Puerto Princesa Underground River (Part I)

Puerto Princesa Underground River (Part I)

Considered as the world’s longest navigable subterranean river until 2007 discovery of an underground river in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that wanders for 153 kms. (95 mi.) through a maze of underground limestone caverns, the Puerto Princesa Underground River (also called St. Paul Underground River) is declared as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in January, 2012. The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park with a large limestone karst mountain landscape located about 50 kms. north of Puerto Princesa where the underground river is found has been inscribed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) as a World Heritage Site since 04 December 1999.

The Province of Palawan, an island with 849,469 inhabitants, is one of the 81 provinces of the Philippines (Davao Occidental with Malita as capital is the newest province as of 30 October, 2013). Considered the “Island of the Gods”, the province of Palawan, the fifth largest in the country, is composed of 1,780 islands and islets having a long irregular coastline of 2,000 kms. Palawan with its sugar-white sandy beaches, spectacular sea and landscape, amazing wildlife, and 5-star hotels and resorts, has become a world-class destination for travellers from all around the globe especially for those who appreciate the majesty and beauty of nature.

From downtown capital Puerto Princesa it took us an hour-and-a-half through quite scenic winding roads, villages and farm lands along the way to reach our three-day accommodation Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa that arranged our travel tour including permits with the Tourist Information Centre to allow entry to the underground river, strategically located in the heart of Sabang Beach. Sabang is a small village used as entry point to the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

From Sabang wharf port, wearing our tangerine-coloured vests we took a 15-minute motor boat ride to the shores near the subterranean river with a big sign board that bears the underground river’s name.

After docking at the beach we followed a 5-minute jungle trail to reach the docking area of the underground river. Be careful as you walk the trail – wandering monkeys sometimes snatch plastic bags or food from tourists. Once you reach the dock area you have to register and queue up to wait for your turn.

Before boarding the paddle boat with outriggers to keep the boat balanced at all times every one of us was provided with a headset phone and a helmet (hard hat) as bats hanging their heads over from the cave roofs have a tendency to poop.

The helmet will also protect you from loose stalactites falling from above the ceiling limestone caves. Stalactite is a type of cave formation like icicle deposit of a mineral (calcium carbonate) that hangs from the ceiling limestone caves.)

Each boat has a capacity of eight (8) passengers plus the boat guide who gives information and running commentary while viewing the formations (that’s why you need a headset) inside the pitch-dark recesses of the caves. Each boat is also provided with a searchlight which is usually given to the passenger sitting at the front of the boat. The boatmen guiding the tours are registered at the tourism office and speak English well. Only ten (10) boats alternate in ferrying people in and out of the cave.

Entering the cave, you’ll smell the strong scent that comes from the guano of the urine of bats that abundantly live inside the cave. Inside it’s common to hear the bats chattering. Swallows and swiftlets also fly around the cave.

The inside tour takes about 45 minutes to an hour – the subterranean river is 8.2 kms. long but only 4.3 kms. of this are easily travelled by tourists. If tourists wish to travel the other 3.9 kms. they have to obtain a special permit.

You’ll be mesmerized by the natural beauty and splendour found through the path from this amazing underground river.