Puerto Princesa Underground Subterranean River National Park DIY Travel Guide

By Anne Elizabeth Apolona Gumiran - 3:59 AM


I am a true sucker for the world's greatest explained and unexplained events and things. I love the feeling of fascination, being curious and learning something new. This eagerness has driven me to explore one of my dream travel destinations in the Philippines, the province of Palawan. After diving into the lagoons and shipwrecks in Coron, admiring the spectacular rock formations, hidden beaches and lagoons of El Nido and basking under the sun in the impossibly perfect beaches of Balabac, I decided to do something new in my return to Puerto Princesa, the fourth leg and the last destination in my Palawan Backpacking. I visited the spot as to what the city is most renowned for, the Puerto Princesa Underground Subterranean River National Park.

About Puerto Princesa Underground Subterranean River National Park 


The Puerto Princesa Underground Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP) is one of the most protected areas in the Philippines. IT is located in the Midwest coast of Palawan, some 74 km northwest of Puerto Princesa City. It was designated as a national park on March 26, 1971 at 3,901 hectares by virtue of Proclamation No. 835. To ensure its long term viability, the area of the park was extended to 22,202 hectares through Proclamation No. 212 signed on November 15, 1999.
The PPUSRNP contains a full mountain to sea ecosystem and protects forests which are among the most significant in Asia. It represents 8 to 8 forest formations found in the region. More than 800 plant species, have been identified including 290 trees that are dominated by dipterocarp species. These forests serve as natural habitat to the numerous  species of endangered, rare and endemic widlife. At least 174 birds, 84 mammals, 28 reptiles and 12 amphibian species have been recorded in the park. In the coastal area, mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reef are also found.
The park also features a spectacular limestone or karst landscape or the Mt. St. Paul. Underneath the mountain is the 8.2 kilometer long underground river that flows directly to the sea. the lower half of the river is brackish and subject to the ocean tide. The associated tidal influence in the PPUR makes it the most unique natural phenomenon of its type to exist. 


It has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage and is one of the Seven Wonders of Nature because of the discovery of the crystal and egg shape rock formations, bat burial site, 11 new minerals and a 20-million year old Miocene-aged Serenial fossil found in its walls in 2012.

My Puerto Princesa Underground River Experience


I got up early and excited about a destination that was only in my childhood dreams. It was truly a pleasant morning with a perfect weather and a hearty breakfast on my table by the veranda. The sounds that the crickets make slowly died down as the sun crawls its way up to the clear blue sky. At 7:00 AM, the van driver picked me up and reminded me some do's and don'ts when traveling to Puerto Princesa Underground River.

It was a two-hour drive from the city to PPUR Dispatching Area at Sabang, the jump off point to the Underground River. When we arrived, we were asked to wait and stay in a corner along with the other tourists booked at the same agency I joined into. The tour coordinator went to the Information and Registration office and took care of all the necessary processes. Our group was issued with a number. Since there were lots of people waiting in line, we were told to have lunch at a local buffet restaurant nearby as it is included in the tour fee.

After almost two hours of waiting, our number was called at the boat dispatching area. There were seven people on the pump boat: 5 travelers including me, 1 boat men and 1 tour guide.



The boat transfer from the jump off point to Sabang Beach took us more or less 20 minutes. We walked past a forest with the tsonggo also known as long-tailed Macaques running and playing around. At the other end of the sprawling forest greens is the calm river glistening under the sun. On the right is the opening of the cave system welcoming everyone, waiting to be explored.


After getting myself a life vest, hard hat, audio device and earphones, I got into one of the paddle boats with nine other people. The tour guide started paddling and then, we finally got inside.

The feeling during the tour was indescribable. I was truly in awe with how the cave system was naturally built. I mean, I only heard them on stories and read it from books from my Sibika at Kultura classes in grade school; but now, here I am admiring them with my own eyes. I also admire how the government and the management take care of the PPUR and not letting any establishments or infrastructures built despite the surge of visiting tourists. They are also very keen in observing the preservation process of the Natural Park.

The Underground River Tour

A day or two before the visit, tourists can already drop by the Booking Office at Puerto Princesa City Coliseum to get the visitor's permit. The office is open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The PPUR Management is very strict as regards their 'No Permit, No Tour Policy'. The tourists may also opt to get one at the Dispatching Area but they may have to wait for a long time since a surge of tourists usually come in to visit. Always bring a valid ID as it is among the requirements in securing a visitor's permit.


Before the Tour
1. Get into the boat once your boat number is called at the Dispatching Area
2. Secure the following:
a. life vest
b. hard hat
c. audio device
d. earphone
3. Test if the audio device and earphones work before entering the cave.




The stalactites resembling a T-Rex


During the Tour
The tour guides are the only ones with the paddles and flashlights during the tour. Also, they don't do much of the talking. The audio device plays the recording on what the tourists need to know about the Underground River. This is part of their preservation of the natural wonder. They bring the tourists to the different chambers of the cave system. Taking of photos with flash is allowed but touching the cave walls is strictly prohibited. The tour takes more or less 15 minutes.

After the tour
Tourists shall return the life vest, hard hat and audio device at the gazebo near the river. The earphones can either be kept or disposed by the tourist who used it.

How to get there

By Air

1. You can fly from Manila or Clark to Puerto Princesa Airport. Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines and AirAsia have several flights daily to and from Manila or Clark and Puerto Princesa City.
2. Make your way to San Jose Terminal in Puerto Princesa City. Take a tricycle outside the airport.
3. Look for the Lexus Terminal.
4. Take the jeepney, bus or shuttle van from Puerto Princesa City to Sabang. Travel time is more or less two and a half hours with fare at Php 200.00 per head.
5. Alight at Sabang.
6. Go to Go to Sabang PPUR Dispatching Area, the jump off to the Underground river.
7. Register at the Information Center.
8. Wait for your turn and take the boat to the Underground River.

At Sabang Dispatching Area

The Dispatching Area


By Sea

1. Sail from Manila to Puerto Princesa City.
2Go Travel's St. Francis Xavier vessel sails once a week (every Saturday) from Manila to Puerto Princesa at 7:00 PM. The ferry arrives 7:00 PM the next day as it also passes by Coron at 7:00 AM. The same ferry leaves Puerto Princesa City at 7:00 AM every Sunday. 
2. Make your way to San Jose Terminal in Puerto Princesa City. Take a tricycle outside the port.
3. Look for the Lexus Terminal.
4. Take the jeepney, bus or shuttle van from Puerto Princesa City to Sabang. Travel time is more or less two and a half hours with fare at Php 200.00 per head.
5. Alight at Sabang.
6. Go to Sabang PPUR Dispatching Area, the jump off to the Underground river.
7. Register at the Information Center.
8. Wait for your turn and take the boat to the Underground River.

Take note the the first trip from San Jose Bus Terminal to Sabang leaves at 7:30 AM. Last trip is at 6:00 PM.

Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour Rates and Fees


The following rates are identified by the Puerto Princesa Underground Subterranean River National Park Management Board:

Foreign and Local (Filipino) Adults (21 years old and above)

Entrance Fee - Php 500.00
Audio Device - Php 85.00
Environmental fee - Php 150.00
Terminal Fee - Php 5.00
TOTAL: Php 740.00

Foreign Minor (13 - 20 years old and above)

Entrance Fee - Php 150.00
Audio Device - Php 76.50
Environmental fee - Php 150.00
Terminal Fee - Php 5.00
TOTAL: Php 381.50

Local Minor (13 - 20 years old and above)

Entrance Fee - Php 100.00
Audio Device - Php 76.50
Environmental fee - Php 120.00
Terminal Fee - Php 5.00
TOTAL: Php 301.50

Foreign Children (3 - 12 years old and above)

Entrance Fee - Php 150.00
Environmental fee - Php 150.00
Terminal Fee - Php 5.00
TOTAL: Php 305.00

Local Children (3 - 12 years old and above)

Entrance Fee - Php 75.00
Environmental fee - Php 120.00
Terminal Fee - Php 5.00
TOTAL: Php 200.00

Filipino Senior Citizens

Entrance Fee - Php 400.00
Environmental fee - Php 120.00
Audio Device - Php 76.50
Terminal Fee - Php 5.00
TOTAL: Php 601.50

General Entrance

*tour inside the cave is not included
Foreigners
Entrance Fee - Php 150.00
Environmental fee - Php 150.00
TOTAL: Php 300.00

Locals
Entrance Fee - Php 100.00
Environmental fee - Php 150.00
TOTAL: Php 250.00

Boat Rates (Two-way)

1. Passenger boat for 6 persons
Boat Rate: Php 1,000.00
Rate per person: Php 184.00 

2. Passenger boat for 7 persons
Boat Rate: Php 1,255.00
Rate per person: Php 180.00 

3. Passenger boat for 8 persons
Boat Rate: Php 1,425.00
Rate per person: Php 179.00 

Sample Puerto Princesa Underground River Day Tour Itinerary

6:30 AM -Hotel/ Airport to Aan Jose Bus Terminal
7:00 AM - Arrival at the bus terminal
7:30 AM - Departure for Sabang
10:00 AM - Arrival at Sabang
11:00 AM - Boat from the Dispatching Area to Sabang Beach
11:30 AM - Start of PPUR tour
12:15 NN - End of PPUR tour
12:30 NN - Back to the Dispatching Area
12:45 NN - Lunch
2:00 PM -  Back to Puerto Princesa City
4:30 PM - ETA at Puerto Princesa City

The indicated time may vary depending on a lot of factors such as the visitors' queue, waiting time for passengers at the terminal and others. The fastest, easiest and most convenient way to explore the PPUR is through joining organized tours. The following are the usual inclusions on such tours:
1. Van transfer to and from Puerto Princesa City and Sabang.
2. Hotel pick up and drop off
3. Entrance, Environmental, Audio Device and Terminal fees
4. Motor boat transfers from and to Sabang Dispatching Area
5. Paddle boat ride in exploring the Underground River
6. Buffet lunch

At Sabang Beach

The Entrance to The Puerto Princesa Underground River


Sample Puerto Princesa Underground River Day Tour Budget 

Tricycle (to San Jose Bus Terminal) - Php 80.00
Van fare (departure) - Php 140.00
Boat fare - Php 185.00
Entrance Fee - Php 500.00
Audio Device - Php 85.00
Environmental fee - Php 150.00
Terminal Fee - Php 5.00
Food - Php 300.00
Van fare (return) - Php 140.00
Tricycle (from San Jose Bus Terminal) - Php 80.00
TOTAL: Php 1,665.00

Thing You Must Know Before Traveling to Puerto Princesa Underground River


Before the Tour
1. Jeepneys, vans and buses usually leave at 7:30 AM from Puerto Princesa City to Sabang.
2. Take the earliest trip (at 7:30 AM) or rather stay at Sabang if you want to get into the PPUR also to avoid the long queue. 
3. Do not forget to secure the visitor's permit at the PPUR booking office at the City Coliseum.
4. Wear comfortable clothes and footwear. Bring extra ones too just in case you get soaked during the tour. You'll actually get soaked up to your knees as you hop into the paddle boat.
5. Secure  your important belongings in a dry bag.
6. Bring enough cash in Philippine peso currency. There are no nearby ATMs in the area.

During the Tour
1. Do not feed the tsonggo that you'll see on your way to the river
2. Do not touch the walls of the cave shall the boatman who paddles it direct you near the cave walls.
3. Do not open your mouth as you look up during the tour. You might not want to get the bats' poo and pee in it.

After the Tour
1. If you'll be commuting your way back to Puerto Princesa City, be reminded that the last trip is at 6:00 PM.
2. There are souvenir shops near the PPUR Dispatching area.

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