After spending three nights in El Nido, it's quite sad to accept the fact that we were leaving this paradise very soon. The worst part of a great trip is to leave the place you fell in love with. We bade goodbye to El Nido but the good part was leaving to explore another Palawan's wonder - the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park - which is a natural world heritage site.
It's our fourth day in Palawan and we were bound for Puerto Princesa that day. The itinerary was to go to Underground River first, which is 1 hour and 45 minutes away from Puerto Princesa City, before finally heading to Palawan's capital.
We checked out at Hadefe Cottages and left El Nido at 7AM. In our company was two new friends, Tina and Allan, who we met the day before during the island hopping tour C. They were supposed to commute all the way to Puerto Princesa City and take another van to the town of Sabang, the jump-off point to the Underground River. There's no public transportation plying directly from El Nido to Sabang since it's out of way. Around one hour before reaching the city from El Nido there is a separate road that leads to Sabang, which is why it's practical to head directly there. By this, the travel time is cut by 45 minutes as opposed to coming from Puerto Princesa City. Most tourists usually do the Underground River first then El Nido - perhaps this is one of the reasons why only the Sabang-El Nido route is being served.
Luckily, our tour guide told them that they could join us in the transfer. We were heading directly to Sabang beach via the private transportation that was part of the packaged tour. At around 12NN, we arrived at Taraw Vista Lodge and Restaurant located in Sabang beach, just in time for the buffet lunch. This is usually part of the tour before doing the Underground River cruise. One of the exciting things here was getting introduced to "kinilaw na tamilok" or woodworm, an exotic delicacy that is popular in Palawan.
I wasn't in the mood of eating but I tasted a bit of tamilok for the experience. It didn't look enticing at all but it didn't taste bad either. Just like they said, it tasted like oyster. In fact, my friend ordered twice. Each order costs PhP100.
After a hefty lunch (it was buffet!), we headed to Sabang Pier to take a boat ride to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. We waited for around 20 minutes before it was our turn. There was a lot of passengers ahead of us waiting for their assigned boat. It only showed how this attraction has become touristy now.
By the way, a permit is necessary to get in order to take the tour and reserve a slot. Our tour guide was able to secure the permit for us the day before.
The boat ride took about 15 minutes. The rain started to pour down really hard on our way to the Underground River. What greeted us was the horde of tourists waiting for their turn! It took about an hour before our names were called for the underground river cruise.
We followed the wooden trail that led to the docking area. At the docking area, we were instructed to wear a life vest and a helmet as part of the rules. The whole area looked really chaotic. We didn't expect that much tourists that day. Perhaps the bad weather caused the delay of some boat to complete the cruise hence the long waiting time and clogging of tourists.
Finally, we were all set to sail in the longest underground river in the world that stretches 8.2 kilometers long. It has been raining so the water outside of the cave was really murky. It's quite disappointing because we wanted to take photos of the scenery the same way we see it on magazines and TV. Argh.
Entering the cave was kind of exciting and surreal. We saw a lot of impressive limestone formations inside the cave like an image of Jesus, animals, vegetables and more. There was this part which they called the cathedral that's truly spectacular. The sight of thousand of bats was creepy, but amazing nonetheless. And oh, the smell of bat piss was a bit awful. :-) Nevertheless, what we saw was the beautiful work of nature. Palawan never failed to amaze us with its natural beauty and wonder.
My only wish at that time was more and brighter light to highlight the beauty of stalagmite and stalactite formations. For photographers, it may be really hard to take photos inside the cave (some DSLR cameras are having a hard time focusing or do not focus at all in low light). And don't forget to waterproof your camera. The boat man will try his best to avoid the water dripping but some areas can't be avoided.
The whole experience lasted for about 40 minutes. I honestly did not know that only half of the entire length of the river is navigable by boat. What made the experience fun and enjoyable was the witty spiels and jokes of the boat guide.
Aside from the Underground River, the park also features other interesting attractions. It's actually in the middle of a forest that is why exotic animals can be seen wandering around.
Half way into the trail on our way back, we were greeted by monkeys. You will see a lot of them! Tina took out the banana she brought from lunch and suddenly more monkeys started to appear out of nowhere at the sight of it. We almost freaked out because the monkeys looked like they would attack her for the banana. LOL. One of the guides grabbed the banana and motioned to the monkeys to back off. By the way, take note that visitors are not allowed to feed the animals in the park. :-)
It was a great day despite the rainy weather. We were delighted to visit the Puerto Princesa Underground River which is now one of the provisional New 7 Wonders of Nature.
Read more about my El Nido and Puerto Princesa series:
- Part 1 - Palawan: A Gateway to Paradise
- Part 2 - Falling in Love with the Islands of El Nido (Part 1)
- Part 3 - El Nido: Fish Feeding at Simizu Island
- Part 4 - Falling in Love with the Islands of El Nido (Part 2)
- Part 5 - Discovering Palawan's Jewel: The Puerto Princesa Underground River
- Part 6 - Puerto Princesa City Tour