for 10 dollars or so it’ll give you some impressive views on your way back to Sabang.

To summarize, yes it is an impressive underground river and a definite must-see if you are in Palawan; but is it one of the seven most amazing natural wonders in the world? Well, I haven’t seen them all and while it is impressive, I would still guess there are more impressive sights out there. But still worth the visit for sure if you’re in Palawan, or even if you are in the Philippines.

Few tips for seeing to the Puerto Princesa Underground River:

  • You can go for a tour from Puerto Princesa, but I think it’s better to actually stay in Sabang
  • You need to buy the ticket from the ticket office in Sabang before heading out to the river
  • The boat rental is both ways and can fit six people, so share
  • You can also walk there and/or back using the trail which has some nice views, but the trail closes pretty early and takes at least two and half hours. So you might want to take it one way and the boat the other way
  • There are no shops or anything on the trail so bring all the water and chocolate you need
  • You can take the zip-line back to Sabang from the trail

 

Have you been to the Puerto Princesa Underground River? What did you think?

12 Comments

  1. Hi Jarmo, great post – thanks for sharing! I think there are more than 7 natural wonders in this world, but whether the underground cave belongs on the list or not, it certainly looks like a great experience! And the view from the zip line is amazing.

    • Thanks Radina. You are right, there definitely are more than 7 natural wonders in the world!

  2. I agree, great post, great videos too. The whole ‘new 7 wonders’ thing seems like an abominable scam, some people have no morals. The size of the cave river sounds pretty cool, the life jackets is laughable.
    Sam recently posted..Hostelling with HostelworldMy Profile

    • Thanks Sam. The cave was impressive, it is huge at times!

  3. How on earth did I leave this off my bucket list!?

    Love the photos mate. Looks like a gorgeous spot.
    Aussie on the Road recently posted..Theme Park Review: Dreamworld, AustraliaMy Profile

    • Hehe, there is always that risk of missing something when having a bucket list :)

  4. I’m glad that you liked it in Puerto Princesa’s UR 😀 More reasons to love the Philippines! 😀 I am also a lover of Sabang Beach for some reason 😀
    Micamyx|Senyorita recently posted..Senyorita’s Best of Travel 2011My Profile

    • Yeah, PPUR (as the locals seem to shorten it all the time) was impressive. There is something about Sabang, I really liked the place, there are still a few more stories I need to write about it 😉

  5. This looks like A LOT of fun! I’d do it in a heartbeat. Although, the bats would freak me out … for sure.
    cheryl recently posted..2011: A Year In Review For cherylhoward.com.My Profile

    • It is fun Cheryl! :) There aren’t massive amounts of bats in the cave, just the occasional one flying past every now and then.

  6. Very sad that I missed this when I was in the Philippines. I guess now I have an excuse to go back! Looks like a blast (even with the lifejackets)… :)
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..Roomorama Review, plus a GIVEAWAYMy Profile

    • It is a very good excuse to go back Raymond!