After the five hour drive from El Nido down to Puerto Princesa, I expected to be completely zonked and to fall asleep immediately. This was not the case. All of about two seconds after arriving at Sheebang Hostel in Puerto Princesa City Proper I had made two new friends in the form of Canadian born/London living Lisa and South African Paula. These two women had met whilst on solo trips and after totally hitting it off, began travelling together. We ended up having dinner and several drinks together before the night was out.
They had plans to head to the famous Puerto Princesa Underground River the following day before heading up to El Nido. That sounded like an awesome adventure to me, so I ended up tagging along!
Everything I had read online led me to believe that you must book these trips to the Underground River far in advance, as there are limited permits per day and these book up.
I am calling codswallop!
I rocked up to the front desk of my hostel at like 10pm and requested to go on a minibus tour for the next morning and had absolutely no issues. Now I may have just gotten lucky, but I have a funny feeling that this is not quite the case. Either way – I got on a day tour and that was that.
The drive from Puerto Princesa to the Underground River took around 90 minutes. All of the minibus vans that do these trips are incredibly tiny and cramped though, so you would not want to be stuck on them any longer than that!
Thank goodness for the short 10 minute stop to stretch ones legs!
Once arriving at the permit office, it was time to sit on our bums and wait our turn. There are so many groups waiting to get boats over to the starting point, and unfortunately there is nothing to do but wait.
In order to get our permits organised, our tour guide said we needed to hand over identification, but all I had on me was my passport – my most prized possession! Nobody carries my passport but me, so I told a little fib and said I didn’t have it. She then just wrote down my name and country of birth and told me that was all she needed. Lucky!
Whilst waiting, Lisa and Paula and I enjoyed watching the boats, the people and soaking up some sun!
After about 45 minutes, it was our turn to hop into one of the boats. Tip #1: Do not wear shoes – they will get soaked. Tip #2: Bring earplugs – the motors on the boats are ridiculously deafening! The boat trip takes about 15 minutes and deafening motor aside, it is a pleasant ride.
Once off the boat, it was time for – you guessed it – more waiting!
At this point, you must sit and wait for your turn to get in one of the small canoe-esque boats that can go into the Subterranean River. I was pretty sick of waiting by this point, but the prospect of what was to come kept my enthusiasm from dropping.
So before we chug along into the pictures of the Underground River – you may be wondering – what is this Underground River you speak of?
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. This river is famous for being the longest navigable subterranean river on Earth. The river is 8.2km long, but the whole cave system is estimated to be more than 24km long! These boats only go several kilometres into the cave system however, in order to protect the health of those that inhabit the cave.
Once inside the caves, it gets really dark, really quick!
In order to preserve the caves, no lights have been installed – instead, each of the workers who navigate the boats carries one lone torch. These torches are the only light source in the cave! The lack of light made taking photographs incredibly difficult. As we were always moving it was hard to get captures that weren’t blurred! I did manage to score a couple though.
Though I am sure there are hundreds of different species inhabiting this cave system, the only animals I saw were bats – thousands and thousands of them!
After spending around 45 minutes exploring the cave system, it was time to return to the land of light!
Then it was time to return back to Puerto Princesa and along the way – farewell the lovely Lisa and Paula! I was sad to see them go so soon, but something tells me I will meet them again one day on future travels!
T H E L O W D O W N
Getting to Puerto Princesa: From Manila – book a direct flight with Cebu Pacific, from El Nido – catch a ‘van’ from the bus station
Underground River: Day trips can be organised through Sheebang hostel and cost 1500 pesos ($42)
Sheebang Hostel: The most popular hostel in Puerto Princesa, this place could improve its cleanliness but is a great place to meet people
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12-40mm M.Zuiko Pro Lens
Remember: To bring snacks – you may be waiting a while!