Sailing through the Underground

IMG_6636While I am freezing here as winter draws near and I burn my tongue with the occasional hot beverage, memories of my warm tropical country come to mind. And as I feel quite nostalgic, why don’t we break from the Frozen series and go for a throwback post featuring one of the gems of my country. This place has been considered as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world based on an online voting poll. I am talking about the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Featuring the world’s longest navigable underground river system, it is truly a unique spectacle worth of the world heritage label. It is found in the island of Palawan, known as the last frontier, which is outlined by pretty much tropical paradise – stretches of white sand beaches, limestone karsts and cliffs, and sprinkles of surrounding islets and reefs.

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Accessing it on a good day is quite easy but seldom, it could also be challenging. As a natural reserve, the number of visitors is pegged at a certain limit. Also, the trips may be cancelled depending on the tidal conditions with last minute notice. So it is better to allow some buffer time for your stay. From the city of Puerto Princesa, one has to take around an hour and a half ride to Sabang beach where a long queue awaits you to ride the boat to the cave entrance. We took a travel agent to sort this out to free ourselves from the worries of getting tickets and making it to the daily quota. But you won’t really mind the long wait when you are surrounded by this long stretch of beach:

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The trip will be in these festive boats called “banca” which will take you to a 15 minute roller coaster ride along the lashing waves of the West Philippine Sea:

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Then you will get to the landing area where stunning limestone formations will welcome you. This area is also an open zoo teeming with friendly reptiles, monkeys, birds, and various species of plants and trees. Following a short wooden trail through the open zoo, you will finally get to the entrance to the cave. Smaller bancas await guided by a boatman ready with a smile and his daily script of stories and fun facts about the subterranean river.

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Of the 8.2 km length, they only exhibit roughly a kilometer to the tourists for reasons of conservation. The carbon dioxide we exhale, noise, and light from cameras and flashlight, among other disturbances collectively affect the living organisms in this reserve so it is quite understandable. They told us that a permit may be secured to enter the rest of the cave which have, they say, not only the unexpectedly bizarre looking creatures but also fossils and mineral/rock formations like no other. But anyway, 1 km sure is not a bad teaser. (Promise, it looks more awesome in person. I just don’t have skills and equipment for dark shots. Although of course, like all caves, it smells like bat excrement. At times it would remind you of that mythological trip with Charon across the river Styx but with friendlier company and the paradise at the end of the tunnel instead of hell. Ok, probably this is not the right analogy but you get it.)

Then of course you get to exit with this relieving view:

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I truly miss this place and I would definitely want to come back. It is indeed a natural marvel and a living testament that a good balance between tourism and ecological conservation could be possible. And I hope that this will serve as an example to the rest of the yet untapped wonders of the Philippines and also the rest of the world. Kudos Palawan for that!

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4 thoughts on “Sailing through the Underground

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