Exploring World's Longest Underground River in The Philippines

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Photo of Exploring World's Longest Underground River in The Philippines by Reshma Narasing

The Philippines remains a favorite to me among the SE Asian countries that I have explored. I feel that it's the best country in SE Asia if beaches are your thing. The beaches of Thailand are good, Indonesia has better ones but nothing can beat the sheer beauty of the islands and crystal-clear beaches of the Philippines. But I didn't just explore the beaches there. During my travels there for almost a month, I explored islands, the mountain province and some astounding natural wonders in the country.

Palawan is the region that I liked the most, of all the regions that I explored. Did you know that it is one of the most desirable islands in the world? For 3 times in a row, people from all over the world have placed Palawan fourth on the list of the best islands in the world. And I would vote for Palawan any number of times to be in that list!

No, I am not kidding. Palawan boasts of fabulous beaches, countless adventure activities and secluded islands. But not many know that it is home to world's longest underground river, which was added to the new wonders of the world.

Puerto Princesa underground river, located in the Sabang region at the Subterranean River National Park, is one of the protected national parks in the Philippines. This UNESCO heritage site is of nature's wonders, best experienced by exploring it yourself. Let's find out more about this marvelous place.

Puerto Princesa underground river

The Subterranean River National Park is located in the city of Puerto Princesa in the Palawan region of the Philippines. Found as recently as in the late 90’s, Puerto Princesa underground river for stretches for over 8 km. But, only over 4 km is navigable, the rest still hidden away from the world that we know.

Photo of Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines by Reshma Narasing

What to see

The gorgeous natural limestone karst landscape in the national park that is the heart of the cave is a unique creation of nature. It has a mountain-to-sea ecosystem. Nature has created a wildlife with perfect biodiversity to thrive, without being endangered. Thick forests, mountains and the river encompass thousands of creatures – most of which is away from the sunshine, remains protected in this Palawan province.

Photo of Exploring World's Longest Underground River in The Philippines by Reshma Narasing

Another striking feature is that this underground river directly flows to the sea – which means that the sea tides have a direct influence. In fact, all the nature’s activities have a direct impact. If the tides are high, the inflow underground rises to lengths inside the caves. When this happens, it becomes impossible to navigate through the underground river.

How to visit Puerto Princesa underground river?

Your trip to the underground river starts at the Subterranean River National Park. It is located at Sabang, a small town about 1.5 hours away from Puerto Princesa.

Photo of Exploring World's Longest Underground River in The Philippines by Reshma Narasing

There are some public transportation options to reach Sabang, or you could book a day’s trip to the underground river. It costs about 1000 to 1200 pesos depending on your bargaining, which includes transportation, permit fees and lunch.

Photo of Exploring World's Longest Underground River in The Philippines by Reshma Narasing

Some Things to know about the park

Along with the ticket to the underground river, there is a permit that you need to take to enter. And there is a cap on the number of visitors that would be given a permit to visit the park every day. People are grouped in batches and sent into the tour, where first you'll have to take a small ride to reach the entrance of the underground river.

So it is better you plan this trip during the first half and arrive early to secure a slot for the day.

Photo of Exploring World's Longest Underground River in The Philippines by Reshma Narasing

Also, the weather in the Palawan region can be unpredictable like the rest of the Philippines during the monsoons and winters. Severe typhoons are a common occurrence in these regions because of which the national park gets closed to the visitors as the water level rises. Plus high tides also make it inaccessible. So if you specifically intend to visit Palawan for the underground river trip alone, keep in mind to check the weather.

Although there are hundreds of tour agents and hostels selling this tour, you can skip them all and do the tour on your own with a bit of planning. The challenge would be to get a transport, and there are taxi and bike options for that. If you could identify a right day and mode to reach there, you can go on your own, stand in the queue, get the permit and tickets.

Don't forget to get your audio guide for a small fee. It is worth listening if you want to know more about this place.

The place gets completely dark after a while, and you'll only be guided by your headlights. So for photography, be prepared to take the shots in night mode and be careful not to drop your mobiles in the river in the dark!

Other activities to do in and around the national park

Sabang region has also other attractions that you can combine with your visit to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Here are a few:

Zip-lining

The Puerto Princesa Sabang X Zipline right next to Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a place to go for a quick adventure ride! A 10-15 minute hike amidst a Mangrove forest will take you to the 750-meter long zip line that'll take you above Sabang beach. At almost over 150 meters high, it is one of the awesome adventures that I recommend to everyone!

Palawan Wildlife Rescue & Conservation Centre

Crocodiles, crocodiles and more crocodiles - Believe me, I hadn't seen SO many crocodiles at once in life on the same day. From the remains of a mammoth crocodile that is the size of a big wall to tiny baby crocodiles in dozens, the Palawan Wildlife Rescue & Conservation Centre is home to hundreds of them of different species.

You'll learn a lot about their life including their habitat on a walking tour that they take you. In the end, you can also hold a baby crocodile to take photos, for free!

Where to stay

The best place to stay to explore the national park and the places in this region would be Puerto Princesa. The city is not close to these attractions, but that is the main city where you have a lot of accommodation options. There are some options in the Sabang region, but most of them are expensive with a few luxurious resorts as well. On the other hand, Puerto Princesa has really good places for budget travelers. The food is cheap and there are a lot of places to shop in the city!

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