Inside the underground river, Palawan, Philippines

30 days in the Philippines – the Puerto Princesa Underground River

Days 27 – 30: After a long day island hopping in Honda Bay, we headed out to see the only craft brewery in Palawan – Palaweño Brewery, before getting ready for our trip to the famed Puerto Princesa Underground River the next day. Along the way we passed a huge street dancing practice session for the MIMAROPA Festival, which was performed to the beat of several drums. Passing down a dark non-descript road, past some barking dogs, we came across a mobile establishment and were welcomed with: “Come in, we are the drunk ones”.

We listened to the story of how Dave, the head brewer, his aunt Aya and her partner Malu, started making just a few bottles of beer per day by learning from Youtube. After sampling a couple of types we were convinced that these were as good as anything we had found in Europe and even tasted a little cleaner due to their very micro process and personal attention paid to each bottle. Their brewery tour consisted of one small room with a couple of vats and we weren’t even allowed in — in case of contamination.

Underground River bay, Palawan, Philippines
Bangkas at the Underground River bay, Palawan, Philippines

The Puerto Princesa Underground River

The next day, we were picked up and taken to the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Near to Sabang, it is one of the most popular trips for visitors to the area. This was evident from the amount of bangkas speckling the shore. We took our compulsory photos near the Underground River sign before taking the forest trail to the entrance, looking out for large monitor lizards and monkeys along the way. Not seeing any on this occasion, we made our way to a little jetty ready to board our boat. Donning our life jackets, helmets and life jackets, we clambered into a small wooden paddle boat to begin the tour.

Puerto Princesa Underground River, Philippines
Underground River Entrance, Sabang, Palawan, Philippines

As instructed we started our audio guide and were gently punted away from the jetty. As we slowly glided towards the mouth of the cave, we felt excited, but also apprehensive to enter the blackness. We heard the quiet drip of water on our helmets, known to the locals as holy water. We had been warned by our guide that if we felt warm drips, that was ‘holy shit’, as the cave is inhabited by bats.

Inside the Puerto Princesa Underground River

The river runs 8.2 kilometres through the gaping limestone caves, although visitors only see a small section of this. After some time it came clear however that when our audio guide had made, they had been taking some other type of trip. What it told us we were looking at took more imagination than was possible to conjure up. So instead of just admiring the rock formations for their beauty in their own right, we felt inclined to look for “Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct”, all kind of vegetable shapes and even Jesus. We remained a little bemused by the audio, but were happy to have seen the second longest underground river in the world (it used to be the longest up until recently when there was one discovered in Mexico).

Monitor Lizard Underground River, Palawan, Philippines
Monitor Lizard Underground River, Palawan, Philippines

On our way back through the forest path we were lucky enough to see the previously elusive monitor lizards and a few monkeys eyeing us up. 

Cocktail in Pool, Sabang, Philippines
Cocktail in Daluyon Pool, Sabang, Philippines.

The luxurious Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort in Sabang

After another buffet lunch, we were taken down a very rocky road to our resort, Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort in Sabang. Glad of our welcome drink, we refreshed in the luxurious beach house, adorned with Palawan artwork. That afternoon, we took a plunge in the pool accompanied by a piña colada.

waterfall, Sabang, Palawan, Philippines
Waterfall, Sabang, Palawan, Philippines

Moving to budget nipa huts the next day – Sunbird Cottages and Blue Bamboo Restaurant, we found ourselves nearer to the Sabang Falls. Strolling along the coastal path we were surprised to find a Flipino-style Chinese Buddhist temple with a basic metal roof and filled with elaborate statues. We took a moment to light an incense stick and we on own way. Arriving at the waterfall, we were happy to see the son of the owner of our accommodation and took some selfies together before climbing to the pool above where we could admire the true power of the falls. After returning, we had fun being carried around by the sea waves and Esme had a rare chance to eat vegetarian food, prepared by a well-esteemed chef.

Making our way back in the dark to the huts, we happened upon a beauty pageant to decide the Ecotourism Ambassador for the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Functioning pretty much as a normal beauty pageant would, they paraded in formal wear, beach wear and night wear, before giving a speech about why they should be the ecotourism ambassador. Luckily there were free shots of rum on hand to make the experience more palatable.

Because Palawan has been our favourite island so far, we had extended our month visa in Puerto Princesa and therefore we will extend our 30 Days in the Philippines‘ posts. So check back on our tag for the extended updates!