The Underground River Adventure

This year’s summer was a bit exciting. The glaring heat of the sun was telling me so loud to go out and mill around the white sands of crystal-clear beaches and sightsee the wonders of summertide. So when I got my break, I riffed through my where-to-go-this-summer list and did some decision-making. After due process, I ticked Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park as the target of my summer escapade. All of a sudden, I was already in the airport waiting for the plane to fly me to Palawan. Oh, I couldn’t wait to see personally the prime Philippine tourist spot, just the same feeling felt by thousands of tourists visiting every year.

The town of Sabang. Our kick-off town before going to the Underground River.

The gateway to the UNESCO world heritage site Subterranean River is a short hike from the town of Sabang. The town is an hour drive from the city of Puerto Princesa, nearly 50 kilometers north of it. This little placid town has transformed into an overcrowded place as about 50 tourist vans arrive every day with local and foreign passengers inside. Luckily, the hotel where I stayed got its own vehicle that would bring its guests to the all-famed Subterranean River. However, should you want a tour package all the way from Puerto Princesa City, it costs Php1, 500 as fixed price for hotel pickup, park entrance fees and lunch on the beach.

We were already in the Sabang Pier, just about to take a canoe ride also known as bangka. These motorized canoes come in two sizes—the smaller in size carries 6 people and the larger one carries 12 people. Should you be on a package tour, bangka booking might have been processed for you beforehand. If not, better arrive as early as 7:30AM before day trippers flock in the pier. By that, you will have to join with other tourists as the canoe operator will have to wait until all seats are occupied.

It took us almost an hour until we finally reached the tourist-accessible areas inside the underground river. The tour guide started breaking his silence as he continually gave the background of every wonderful attraction in the cave. I was awestruck when I saw the stalagmites and stalactites formations of Mother Teresa, Jesus and a lot more. Though I got frightened, I was amazed with the friendliness of the swiflets and bats nesting on some boulder piles. The cave is home to nine species of bat and two species of whip spider, adding up to the different species that serve as tourist attractions one should not miss to see. The place wasn’t that creepy as all of us in the boat were laughing and grinning hard. However, the tour guide only covered half of the cave’s interiors. An all-out tour will need special permits and additional equipments.

We were already going out, but surprisingly, it did not end there. The park has also a range of forest formations and is home to eight of the thirteen forest types found in tropical Asia. Apart from those mentioned, there are also 165 species of birds found in the park. There are also 19 species of reptiles, 30 mammals, and 10 amphibians identified. Some were seen when we were getting to the underground river’s entrance. Hence, the park is also a habitat for biodiversity conservation.

There are still many other activities the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park can offer, but among them, the underground river trip is ultimately the best and the most remarkable. I felt lucky enough to have navigated the 8.2-kilometer long underground river which flows directly into the West Philippine Sea with its eye-soothing limestone karst mountain landscape. With all these things said, I have to say it should truly be one of the seven wonders of nature.

This article is a contribution from Philip Andrew Garlitos who currently works as an English professor in Ateneo de Davao University.

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