As you are about to land to the town of Puerto Princesa, you will see beautiful green islands all over. This is truly an inspiring work of nature. You would also see how clear the water is as you could view vaguely the reef under the sea.
It is fairly easy to get around Puerto Princesa by hiring a tricycle to get you around. Prices vary but a ride from the airport to the town or city hall is P70 ($1.75). To go to the underground river, one must register at the town’s hall beforehand for an entry permit. To register, there are several options. First it is important to make a call and ask for schedule. Depending on the season, reservation could be as easy as going there and reserving during the day or as far as 2 weeks. Online booking is also available at http://www.ppur.com.ph. This is a joint program by the Philippine Department of Tourism and Puerto Princesa City to avoid queues for tourists. Lastly, one can book from the travel agency and they would handle all the permits you need.
The cost of the entry permit is P175 ($4) for local tourists and P250 ($6) for foreigners.
The Undergorund river is at the other side of town called Sabang. To get there, there are shuttle services that goes from the town of Puerto Princesa. There are 2 stops which is in San Juan or at the back of the Robinson’s mall. The cost per person for a van is P200 ($4.25). They call this service ‘Lexus’ although it is actually a Toyota van. Private vans are also available for hire for big groups. Normally, the company charges P2500 ($58). It is a 1 1/2 to 2 hour ride. Tricycles could also be hired at P1500 ($35). Jeepneys are also available for private hiring at the same cost of the tricyles. Although, the jeepeneys might stop for more customers. To hire it for non stop ride is P2000 ($47). Note the schedule of the rides because they will not wait for you, unless you reserve your spot early. It might also leave early if the van is full.
As you get to the town were the Undergorund river is you must present your entry permit at the office nearby the boats. The wooden boats take you to the Underground river site. The wooden boats are for hire for P700 ($16) and can accommodate about 10 people.
Another way is to use the monkey trail to go there. This takes about 2 hours.
Stay awed at the clear water of the sea, the beautiful green mountains and white beach of some islands as you ride the boat towards the Underground river. It usually takes about 15 mins to get there.
When you reach the island, a big sign says ‘The Undergound river’ at the entrance of the place. Course yourself inside to the registration area where you are welcomed by the Macaques playing around the vicinity area. They are not shy from the public and you could experience them beside you without them attacking or running away. There is a short forest to enter towards the final destination where you could find different trees. A sign is available to name the tree and its origins. It is an exciting walk too as you course through wooden platforms as a walkway to the site.
You will be asked to wear a safety helmet and a bright orange flotation safety suit. Wait for your turn to ride a smaller boat good for 6-8 people. You might have to share with a group if you are fewer in numbers.
Get ready to see one of the most amazing wonder of nature as you trek 1.3K of underground river that extends to 4K (if arranged). The boatman is a splendid person who gives funny antics yet informative notes about the Underground river. The first instruction is to close your mouth as you gaze up and around. The bats may have something liquid to offer. There are many familiar shapes of stalagmites and stalactites inside the cave. Enjoy the wonderful experience.
What else is interesting in Puerto Princesa?
The natural surroundings of Puerto Princesa is truly remarkable. They have one of the most diverse mangroves that can be found in the world. At night, a town called Iwahig offers firefly watching. You would see fireflies like Christmas tree at night shining brightly. The fireflies picks a tree they would settle on to eat and stay. This usually depends on the scent of the mangrove tree. The light from the fireflies is from bioluminescense. The boatman is informative about the mangroves and the fireflies. He will even let you touch a firefly and play with it for a time. The firefly does not hurt or bite and its a great interest how it lights on your hand.
There are also other places to visit in Puerto Princesa. They have the Baker’s hill which is a good place to take home some hopia. Their specialty is the ube hopia. They also have different restaurants found in the vicinity like a brick oven pizza and some Palawan delicacies.
Puerto Princesa also showcases their prison. Their prisoners come in 3 tiers. The highest would be the notorious ones who remains in the cell. The medium ones takes care of the plantation and the last one is almost free and is around to roam around the vicinity but must come back to report.
Puerto Princesa is truly worth a visit. Thus ‘Underground. More fun in the Philippines.’