What to Expect in the Underground River Tour in Palawan?

Palawan has always been known for its Underground River. This jewel of a tourist spot is specifically found in Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan, a province in the Southern part of the Philippines. Because of its global fame, the tourist site is home to hundreds of tourists per day. Specifically referred to as Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, it is now considered as one of the “New Seven Wonders of Nature” by the prestigious UN Environmental organization, UNESCO in 2012. Even the park (Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park at the St Paul Mountain Range) where the underground river is located is a World Heritage Protected Park as declared also by UNESCO. The Palawan Underground River is a subterranean river whose length is approximately 5 miles or 8 kilometers long and directly flows out to the South China Sea. Its waters pass through massive caverns prior to exiting out to sea.  Located in Sitio Sabang in Puerto Princesa, it was originally declared as the world’s longest subterranean river but was degraded to second longest after the discovery of a longer one in Mexico. An underground river guide are usually the ones that give tours around the river but because of various species of wildlife like Bats, insects and monkeys found inside it sometimes makes it difficult for the guides to navigate the river This is one reason why limit of 900 visitors per day is imposed on the tour. Prices for the trip will depend on the outrigger and number of people that will avail of the tour. It is very common that a group of 4-6 people usually rents the paddle-powered outriggers that traverse the Palawan Underground River. Safety is always a priority when touring the underground river so in order to avoid any accidents, a life vest and a helmet and at times flashlights are provided by river guides to tourists. There have been proposals to put up lights inside the tunnel but many countered the proposal because locals feel preserving the original wonders and beauty of the river and the cavern through which it passes through is more important than anything else.

The underground river is situated inside the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park which in turn is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range. The place is about 50 kilometers north of the Palawan Island. It is bordered by St. Paul Bay to the north and the Babuyan River to the east. The Puerto Princesa National Park is currently supervised by the City Government of Puerto Princesa with the assistance of local and foreign environmental organization such as UNESCO. A distinct trait of the Puerto Princesa Underground River is that it flows through a cave prior to exiting out to the South China Sea. Massive stone formations of stalactites and stalagmites and large chambers are just some of the beauty and wonders that the cave showcases and this formation is comparable to those found in Europe and the US. The lower portion of this subterranean river is considered to be brackish (river water mixed with sea salt) because of tidal influence coming from the South China Sea.

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP) or better known as Palawan Underground River National Park can easily be toured in one day by foot and a half-day if you go via a power boat. The National Park is about 50,000 square meters of varieties and well-preserved rainforests making it one of the most distinguished biodiversity conservation areas this part of Asia.

The government has been exerting a lot of effort in maintaining the National Park and the Underground River. The spectacular limestone formations inside the caverns of the underground river as well as all the natural wonders that surround the whole park are religiously preserved by the local government and people of Palawan. The Park and the underground river is open the whole year round to both local and foreign tourists but the best time to visit this wonderful tourist spot is from January to June when the weather is a lot drier. Visiting Palawan during the summer season makes it easier for tourists to go around and get a better glimpse of the wonders of Palawan. Jungle trekking, wildlife watching, mangrove paddleboat tour, and swimming/snorkeling in the white sand beaches are also optional activities that you can enjoy while waiting for your turn to tour the underground river. The following are the terms and conditions that tourists and other underground river visitors need to follow for them to tour the subterranean river.

  1. VISITOR ENTRY- All persons are required to secure a Visitor Entry Permit (VEP) at the Underground River Information and Booking Office even before entering the PPSRNP. Permitforms should contain info relative to the visitors name, place and purpose of visit, and date. Park management strictly enforces a “No Permit, No Entry” policy. Permits shall be issued only upon payment of the necessary entrance fees. Permits should also indicate the details of visitor entry.
  2. GROUP TOURS – Groups of more than forty (40) people are required to secure bookings at least three (3) days before the planned visit else be refused entry to the Park.
  3. NON-TRANSFERABLE – Permits are non-transferable and may be only used by the person whose name appears on the permit.
  4. CONFIRMATION – Visitors are required to confirm tour by registering at Sabang Information Office not less than thirty (30) minutes prior to theschedule of tour indicated on the permit.
  5. VISITOR ACCESS – Visitors shall have access only to areas and time indicated in the permit.  Any adjustments on the access pass should immediately be made with Park Management.
  6. REFUNDS – Permits paid for but not used can be refunded or rebooked to but only upon payment of a 10% surcharge;
  7. SUBJECT TO SEARCH – The Park reserves the right to search all visitors and their belongings.
  8. LIABILITY – The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park will not be liable for any loss or damage to property or personal belongings of visitors, nor to the injury or death due to accidents and mishaps
  9. RECOGNITION- Proper acknowledgement shall be accorded to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park by any producer of film orvideodocumentary conducted inside the Park.

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