EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE UNDERGROUND RIVER IN PALAWAN
Imagine floating through a dark underground river. You pass majestic rock formations and shapes and enormous caves, beautiful as a cathedral. Silence surrounds you, interrupted by the occasional bat flying over your head. This is the Puerto Princesa Underground River tour in Palawan, one of the new 7 wonders of the world.
Part of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, the Underground River is a must-see in Palawan. The national park encompasses one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, featuring spectacular limestone karst landscapes and stunning natural beauty. The 8.2 km long Underground River is of course the highlight and the reason while thousands of visitors flock here daily.
The Underground River is one of the New 7 Wonders of the world
In 2011, the Underground River was chosen as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, next to natural wonders as Halong Bay in Vietnam or the Amazon Rainforest. Though the whole voting process has been criticized (apparently there was nothing in the voting procedure that prohibited repetitive voting, making the results subject to a huge campaign by the government urging Filipinos to vote as often as possible), the number of visitors has increased significantly since then and the award is used heavily in marketing.
Location Palawan Underground River
The national park is located on the western coast of the island, approximately 76 km northwest of Puerto Princesa. The entrance to the subterranean river is a short hike or boat ride from the town Sabang.
About the Underground River
The river winds through a huge cave system before flowing directly into the sea and is navigable by boat up to 4.3 km in from the sea. The caves includes major formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and several large chambers, including the 360-meter-long so called „Italian’s Chamber“ with approximate 2.5 million square meters volume. It is one of the largest cave rooms in the world.
The whole river and cave system contains a full mountain-to-sea ecosystem. Notable are especially the bats, which you can see in large numbers hanging from the cave roofs.
Most people visit the Underground River on a tour from Puerto Princesa and that’s what I did too. Let me warn you – it’s a long day! I was picked up at 7:15am at my hotel. The drive from Puerto Princesa to Sabang takes around 2 hours on very curvy roads. Normally there will be one short stop on the way. After arriving at Sabang your tour guide will check the waiting time at the registration counter. Normally it should be between 1 and 2 hours, might be longer on the weekends.
We used the wait time to go ziplining and had lunch. The ziplining was actually a lot of fun! The best part was the ride there and the walk on the beach, it was nice to stretch the legs after the long ride in the car and the beach is very beautiful. Lunch was served buffet style in a local restaurant, simple but tasty, though there were not a lot of vegetarian options.
After lunch our tour guide told us to go up the tourist information center and wait for our boat that will take us to the Underground River Tour Station. Here we waited another 15 to 30 minutes for the boat.
At the Underground River Tour Station you will get a headset and than you wait again, this time for the actual boat that takes you into the river. We waited another 30 minutes before lining up at the water edge, getting our audio guide and helmets. After all that waiting, you finally make your way into the river.
The Underground River tour
We entered the caves in a boat that seats 8 people. You can listen to an audio tour that gives a lot of background on the eco-system of the Underground River or simply enjoy the magnificence of your surroundings. I actually enjoyed the audio guide, it was very informative and deepened my experience.
The guide rowed us silently through the dark tunnel, only giving a few comments from time to time where to look. After leaving the entrance behind the only lights you see are from the headlamps the guides in the boats wear. We passed magnificent rock shapes and formations, huge caves and narrow paths through the underground cave. A few bats fly around. Looking up (we were warned beforehand to keep our mouth closed when doing that – you don’t want bat shit snacks) I see hundreds of bats hanging head over from the cave roof. It’s a bit creepy and I don’t want to imagine how it would be if they all wake up and take flight suddenly.
The whole tour through the river lasted 45 minutes, but the impressions stayed with me for a long time afterwards. After the tour you make your way back to Puerto Princesa the same way, where I arrived around 4pm.
So, is it really worth it?
I really loved the tour and I’m glad I’ve seen it! I think the Underground River was mesmerizing and stunning. Imagining what kind of forces and the length of time it took to create this wonder of the world makes me realize, how magnificent the power of nature is.
I heard from other people who said, that for them the tour wasn’t worth it. It’s definitely a long day on the road for a 45 minutes tour through the Underground River. But then again, the drive through the countryside, the interaction with the other travelers and our super nice tour guide, the walk on the beach for the ziplining, the local lunch, it is all part of the experience. Just be prepared for it and enjoy the ride!
Good to know
You can organize the tour itself, but from what I learned online it’s a lot of hassle and you don’t save much money. I recommend booking a tour. They all offer the same service, best to ask your hotel to help with the booking. That’s what I did, I emailed them in advance and the hotel organized my pickup. My tour cost 1400 Pesos. The ziplining cost extra, I think it was 450 Pesos.
Wear shorts and shoes that can get wet – you will have to get into the water to enter the boats and there can be waves too.
Bring some snacks and drinking water – it’s a long day.
You can also stay in Sabang and do the tour early in the morning, before the crowds from Puerto Princesa arrive. The Daluyon resort looked nice from the outside.
Click here to watch a video adventure on the Underground River at AMaeTV.