PUERTO PRINCESA: What to Expect in a Tour of the Underground River

Palawan draws many tourists because of its beautiful beaches and diving destinations. However, some go to the province to tick off a UNESCO World Heritage Site on their travel list — the Underground River. Also called Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, it is the UNESCO-listed site that many tourists visit as a day excursion from Puerto Princesa.


Fast Facts

  • This subterranean river park is a protected area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It got its recognition in 1999.
  • Geologists and environmentalists concluded that there are small waterfalls inside the cave because of the discovery of a raised terrain.
  • The water of the river flows out to the West Philippine Sea.
  • It is one of the longest underground rivers in the world.
  • The park has a diverse ecosystem. Its forest formations include mangroves, montane forest, beach forest, and freshwater swamp forest just to name some.
  • The total length of the cave system is around 24km and is right beneath the mountains. The underground river’s total length is 8.2kms, but only 4.3kms are navigable to the public.
  • Experts have found that the park houses 165 of the 252 bird species in the province of Palawan.

What Will You See Inside the Park?

Some tourists would like to get a sneak peek of a tourist destination before going. The Underground River is one huge system of caves with plenty of chambers, stalactites, and stalagmites. The boatman assigned to your boat may point out the unique formations found inside. You can get an audio guide to get detailed information about what you’ll see inside. You’ll have to use your imagination to see the animals, shapes or whatnots. You’ll hear bats and dripping of water if it is quiet enough. The huge chambers create a distinct ambiance, especially with limited lighting.

Tourist boats only go as far as 4km into the cave; you’ll need a special permit to go further than that. If you get permits, you’ll have to swim in some sections because boats can’t pass through.


Details of a Tour

  • The jump-off point and the boats that will take you to the Underground River are in Sabang. The town is approximately 40kms from Puerto Princesa. Many tourists book a tour from the city, but you can also book one from Sabang to reduce your travel time. The package includes van transfers, permits, boat ride and boatman, tour guide, and lunch.
  • The van ride takes a couple of hours per way. It is scenic and takes you through Palawan’s countryside. However, some think it is too long compared to the time spent in the cave. After the drive, you’ll have to wait in line for a boat to take you to the entrance of the Underground River. The boat ride is short, but the wait for it can take an hour or so depending on the number of tourists coming.
  • Before entering the cave, you’ll have to wear safety equipment such as a life vest, helmet, and torch. You have to keep these on throughout. The tour takes approximately 45 minutes to complete. The local authorities implement strict capacity rules. They want to preserve the park for future generations to enjoy as well. Hence the rules and regulations you need to follow.
  • The registration and queue for the boats get hectic during peak seasons such as summer and Christmas time. Waiting time is longer during these times. Book days or weeks before your planned trip to guarantee a reservation on the dates you want. Try booking during weekdays because tourist traffic might be lower during these days compared to the weekend.

Book a Tour or DIY?

  • Do-It-Yourself. It is possible to DIY a trip to the Underground River. However, you’ll have to secure permits, make your way to Sabtang and back to Puerto Princesa for a day trip, book a boat ride to the entrance, buy your own food, and register. If you add the time and cost of doing things on your own, you might save just a bit of money compared to booking a tour. You’ll also have to spend on accommodation in Sabang if you don’t want the hassle of returning on the same day. However, going DIY allows you to go at your own pace.
  • Booking a Tour. A packaged tour makes everything convenient for you because it includes transportation from your accommodation and back. It also covers the permits, boat rides, guides and other details of the trip. The van is comfortable and air-conditioned. Your DOT-accredited tour guide will assist you throughout and add information about the cave and the itinerary.

Some say that the day trip from Puerto Princesa is not worth it because you’ll spend more time in a van than inside the cave. The opinions about these vary, but it is up to you to judge the value of the tour. Look for a package that includes one or two more stops to make the trip worthwhile. One popular addition to itineraries is Ugong Rock.


Top Puerto Princesa Tours


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Top Puerto Princesa Resorts


Munting Paraiso
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Panja Resort Palawan
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Princesa Garden Island Resort and Spa
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Costa Palawan Resort
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For more options, search here: Palawan Hotels


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