Puerto Princesa Underground River In Palawan: Is it Worth it?
The Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan is one of the top things to do on one of the most popular islands in the Philippines. Every morning, tourists hurry there in coaches and vans to see this New 7 Wonders of nature. But is it really worth it? To see it, you’ll need to dedicate a whole day of your travelling schedule and share the experience with hundreds of other people. I’m sure you agree that it needs to be something special in order to convince you to go.
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In this post, we’ll share a timeline of our own Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan day tour, the costs and our opinion of the subterranean river encounter. You’ll then be able to decide for yourself whether you feel it’s deserving of your precious time in this awesome country.
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Where Is The Puerto Princesa Underground River In Palawan?
Well from the title, we’re sure you’ve worked out it’s in Palawan, but where exactly is the Puerto Princesa Underground River?
Also known as the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, it’s located just off the shores of Sabang. Sabang is on the west coast, about 80 kilometres from the city of Puerto Princesa. The underground river in Palawan is also part of the Saint Paul Mountain Range which borders St. Paul Bay to the north and the Babuyan River to the east.
One of the New 7 Wonders of Nature
The total length of the Puerto Princesa Underground River is 24km, which winds through caves before flowing into the Philippine Sea. 4.2km of it is navigatable by boat, but there is so much more to explore. In 2010, a second floor was discovered by a group of environmentalists. This indicates that there are small waterfalls within the cave. Other discoveries include one of the largest cave rooms in the world, more river channels, rock formations, bats and other marine creatures.
In 2011, Puerto Princesa Underground River was conditionally chosen as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. This selection was formally approved in 2012, and deservedly so. The underground river in Palawan was until 2007, the world’s longest underground river. Now it’s only trumped by Mexico’s own subterranean river in the Yucatán Peninsula.
Our Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour Timeline
We booked our Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan tour with Northern Hope Tours. The cost is 2000 pesos per person and includes everything needed for the whole day. If you’re looking for a Palawan tour company then we can happily recommend them. Our guide was friendly, organised, professional and very informative. The van used was also well maintained and comfortable.
6:00 AM – Pick Up For The Puerto Princesa Underground River
We were the first to be picked up from our accommodation in Puerto Princesa. On the positive side, we got to choose where to sit, but the negative is that it added another 60 minutes to our journey while the driver picks up the other eight people from four separate hotels around the city. We thought 6am was rather early but we learned why later.
7:00 AM – Outward Journey To The Puerto Princesa Underground River
Once the van was full, we began our outward journey to the Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan. After 30 minutes, the road begins to wind quite considerably, with plenty of hairpin bends. If you get travel sick, take some medication or a plastic bag! The views, however, were quite lovely, looking over lush green mountains.
We began to realise why we departed Puerto Princesa so early as we noticed dozens of other vans in a race to get to Puerto Princesa Underground River first. At the halfway point, we stopped for 30 minutes at a restaurant and shop. Here you can buy instant coffee, shakes, crisps and very tasty rice pancakes filled with coconut.
9:30 AM – Arrival To The Puerto Princesa Underground River Pier
Even with our 6am departure, there were still hundreds of tourists already at the pier. We expected this, but we didn’t expect to have to wait for 2 hours until we can board our boat. The first hour was waiting for our guide to learn our timeslot. The second was spent wondering the local huts selling dry bags, sugared bananas and mango shakes. There’s also quite a nice beach next to the pier. You’re never far from a beach in the Philippines.
Then long wait was no fault of our guide, it’s just the way it is. It’s a popular destination and they can allow only a certain number of people to enter at one time.
11:30 AM – Boat to The Puerto Princesa Underground River
Finally, 5 and a half hours after being picked up, we boarded the first of two boats. The first boat is a 20-minute ride from the pier to the Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan. We stepped off the boat onto a pretty little beach with limestone cliffs at each end. It’s then a short stroll through a monkey-populated jungle to reach the cave’s entrance. Look after your stuff! Those monkeys are confident and clever little buggers.
12:30 PM – The Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour
After waiting another 30 minutes on the banks of the river, for a second timeslot, we put on life vests, hard hats and our audio guide gear. Yes, like them or loath them, the tour includes audio commentary as you float through the Puerto Princesa Underground River. There’s also a continuous underscore of music which we felt was unnecessary.
The second boat is a narrow paddle boat with a boatman at the back who paddles his way through the cave. He also points out rock formations by torchlight in time to the audio commentary. The tour lasts around 40 minutes with cheesy photos being taken of you at the start and end of the trip. Photos can be purchased as you leave the site.
2:00 PM – Lunch
By 2:00pm, we were back at the pier and hungry for lunch. There are quite a number of buffet restaurants next to the pier who cater for all the large tour groups. We were quite impressed with the variety of lunch options which is included in the tour price. There was a large selection of meat and vegetable dishes to choose from. Plus desserts, fruit and soft drinks. This would be the first and last time we’d feel really full in the Philippines. For a moment, we felt like we were back home 🙂
3:00 PM – Return Journey
Our time at the Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan ended at 3pm as we got back in the van. The whole tour group spent the 2-hour return journey pretty much asleep. It’s surprising how tiring sitting all day can be!
5:00 PM – Return to Puerto Princesa
We got back to Puerto Princesa at around 5pm. Our guide kindly dropped us off in the city centre instead of our accommodation.
So, Is The Puerto Princesa Underground River In Palawan Worth it?
We think your enjoyment of the Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan will depend on who you are and what caves you have previously seen. We’re not denying the fact that the Puerto Princesa Underground River is an epic cave, but we’ve seen quite a number of caves, including Kong Lo in Laos, a similar subterranean river experience. Having already seen an underground river, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park did not WOW us in the way it does many others.
As with a lot of popular Philippine destinations, Puerto Princesa Underground River is busy with tourists. This makes the experience theme park-like, which for us, spoils the beauty of what this New7Wonders of Nature has to offer. The long waiting times, the number of boats on the river, smiling for the camera and audio commentary all adds to this.
As you can see from our above timeline, if you take the tour from Puerto Princesa, as most people do, your looking at an eleven hour trip for just 40 minutes inside the cave. For us, the Puerto Princesa Underground River was not worth a whole day of our Philippine adventure.
Those of you who have not seen an underground river before, we recommend to go and see it with North Hope Tours. For those of you who feel you’ve seen enough caves in your lifetime, bear in mind what we’ve said in this post to help with your decision. We enjoyed our Puerto Princesa Underground River tour and for some is one of the top reasons to visit Palawan, but wish we had visited years ago for a quieter, less theme park-like and more memorable adventure.