Philippines 2011: Day 12 – Puerto Princesa Underground River tour, Palawan

Date: April 28th 2011

I was up and ready by 7:30am. I waited for the tour van to come pick me up for today’s tour of the longest underground river in the world, the Sabang Subterranean River (which on November 11 this year, became one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature — based on public votes).

Tour van Palawan Philippines
I was the first to be picked up. I was also given a bottle of iced tea and a Palawan souvenir pouch. I don't know if it was because I was the first to be picked up, but I didn't see other passengers get it
Area near Microtel Inn beach resort Puerto Princesa Palawan
One of the members in our tour van had to be picked up from the Microtel Beach Hotel
Emerald playa beach and nature park Puerto Princesa Palawan
Which gave me the chance to check out the mangrove beach on this side of Puerto Princesa
Microtel Beach hotel Puerto Princesa Palawan
It was a bit of a wait, so we all went in
Microtel Inn emerald playa beach Puerto Princesa Palawan
Microtel is one among the few posher accommodation options in Puerto Princesa
Microtel emerald playa beach Puerto Princesa Palawan
The beach isn't great, but it's all you get near Puerto Princesa citytown
Microtel Inn emerald beach mangrove Puerto Princesa Palawan
We headed back to our van
Microtel Inn lobby Puerto Princesa Palawan
The lobby of the Microtel hotel (Above photos were all taken using my phone)
Inside tour van Palawan Philippines
Once everyone was picked up from their respective hotels, we were on our way
Palawan highway Philippines
Since I was sitting at the back, I tried my best to take photos from behind the tinted glass
Hill range Palawan island Philippines
The hills of Palawan look lovely

Palawan highway road bendPalawan highway concreted roads Philippines

Honda bay Palawan Philippines
To our right was Honda Bay

Highway to Sambang Palawan

Road under construction Palawan Philippines
The smooth roads eventually gave way to bumpy ones

The van stopped at a viewpoint on the way for a break.

Beunavista viewdeck Palawan Philippines
Yes mayor, I'm sure you did this with your own salary. Psssh.
Viewdeck on the way in Palawan
The locals sell food and other small items here -- and there's a toilet, thus the stop
South China sea Puerto Princesa Palawan
The South China Sea

South China sea from viewdeck Palawan

Cock chicken viewdeck Palawan
We got back in our van

 Hill forest Palawan PhilippinesBranchless trees Palawan PhilippinesRoad to Sabang village Puerto Princesa Palawan

Cabayugan Puerto Princesa PalawanSabang mountain Puerto Princesa National Park Palawan

Sabang mountain Puerto Princesa national park Philippines
The guide pointed to that big hill
Mountain Puerto Princesa National Park Palawan Philippines
The underground river is beneath that!
Sabang beach village Palawan Philippines
After one and half hours of driving, we were by the sea
Sabang outrigger boats Palawan Philippines
Ahh, finally! What I came to Palawan for. No, not the boats... crystal clear water!

Sabang community stage Puerto Princesa PalawanSabang beach courtyard Palawan Philippines

Sabang beach clear water Puerto Princesa Palawan
Sabang beach
Sabang boats Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
It was time for my group to begin our tour

Sabang boat tour Puerto Princesa Palawan

Sabang South China sea water Puerto Princesa Palawan
I like these boats, they feel safe
South China sea Filipino outrigger boat Philippines
The bamboo poles on either side prevents the boat from flipping over (well, in theory at least)
Limestone rock Sabang beach Palawan Philippines
Even though I've seen similar sights in Malaysia and Thailand, I never tire of these limestone rock formations amidst blue waters

Puerto Princesa hills Palawan island

Arriving at Puerto Princesa national park by boat
We arrived at the Puerto Princesa National Park

Puerto Princesa National Park beach Palawan Philippines

Puerto Princesa subterranean river national park Palawan PhilippinePuerto Princesa Subterranean river national park Palawan

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park entrance
Since our tour cost ₱1500 ($34/€25), all our charges were covered
Long-tailed macaques Sabang underground river Palawan
Lots of monkeys here too

Puerto Princesa National Park do-not-feed animals sign

Puerto Princesa national park wooden path to river
I walked towards the underground river
Puerto Princesa national park heritage site information Palawan
This place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Puerto Princesa National Park facts figures Palawan PhilippinesPuerto Princesa national park cave tour rules Palawan

Boat entering Sabang Underground river Palawan Philippines
The cave... beautiful, isn't it? 🙂
Sabang Underground river tourists photo Palawan Philippines
We had to wait for our turn, as they only allow one boat in at a time
Sabang under river emerald water Palawan Philippines
Look at the colour of that water!
Sabang underground river Mithun Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
Yes, finally, a photo of me

Sabang underground river swamp Puerto Princesa Palawan When it came time for us to go in, the guide asked which one of us would volunteer to hold the light. When researching, I read that the person who has to hold the light gets to sit in the front, so I ‘volunteered’. Now, I needed to sit in the front if I wanted to take good photographs inside, because as it is, it was going to be dark. On top of that, I didn’t want somebody obstructing my view. Also, holding the light gave my camera a light beam to focus on — and I could only shoot with auto-focus on given my hands were now occupied with two tasks.

So I sat, adjusted my tripod’s height and set the camera’s settings. I was going to hold the light with my left hand and press the camera shutter with my right hand.

Entrance to Sabang Underground river cave Palawan Philippines
Helmets and life-jackets on, we followed suit
Entrance to Puerto Princesa subterranean underground river Palawan
Here we go! 🙂
Inside underground river limestone cave Palawan
I knew it was going to be tough to shoot inside while moving and shooting in manual mode that too. I didn't want to use flash since I assumed it wouldn't be good for the eyes of the cave's creatures.
Inside underground river cave swallow bird Sabang Philippines
But other tourists inside the cave were shooting with the flash on and the guides didn't say anything. So I switched my camera to Auto mode and continued shooting.

Inside Puerto Princesa underground river darkness cave PalawanInside underground cave Puerto Princesa PhilippinesPuerto Princesa underground river cave tour Philippines

Inside underground river cave Puerto Princesa Philippines
It was cool inside the cave
Inside underground river cave tourists boat Sabang Philippines
Other boats were making their way back

Inside underground river cave stalactites Philippines

Inside underground river cave boat lights Sabang Philippines
Kinda looks like car in the distance doesn't it?

Inside underground river limestone rock ancient Puerto Princesa

Inside underground river one light Puerto Princesa
Besides the sounds of the cave dwelling fauna, the only echoes one could hear were the cheers of the tourists

Puerto Princesa underground river tourists Sabang Palawan

Inside underground river dinosaur rock formations Puerto Princesa
The guide would point to many limestone formations that were moulded over hundreds of years into shapes resembling many things. Like these 'dinosaurs'.
Undergound river National Research Council Puerto Princesa
Scientists visit the underground river quite often

Inside Underground river 7 wonders Puerto Princesa Philippines Deep inside underground river Sabang Palawan Philippines

Inside underground river candle shape rock Philippines
The 'candle' rock
Inside underground river horse Palawan Philippines
Spot the horse 🙂
Inside underground river stalagmite Palawan Philippines
There are a lot of birds flying about inside
Inside underground river rocks Palawan Philippines
This is the only 'land mass' we came across
Inside underground river religious Palawan Philippines
This was something resembling a 'religious' event, but I can't recall what the guide told us

Inside underground river stalactites Palawan PhilippinesInside underground river Puerto Princesa tooth rock Philippines

Inside underground river stalactites shape Puerto Princesa Philippines
There were many more object-shaped rock formations

Inside underground river limestone rocks cave Puerto Princesa Philippines

Inside underground river stalactites cave Puerto Princesa Philippines Inside underground river dark cave Puerto Princesa PhilippinesInside underground river molar limestone shape PhilippinesInside underground river cave rocks Puerto Princesa Philippines

Inside underground river end point for tourists Puerto Princesa
We had reached the end point for tourists. Even though the underground river is the 8.2 km (5 miles) long, only a kilometre is allowed to tourists. To go beyond that, you need a special permit.
Inside underground river turning around Puerto Princesa Philippines
The boat turned around
Inside underground river big insects Puerto Princesa Palawan
Because I was holding the torch lamp, these big bugs were all over me. I had no idea what they were, but they made my position all the more uncomfortable.
Inside underground river man face rock Puerto Princesa Palawan
This was a 'face' rock

Inside underground river limestone cave Puerto Princesa Palawan Inside underground river cave rock formations Puerto Princesa Palawan

Inside underground river cave swallow birds Puerto Princesa Palawan
Swallow birds, lots of them inside

Inside underground river cave ceiling Puerto Princesa Palawan

Inside underground river cave ceiling structure Puerto Princesa Palawan Puerto Princesa underground river rock tourist boat Sabang PalawanPuerto Princesa underground river stalactites Sabang PalawanPuerto Princesa underground river candle rock Sabang Palawan

Puerto Princesa underground candle rock Sabang Palawan
Past the candle rock again

Inside underground river rock in water Puerto Princesa PalawanInside underground river limestone rock reflection upper cave PalawanInside underground river journey back Palawan PhilippinesInside underground river limestone rocks upper cave PalawanInside underground river boat going back PalawanInside subterranean river boat tour Puerto Princesa Palawan

Sabang subterranean river boat ride Puerto Princesa Palawan

Inside subterranean river jesus face Puerto Princesa Palawan
I don't remember if I took this shot because the guide told us it resembled Jesus' face

Sabang subterranean river boat tour Puerto Princesa Palawan

Inside subterranean river stalactites rock Puerto Princesa Palawan
Yes, the boat went in between these rocks

Inside subterranean river cave Puerto Princesa Philippines

Sabang subterranean river towards entrance Puerto Princesa Palawan
After nearly half an hour inside the cave...
Sabang subterranean river cave opening Puerto Princesa Palawan
..."light at the end of the tunnel"

Sabang underground river cave opening Puerto Princesa Palawan

Sabang subterranean river towards entrance Puerto Princesa Philippines
Here we go...

Leaving subterranean river light end of tunnel Puerto Princesa Palawan

Coming out of underground river Sabang Palawan

The boat dropped us back to the banks where I collected my bag from the counter. Going inside the subterranean river is my second cave experience on this trip, the first being back in Sagada last week. I truly enjoyed this though! The above photos were just a few of the 140 shots I totally took from inside. 30 minutes went by really quickly and you don’t even realize it took that long until you look at your watch. I wondered what the remaining 7 kilometres must be like.

Underground river beach boats Palawan Philippines
Walked back towards the boats

Underground river beach children playing tree Palawan Underground river beach boats anchored Palawan PhilippinesPalawan island beach boat boy Philippines

Subterranean river tour boat Palawan
Our tour group gathered and headed back to our boat

Underground river beach getting shade under tree Palawan Palawan island limestone rock Sabang Philippines

Palawan island hill Philippines
Everytime I see islands like this, I'm reminded of LOST (man, I miss that TV show!)

Filipino bamboo boat hitting waves Palawan sea Philippines

Palawan island boat going through rocks Philippines
Yes, our boat would go through these rocks as well
Palawan island boat sea rocks Philippines
Don't know if the boat drivers do it as a challenge 🙂

Palawan island rock Sabang beach Philippines

Palawan island Sabang beach coconut trees Philippines
I was looking forward to spending some time at the beach and in the water
Sabang beach Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
We walked back to the shore, where a buffet lunch was prepared for us

Twig in water beach Palawan Philippines

Sabang beach Puerto Princesa Philippines
I thought of hitting the water before lunch but...
Sabang beach no swimming sign Palawan
... I don't know why it was so

I still went into the water, knee deep.

Sabang beach coconut trees Panorama Palawan
Panorama comprised of 7 shots

I then decided to check out the accommodation available on Sabang beach in case my readers were looking for information on where to stay on Sabang beach.

Vista Lodge and restaurant Sabang beach Puerto Princesa Palawan
There weren't many beach front 'hotels' as such
Taraw beach resort Sabang beach Palawan Puerto Princesa
Got a card from here. Some info: 09196011227/09215492156; e-mail:
Green Verde beach inn restaurant Sabang beach Puerto Princesa Palawan
Ph: 0910-978-4539/0926-701-9246; e-mail: (as mentioned on their card)

The lady at Green Verde curiously asked me where I was from, among a few other questions. I asked her if it was easy to get from Sabang to El Nido and she told the only way it’s ‘easy’ is when there is a group big enough to fit a private van that can be booked in advance. That’s it. Otherwise, its back to the junction at the main highway and wait for a bus to El Nido.

Considering how much time I spent yesterday, going back and forth thinking how to do Sabang and then El Nido, I guess it is far more convenient to do the Underground River tour from Puerto Princesa City itself.

Dog at Green Verde resort Sabang beach Puerto Princesa Palawan

Sambang beach coconut tree Palawan Philippines Panorama
I liked taking panorama shots of these trees (comprised of 6 shots)
Buffet lunch Sabang Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
I had my lunch, which was mostly barbecued tuna and other dry dishes. (Didn't really enjoy it much)
Sabang beach yacht Puerto Princesa Palawan
We left Sabang past 2pm
Sabang beach village Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
No matter how far or how small a village is, you will always find a basketball hoop in Philippines

Sabang farm Puerto Princesa Palawan PhilippinesThe journey back was another one and half hours. In the end, I felt I made the right choice by opting to simply do a tour from Puerto Princesa itself, instead of attempting it myself. I mean, I would only suggest going at it alone if you plan on staying on Sabang beach a few days. It would have cost me about the same but had I done it myself, it would have proven to be quite difficult.

I spent the rest of the day back at Banwa Arthouse’s cafe, researching on El Nido, but as I went through my photos, newer guests who had checked in that day said their “hello” and began conversations. First a Japanese surfer, who spent a few months in Canada picking apples (seriously, some of the people I meet on my backpacking  journeys) and then spent those earnings traveling throughout India and is now in the Philippines. (Sigh, it’s moments like this I wonder why I spent 8 years working at multi-national corporation back in Bangalore!)

Then a group of young Danes (I believe they told me they were Danish) asked me where I had been today. We spent quite some time talking and then, we decided to go to Baybay for dinner and check out what was happening there tonight.

We walked to Baybay expecting a crowded festival.

Babybay at night food stalls Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
Hmmm, not quite
Chicken intestine fried street food Palawan Philippines
We all bought some beer cans and decided to snack. We tried fried chicken intestine first.
Barbecued meat stick Philippines street food Puerto Princesa
Had this next. Barbecued... something (I don't remember what)
Filipino food Palawan stall Philippines street food
Quite a lot of Filipino cuisine is this shade of dark brown
Babybay at night Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
Walked around a bit with our beers in hand
Danish tourists burger stall Palawan Philippines
'Main course' was hamburger

Just as we were walking out, a b-boy dance battle was announced to begin.

Baybay b-boy competition Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
Puerto Princesa's finest dance crews (I'm presuming) were on stage
Baybay dance crew stage competition Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
Some of the moves were impressive
Baybay dance battle Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
We didn't hang around for too long though

Back in the room, the Danes were curious about all the places I had already been to in Philippines and wanted to see my photos. After an hour of that, I paid for my two nights stay at Banwa Arthouse as I was checking out tomorrow early morning. I had to call it an early night. Tomorrow I was going to take the first bus to the final stop on my Philippines tour — El Nido.

And wait till you see those photos! 😉

Previous posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Day 11 – Arriving in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 10 – Bohol tour: Chocolate Hills, Loboc river cruise, Tarsiers, churches

Philippines 2011: Day 9 – Cebu: Fort San Pedro, Basilica of Santo Niño, Taoist Temple

Philippines 2011: Day 8 – Manila tour: Rizal Park, Intramuros, Manila Cathedral, China Town

Philippines 2011: Day 7 – Leaving Angeles City for Manila, Mall of Asia

Philippines 2011: Day 6 – Good Friday in San Fernando, San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites

Philippines 2011: Leaving Sagada for Baguio, and arriving in Angeles city (Days 4 & 5)

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Sagada’s Lumiang burial cave, Sumaguing cave, Hanging Coffins of Echo valley

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Banaue town; heading to Sagada via Bontoc

Philippines 2011: Day 2 – Banaue rice terraces; trekking to Batad village

Philippines 2011: Day 1 — Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Fort Bonifacio

Philippines 2011: Flying over South China Sea for the first time

Other posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Day 13 – Puerto Princesa to El Nido by bus

Philippines 2011: Day 14 – El Nido island hopping tour A and sunset at Las Cabanas beach, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Back to Manila, shopping, and my final thoughts about the country  (Last post)

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  • Daryll


    Wow! I’m a Filipino and I’d like to visit Palawan someday… maybe on my summer vacation I will go there. Do you have a budget breakdown of the accomodations/transportation? I’d really appreciate it! 🙂


    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Hey Daryll, I mention how much I spent everyday in each individual post. Please check out the older posts and you’ll get the numbers. I still have two more posts from Palawan, both from El Nido, so please wait for those.


  • Vanda


    Hello, Mithun

    I am a Brazilian professor, and I am writing a book about world heritage sites. I am wondering if you could give me permission to use some of your pictures of Puerto Princesa subterranean river in my book. All the credits would be given.

    I thank you very much the kindness of an answer. Could it be to my e-mail, please? Thanks!!!

    All the best,



  • Sudhagee


    Thank you for taking me on the underground river trip with you. That’s what your narration and photographs made me feel 🙂


    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    Glad you enjoyed your experience! 🙂


  • stephane


    Hi, i like to know to visite the water cave can we just go alone with are own boat or its always just with a tour?? thanx


    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    You need to get a permit before entering the cave if you wish to explore on your own. Most people just do the tours as its the most convenient – especially since the tourists are majorly from Puerto Princesa and other resorts.


  • fe



    do you think you can just go to sabang beach then cross going to the cave but not entering it? would u stillpay the same amount?



    Mithun Divakaran Reply:

    I’m not sure. Most likely yes.


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