Puerto Princesa, in my opinion, is one of the most exotic and beautiful places on the planet. A couple of hours drive from Puerto Princesa sits an underground river, which is one of the largest cave systems in the world. The river itself is over 8 km in length, all of which is subterranean. This place is so gorgeous that it is listed as one of the national parks of the Philippines and one of the UNESCO world heritage sites.
Hayley and I were privileged to visit this national park in June as part of our scuba diving trip. The best way to get there is to join one of the local tours who will arrange transport and entrance permit for you.
Boat Trip to the Underwater River
Once we got dropped off at the entrance of the national park, we took a boat trip across the sea. What a beautiful ride we had across azure colour sea! It was so relaxing and refreshing to see such a beautiful natural scenery after travelling overnight all the way from Hong Kong.
Underground River Rocks
Sorry for the pun, but this has to be done!
We were amazed by the different shapes of rocks. We were able to see the typical Karst topography in which the rocks (normally limestone, which contains high amount of calcium carbonate) were dissolved by the acidic water that sipped through the cracks running through the mountain. Some of the calcium carbonates were redeposited back onto the tip of the rock surfaces, giving what is known to most people as stalactites.
Apart of the amazing geology inside the underground river, we were able to hear the sounds of the bats living in there. Of course, since our eyes were not adapted to see in the pitch black, it was very difficult to see them even with the light emitted from the torch of the boatman.
Apart from bats, we were told that there were many species living inside the underground that was totally unique and completely differed from those living outside the cave. Apparently, many of these species do not have the mechanism in protecting themselves from UV light! Well, that makes sense from an evolution point of view.
Side Trips After the Cave
After the trip in the cave, we were able to explore some of the countrysides along the way. But first, we looked around one of the villages at the entrance of the national park. Despite there were quite a few tourists going in and out, and the fact many of the shops were selling random stuff to the tourists. It didn’t feel over touristy, but somehow quiet rustic.
On the way back, we stopped off at a local rice farm with some karst mountains. It looked very similar to those of Guilin, China and those in Bai Tu Long Bay in Vietnam. As we approached the mountain, we even saw a buffalo working in a field with a farmer. It looked like we were in some kind of far away exotic country, or maybe we were!
On the way back to Puerto Princesa, we were able to stop at one of the viewing points over looking at the West Philippines Sea, otherwise known as the South China Sea. It was really nice to be at this vantage point!
- Getting to Puerto Princesa: there are many domestic flights coming from Manilas, including Philippines Airlines, AirAsia and Cebu Pacific. If you are coming directly from another country, you may want to consider taking the same airline in case you get delayed and miss a connection at Manilas. Flight delays are very common.
- Joining a tour: There are many tour operators around town. The price is very competitive (approximately PHP 2000 / person including hotel pickup, transport and a lunch at the national park). We went with the tour operator at the hotel (Blue Lagoon) which we stayed at.
Have you been an underground river or an UNESCO World Heritage Site of a similar nature? We would love to hear your story. Comment below!