Have you ever seen a river that flows underground? Probably not, since it’s underground and hidden, but there are several such underground rivers in the world and I got to visit the one in Philippines recently. Like normal rivers, the underground river starts inside the rocks of a mountain range, but instead of flowing above the ground, it flows underground through caves until it empties into the sea. The only way to enter the river is through a cave opening by the sea.
The underground river can be found on Palawan Island of the Philippines. It’s named the Puerto Princesa Underground River or PPUR for short. Puerto Princesa being the administrative capital of Palawn Island. The PPUR is a UNESCO World Heritage site and recently in 2011 it was added as one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world. So it’s really worth your time to go see it. The PPUR is located near the village of Sabang, and in order to get there means that you have to get to Sabang from Puerto Princesa.
Only visitors with valid permits are allowed to enter the PPUR, and there are 2 ways to get your permits. First, is to join an organized tour where they handle all permits and transportation to and from Sabang. This is probably the easiest and best way if you don’t want the hassle of handling getting permits and booking transportation.
Second, is to DIY everything from applying for the permit, paying all manner of fees, and finding transport to Sabang. I had limited time for my trip so I decided that the first option was the best. The packaged tours are definitely more expensive, sometimes costing 2x the price of the DIY option, but they usually include some other side tours and meals to make it more attractive. From what I read, there only a limited number of permits allocated for each day, and the tours can be fully booked out during peak season. It’s recommended to book at least 2 months ahead if you plan to come during peak season (November – June). If you want to go the DIY route, here is a useful website that tells you how to go about it.
Most of the tours leave from Puerto Princesa and cost more because they include the cost of return transportation from Puerto Princesa to Sabang which is roughly 80km apart and takes 1.5-2 hours of travel time. If you stay in Sabang, then the tour prices are lower since they don’t need to include transport costs.
After getting off the boat, our boatman went ahead to register us for the next part of the tour, which is to transfer to the small paddle boats which will take us into the underground river proper.
At first glance, the cave looks like one of those sea caves that I had visited in Phuket previously. But for the PPUR, fresh water actually flows into the sea, and it has it’s own unique ecology within the caves.
We returned our audio devices and retraced our steps back to the main boat on the beach where our boatman was waiting for us.
Besides the PPUR, Palawan does offer more for the intrepid traveler, so stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll show you what else you can do on Palawan Island.