The Puerto Princesa Underground River (or more formally as Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park) is one of the things you shouldn’t miss when you’re in Palawan.
It’s one of the longest underground rivers in the world. That in itself is an amazing feature. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New7Wonders of Nature.
The underground river flows directly under the St. Paul Mountain Range. The cave system inside stretches for 24 km and the river itself goes for 8.2 km.
Regular tours cover the first 1.5 km of the underground river — from here, regular-sized boats can’t pass thru the narrow passageways. It’s possible to tour the entire length of underground river by securing a special permit. Inside, you’ll be able to paddle your way across the river and appreciate the natural rock formations and wildlife.
My experience at the Puerto Princesa Underground River
I’d been to Palawan a couple of times but I haven’t had the time to stop at Puerto Princesa City. After my 3-day island hopping trip to Balabac, I decided to stay here for a few more days.
I booked a packaged joiner tour to the Puerto Princesa Underground River via Travelicious Tours Palawan. Yes, it’s possible to do it DIY and you can save a little, but a lot of people will tell you it might not be worth the hassle. Each guest must secure a permit to enter the underground river, and a travel agency does all the paperwork for you.
A service van picked me up at about 7:30 AM in my accommodation. Once all joiner guests are picked up, we were ready to go.
We made a few stops before going to the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Our guide told us these side trips help fill in the waiting time before our schedule slot. Usually, waiting time is 1-2 hours.
First is the Buenavista Viewdeck, which has an overlooking view of Ulugan Bay. There’s also a souvenir shop where you can buy pasalubong such as keychains, bracelets and other local products.
Next, we stopped in Sabang for optional activities including zipline and mangrove tour. My friends decided to wait in one of the cottages, while I hopped on a boat for the mangrove tour. It was actually quite nice, since we get to sit quietly in the boat while our guide pointed out the species of mangroves in the area and wildlife including snakes.
We then head over to a restaurant for a buffet lunch featuring local food. The buffet lunch was good — there was a lot of choices and food is decent. We were all happy with it.
Alas, it was time to head over to Sabang Wharf where we took a motorized boat for 15-20 minutes to arrive at Entrance Beach.
The Entrance Beach is beautiful, by the way. There are gigantic karsts similar to that in El Nido and the beach is a beautiful green. There’s a huge signage where tourists normally go for a mandatory photo.
Up ahead there’s a forest where you can see monkeys and komodo dragons. (I was surprised to know there are komodo dragons here; I thought they could only be found in Indonesia!) Then there’s the jump-off point to the underground river tour.
It was time for us to get on one of the paddle boats! We were given a life vest and safety cap each (mandatory), as well as an audio guide with earphones that we can listen through during the tour. I like the soothing voices of the narrators. I think the only way it can be improved if is they get Benedict Cumberbatch.
It was dark inside the cave. Our guide/boat paddler would point his flashlight in specific stalactites and stalagmites and give additional info as well, aside from that we’re listening to. They are creative in likening the formations to common objects such as vegetables. There are also formations similar to the Last Supper and what appears to be the face of Jesus Christ.
We passed by wide passageways and huge rooms including one called The Cathedral.
It was challenging to take photos inside because it’s dark and we were continuously moving.
The tour was a humbling experience. There we were, in one of the grandest natural attractions in the world — peaceful and undisturbed. The soothing voiceover, occasional bat noises and sounds of dripping water from the cave’s ceiling all contributed to giving an amazing experience.
How to get here
Take a flight to Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.
From there, you can either (1) avail of a packaged tour where a van will take care of your round-trip service to the underground river or (2) do-it-yourself and commute.
When is the best time to visit
The Puerto Princesa Underground River is open all-year round. However, it’s best to visit during high season when sea condition is calmer. During bad weather, the underground river may be closed — although this is not a common occurrence.
- Low season: July to October
- High season: November to June
Should you go on a packaged tour or DIY tour?
A DIY tour saves you a little money, but you have to do everything yourself including securing a permit to the underground river day(s) before your visit. I recommend getting a packaged tour to the Puerto Princesa Underground River instead as it’s the easier choice. Most people go this way as well.
DIY tour to Puerto Princesa Underground River
Here are the instructions to a DIY tour to the Puerto Princesa Underground River.
First, you need to secure a permit to the underground office in the tourist office in City Coliseum, Puerto Princesa City. Do this at least a day before your intended visit.
Here are the fees you need to pay:
- PPS underground river permit – P500
- Audio guide rent – P85
From Puerto Princesa, ride a trike or jeep to San Jose Terminal. From there, take a bus to Sabang (P125, 2 hours).
Walk to Sabang port and register. Show your permit and pay the environmental fee (P150). The environmental fee is good for 5 days and can be used for both Puerto Princesa Underground River and Honda Bay. Your permit will be stamped once paid. Show this to the people organizing the motorized boats to the underground river. Fee for boat ride is P185 per person (15-20 minutes). A boat takes 6 passengers so you may need to wait for others, but since there are a lot of tourists going to the underground river, you shouldn’t wait long.
From the Entrance Beach, walk for about 100 meters to the jump-off point to the underground river. There you’ll be put on a paddle boat along with the same passengers you were with in the boat from Sabang.
Packaged tours to Puerto Princesa Underground River
For a packaged tour to the Puerto Princesa Underground River, regular rate is P2000 (plus environmental fee P150). Discounted rates may also be given depending on the season (P1700-1750).
The package includes:
- Round-trip van transfer from/to your accommodation in Puerto Princesa City
- Buffet lunch
- Motorized boat transfer from Sabang to Entrance Beach
- Entrance fee, permit, guide fee
- 45-minute boat tour of the Puerto Princesa Underground River
Pick-up time is usually between 7AM and 8AM. Drop-off time at Puerto Princesa City is 4-5PM.
Book via Travelicious Tours Palawan
I joined a tour via Travelicious Tours Palawan. Ms. Rain is very responsive and accommodating to my questions. I love that the tour was very smooth and everything was taken cared of. Furthermore, our driver and tour guide are fully trained.
I’d easily recommend it to everyone!
Travelicious Tours Palawan also offers discount for group bookings.
Optional activities in Sabang
Upon arrival in Sabang, your guide will have to secure a time slot for your group in the Underground River Authorities Office. Waiting time may sometimes stretch for 1-2 hours. There are optional activities you can do in Sabang while waiting.
- Zipline – P550 per person
- Mangrove tour – P350 per person
- Ugong Rock (zipline with trek and climb) – P550 per person
Things to bring
Here are the things you should bring for the tour:
- Bottled water
- Extra cash for souvenirs or optional activities
- Slippers/flip-flops (your feet might get wet when getting on the boats)
- Dry bag for your essential items
Things you have to know
- There are limited permits given to visitors daily to limit the impact of tourism to the underground river. Hence, it’s best to book a few days ahead (at least 3 days prior). During peak season, this tour may be fully booked to a month.
- Children under 3 years old are not allowed in the tour for safety reasons.
- The water in the underground river is a no-swimming zone.
Where to stay in Puerto Princesa
If you’re staying overnight in Puerto Princesa, you can book discounted rooms in Puerto Princesa here.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Travelicious Tours Palawan for the complimentary tour! As always, thoughts and opinions are my own.
Did this guide to the Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan helped you? If you have any comments or questions, let us know below!