Underground River Tour: A First-Timer’s Journey

Our family decided to go to Palawan after we’ve heard from friends that the Underground River is a definite must-see. So for our summer vacation in 2015, we flew to Puerto Princesa City, known to many as the city in the forest.

The moment we alighted the airplane, we were surprised to see how calm and peaceful the whole place was. Yes, there were quite a lot of people in the airport, but it was still far from the chaos of Manila.visualcage.ru

We were fetched by the staff of our hotel. We booked a stay at Holiday Suites because of its close proximity to Robinson’s Mall. (No, it’s not that we wanted to go malling in Palawan, we just wanted to be located near a place where there are choices on restaurants and fast foods). It’s also nearer to Sabang compared to the other places downtown.

Since we arrived late in the afternoon at around 3 p.m., we spent the rest of the day in the hotel relaxing and hanging out by the pool. We wanted to be recharged for our adventure the next day.

We booked a PPUR tour package from a travel agency that my dad found online. We paid P1,800 per head. We are five in the family so that set us back for P9,000 for  the tour alone. Included in the tour package are shuttle transfer to and from Sabang Port, boat transfer, tour inside the cave, entrance fee and permit, tour guide and lunch.

At 6 a.m. the next day, the van picked us up at the hotel. We arrived at Sabang at 8:15 a.m. Our driver helped us find our boat. We boarded the boat and left after 30 minutes. The travel from the wharf to Sabang Beach was short but not smooth. The waves were strong and all of us got quite sea sick. The boatman said the waves were even stronger during the rainy season and I couldn’t imagine how I’d be able to survive that! If you’re prone to sea sickness, it’s advisable that you take in meds before you ride the boat.

After 20 minutes or so, we arrived at the Sabang Beach. Oh, it was such a glorious sight! There were limestone mountains all around. For a second there, I couldn’t breathe. So now I know what breathtaking literally means! We headed to the mouth of the cave to fall in line and wait for our turn. I purchased an audio guide at the entrance and listened to it while we waited. I learned so much.

Finally, after an hour of waiting, it was finally our turn. I was so excited to see the inside of the Underground River. And it didn’t disappoint. At first, it was pitch dark, then the boatman/tour guide asked us who wanted to volunteer to hold the searchlight. My brother did. For the next 45 minutes or so, we saw amazing rock formations of different shapes and sizes. The most notable was the Holy Family. It was incredible.

After 1.5 kilometers, the boat made a U-turn. The journey back gave us a second glimpse of the fascinating stalactites and stalagmites. I tried taking pictures this time around because at the first round, I wanted to enjoy the sights with my own eyes. And my other brother and sister were taking pictures anyway. It’s a good thing they brought an external flash as it was quite difficult to capture the cave’s interior in the very dark setting.

Still, none of the photos we’ve taken can do justice to the true beauty of the Underground River, it’s really something that you have to see with  your own eyes!

After the tour, we had our scrumptious lunch by the beach. By early afternoon, we were back in our hotel.

I’ve heard there are many other excellent tourist attractions in Sabang like the Ugong Rock Adventures and Monkey Trail. It was a shame that these were not included in our tour package. But that only means one thing and it’s that we have to go back to Palawan sometime soon. Hopefully, next year!

Sample 5 Day Itinerary in Sabang, Palawan

If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t want to have a limited itinerary, you would want to plan your own Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) tour. But as you know, planning a vacation especially to a place you’ve never been to before can be quite challenging. It requires extensive research on your part.

To make things easier for you, we’ve created a sample 5-day itinerary in Sabang Palawan that you can use as a guide. Remember, you don’t have to do it exactly as it is, you can tweak the details here and there according to your own preferences.

Day 1 – Sabang Beach

When you arrive in Sabang on your first day, you’ll use this day for checking in at the hotel, resting, and chilling out. After all, it was a long drive from the city proper to Sabang port. At Sabang Beach, you can relax and take a refreshing swim. Just be careful as sometimes the waves can be strong. You can also get a massage while you’re here. An hour’s massage is available for P400.

Day 2 – PPUR Tour/Mangrove Forest Tour/Ethnographic Museum

Relaxing on the first day is a good idea so you’ll have plenty of energy for your PPUR tour. The tour takes about 45 minutes. But the waiting time can be longer because as you know, there are many tourists coming in to see the PPUR everyday. Before or after the tour, you can go and see the mangrove forests and have a quick lesson in history at the Ethnographic Museum. Both are located near the PPUR.

Day 3 – Ugong Rock Adventure and Elephant Karst Cave

Reserve the third day for the ultimate caving adventures at Ugong Rock. Here, you’ll get to see amazing caves, rock formations and limestone karst mountains. You will also get to do exhilarating activities like spelunking, rock climbing and ziplining. It will be a whole day of fun and excitement. On your way back, don’t forget to drop by the Elephant Cave Karst Mountain. Have your picture taken in front of it.

Day 4 – Monkey Trail/Jungle Trail

Compared to the Ugong Rock Adventures, the Monkey Trail and Jungle Trail are somewhat easier. This is why, it’s better to do this the day after. Both trails will give you close encounters with animal species like macaque monkeys. Just be sure to hold onto your things and they love grabbing bags from tourists.

Day 5 – Sightseeing around the town/Shopping for souvenirs

Don’t stress yourself out on your last day in Sabang. Use this day to go around town, meet locals, and shop for souvenirs.

Spending five days in Sabang would surely give you enough time to enjoy what it has to offer. But it can also make you feel like you want to stay longer. Don’t worry. Palawan is just here. You can always come back anytime you feel like you can use a break from your daily stressful life.

Is the 1,800 PPUR Tour Package Worth it?

Are you thinking about visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) but you’re not sure if you should get a tour package or not? As a practical traveler, you always make an effort to research about the details of your trip so you can plan it well and avoid unnecessary expenses. The question in your mind right now is this: is the P1,800 PPUR tour package worth it? Let’s take a close look.

What can you see in the tour?

The Underground River has been chosen one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. It’s the world’s longest navigable underground river at 8.2 kilometers. Inside the cave, you will find astonishing rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites. The national park where it lies is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the habitat of a wide array of plant and animal species who have taken refuge in the park’s thick old-growth forests and waters.

What is included in the tour package?

The PPUR tour is a whole day tour that includes a two- to three-hour ride from the city proper of Puerto Princesa to Sabang and a 20- to 30-minute boat ride from the Sabang port to Sabang Beach, which is where you will find the entrance to the Underground River. The tour inside the cave involves riding a boat with a group and a tour guide/boatman. The tour guide/boatman will discuss the rock formations inside the cave while a volunteer from the group will direct the search light to the said rock formation. The tour takes about 45 minutes. The rest of the hours are spent waiting in line and having lunch.

Package inclusions are:

Here’s the usual schedule of the tour package:

6 a.m . – pick up at the hotel

9 a.m. – estimated arrival at Sabang port

10 a.m. – estimated arrival at the Sabang Beach

Waiting time for getting inside the cave (can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours)

45-minute boat ride inside the Underground River

Picnic lunch

4 to 5 p.m. – estimated arrival at hotel in the city proper

As you can see from the inclusions and schedule, the P1,800 fee per person for the tour is indeed worth it. It takes care of everything you need for the tour so all that you’re left to do is to enjoy and have fun. Going for the DIY route will save you around P800 or more but you’re going to spend a lot of time organizing the permits, paying the fees, researching about the place, preparing food and many others.

Needless to say, the tour is hassle-free and super convenient!

Tips for Families Visiting the Underground River

Adventure lovers are not the only ones drawn to the beauty and magnificence of the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) but so are families. The Underground River with its limestone karst landscape is truly a sight to behold, and Sabang, where it is located, has many activities in store for the whole family.

If you intend to visit the PPUR with your spouse and children, here are some helpful suggestions that you would want to remember to make sure you’ll all have an enjoyable, peaceful and relaxing vacation.

Stay in a family-friendly hotel

It’s not so much of a good idea to stay in places frequented by backpackers. Yes, you’ll be able to save money as these places have very cheap rates. But they’re not ideal for families with children, especially young ones.

Most of the accommodations offered in these places do not come with a private bathroom, which can be a disadvantage since kids use this all the time. Two of the ideal places to stay for families with children are the Sheridan Resort Hotel and Daluyon Beach Resort. (Link Sheridan Resort Hotel and Daluyon Beach Resort to articles featuring them)

Don’t bring very young kids to the trip

Kids as young as 7 years old can already appreciate the beauty of PPUR. They’ll also be thrilled to see monkeys, monitor lizards and other creatures along the trail going to the Underground River entrance.

However, it’s not advisable to bring infants and toddlers. They’re too young to enjoy the trip. And it’s dangerous for them to go inside the cave. They won’t be allowed entry anyway. If you still want to bring young kids to Sabang, what you can do is to have them stay in the hotel with a family member or close friend looking after them while you go on your tour with your spouse or older kids.

Pack your kids’ basic essentials

Any parent will agree, it’s quite impossible to pack light when you’re bringing children with you on a trip. This is especially true if you have a baby or toddler. Baby gear like stroller, baby bottles, diapers, formula, kids’ medications and vitamins and so on are more than enough to fill up a huge bag. But you can work around this by making smart choices. Bring only those items that can be useful to your trip.

A stroller for example can’t be used on sand so it doesn’t make sense to bring one. Also, it’d be wise to choose multi-purpose items like a portable baby carrier that doubles as a bottle bag. Maximize the spaces inside the luggage to be able to fill it up with more things. For example, stuff baby bottles with socks, bibs and mittens.

Plan for kid-friendly activitiesWatch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

Ugong Rock Adventure seems like an awesome idea. The Monkey Trail sounds enticing. Surfing can be a great fun way to pass the time while at Sabang Beach. All these are true, but not if you have kids with you. Instead of going for an action-packed vacation, fill your itinerary with activities that your kids can enjoy—swimming, beach picnics, sightseeing, wildlife viewing (without any heavy trekking) and so on.

Although PPUR is an ideal place for adventure lovers and thrill seekers, it doesn’t mean that families with children won’t have fun. With proper planning and preparation, Sabang can become the next ultimate vacation destination for families.

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