The Underground River Tour Experience

The Entrance to the Underground River, Puerto Princesa

The Philippines is one proud country when it comes to its natural resources, boasting about its rich and highly diverse wonders. One of the country’s popular site is the Underground River, a UNESCO World Heritage, which is also one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature..

Reading about the facts of what this river is all about gives me the chills. The complexity of what it has: A river that passes through a cave that will eventually lead towards the West Philippine Sea. A river that has different river channels and caves with various stalactites and stalagmites formation that probably took thousand (or millions) of years to form. A river that has a life, with nocturnal beings above and beyond.

Wow! Impressive, isn’t it?

But, is the whole hustle and bustle worth the 45-minute visit?

Let me share with you my experience.

When you’re in Puerto Princesa with the luxury of time, you’d somehow feel the need to visit the Underground River. I was going to be in Palawan for roughly 2 weeks and I actually thought it was necessary to tick this one off the list!

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So, on that fateful Tuesday morning, at half past 7 am, I joined a tour group headed for the Underground River, also known as the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.

Tourists at low season. Lots of us, apparently.

I had expected that there would be a lot of people given its popularity, even if it still was (technically) the low season. Well, I was not wrong.

DSC07215b (1280x960)Tourists on queue

With popularity comes large queue. With large queue comes long period of waiting.

Given this, the wait for the permit and other paper-works took a bit of a time. I initially thought that with our group’s promptness, it won’t take long for us to get in. I guess I was actually wrong.

Arriving there by roughly 9 am, it took us more than an hour to settle all the necessary permits and finally be on queue for the boat transfer.

DSC07215 (1204x907)Tourists on queue

Much to the dismay of the other groups who arrived a little later after us, their waiting time was somehow doubled, to the point that they had to have their lunch a tad early so as not to waste more time.

The later you arrive, the longer the queue would be.

The ripple effect, I suppose.

DSC07216 (1280x961)Boats at Sabang to be used to transfer groups to the Underground River docking area

And then there was the boat transfer.

The 30-minute ride was not something that we ignored. The current that day was a bit strong which made the sail a bit rough. This tiny little boat with the 7 unassuming passengers got soaked as it tried to overcome the waves.

DSC07220 (1280x950)Tiny boats braving the wave, off to transport passengers to the Underground River docking area

DSC07343 (1280x960)Underground River Docking Area

Beware of monkeys. No to plastic.

Leading towards the entrance of the underground river, guests would have to pass via the forest. Here, we were advised not to take out plastic bags at all costs. The monkeys that reside there actually associate plastic with food and they can be aggressive once they see it. Apparently, the tourists back in the day would try to feed them, and now, it isn’t allowed.

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Well, I was too occupied with what I was about to see that I didn’t even notice if there were monkeys!

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By the time we reached the opening of the cave, we had to wait for a good 10-15 minutes to board the tiny paddle boat and actually start the tour.

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Changes to conserve the bats’ lives: Human talk vs. Audio guide.

Back in the day, the boatman will tell facts, stories, and even pitch in some good-natured humor during the tour while pointing out the rock formations within the cave (where the underground river passes by). But as per recent study, the number of bats have decreased due to the said noise pollution.

Nowadays, in order to conserve the life of the nocturnal beings within the cave, guests are now provided with audio guide that plays almost simultaneously with the rest of the group. During the tour, the boatman will try to highlight the rock formations with respect to what was being mentioned during the tour.

The 45-minute roundabout: Stalactites, Stalagmites, Saints, Temples, Fruits and Vegetables, and Bats…

DSC07263 (1280x961) DSC07270 (1280x960) DSC07278 (1280x958)Vegetables, lots of them!

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And, did I mention the bats? Like LOTS of BATS?

DSC07301 (1280x960) DSC07304 (1280x960) I have never seen so many bats in my entire life!

DSC07308 (1280x959) With bats hanging at the ceiling, guests were advised to always keep their mouths closed. No one wants to accidentally ingest some bat-fluid!

And of course, other fellow tour groups. Every few minutes, you’ll come across a new one.

DSC07315 (1280x960) DSC07317 (1280x960)DSC07319 (1280x960)Another paddle boat/tour group

DSC07328 (1280x957) Heading towards the main entry/exit point of the Underground River

DSC07333 (1280x945)Another tour group going in as we head back to the paddle boat docking area

The tour was done in 45 minutes and we eventually found ourselves outside. Although the tour itself felt so fast, I honestly don’t know how else are they going to prolong it. Given the fact that within that period, we were actually able to reach the last point of the allowable area that we could navigate, it was just not possible.

The rock formations were really amazing. But, I must admit that as impressive as they were, it wasn’t what made the tour exciting for me. I kind of expected the mind-boggling stalactite and stalagmite formations, as with some caves that I’ve visited in the past.

What I didn’t expect, however, are the number of bats! For me, THE BATS made the underground river more memorable.

—–

Would I do this tour all over again?

No. Not really.

Let’s be honest.

The 45-minute tour will eat up your WHOLE DAY.

1.5 – 2 hours >> Van transfer (Puerto Princesa to Sabang)
1 – 1.5 hours >> Permit + boat transfer waiting time at Sabang (subject to the queue)
30 minutes >> Boat transfer (Sabang to Underground River docking area)
30 minutes >> Waiting time to take the paddle boat for the Underground River  (subject to the queue)
45 minutes >> Underground River Tour
30 minutes >> Boat transfer (Underground River docking area to Sabang)
10-30 minutes >> Unloading of boat passengers at Sabang (subject to the “flow of traffic” and can cause you to be a bit dizzy/sea sick)
1 hour >> Lunch
1.5 – 2 hours >> Van ride (Sabang to Puerto Princesa)

And it’s quite EXPENSIVE! The tour price with permit and environmental fee could cost from Php 1000 – 1500.

I think, we shouldn’t be paying THAT MUCH for what mother nature has created. Yeah, I know. Transfers and handling fees. That ate up the cost.

Verdict:

If you have a tight budget, don’t have the luxury of time, or both, SKIP this!

Otherwise, if you can afford to visit it now, go for it. It’s quite cool, has been mentioned in our books, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. If you have the means, then go! 

Plus, who knows how it will be in the next few years? It’s pretty popular now. Imagine MORE tourists and higher fees in the future!

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