The Philippines are known to have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We were definitely looking forward to some beach time, but also really excited to explore the inner part of the islands along with seeing the underground river.
The longest underground river in the world?
The Puerto Princesa underground river is actually the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. It is absolutely beautiful, and was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999, and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012. It was also long believed to be the world’s longest underground river, until the discovery of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
After flying to Puerto Princesa, Jess and I spend only one night before making our way about an hour up the island to the Deep Jungle Love and Peace Resort. Despite its' very entertaining name, it was actually a really great place to stay. We were traveling on a backpacker’s budget and so we booked one of the cheapest huts they had up on a hill. As luck would have it since we were traveling during the rainy season we arrived to find the place completely devoid of guests, and were quickly given a beautiful cabana right on the river at no extra charge. Not a bad deal for only having to deal with about an hours worth of rain a day.
After a few days there we began to realize that perhaps we might have made a bit of a mistake in leaving Puerto Princesa so quickly. We had taken a van to get there, and while the isolation was relaxing in the beginning, it was beginning to prove problematic in getting just about anywhere else. If you have not been to The Philippines, be sure to check out Transportation In The Philippines to read all about getting around.
If Jess and I had stayed in Puerto Princesa just a bit longer we would have discovered that joining a tour group or renting a scooter would have made it super easy for us to get north to Sabang. Instead we were already too far north and we ended up having to flag down a local van along side the road and negotiate a price for the ride. Side note, all of the tour vans that come zipping by you on their way to Sabang aren’t going to stop. You have to charter them from the beginning. Frustrating let me tell you, especially when you know they’re all going exactly where you want to go.
After far too long trying to wave down a ride Jess and I finally made it to Sabang, and from there it was a no brainier. Sabang is a little town that serves as little more than a tourist waiting area for people going to see the river. There are shops selling t-shirts and more sarongs than you can shake a stick at. If you are looking to get a fresh juice smoothie it’s a great place for that as well.
How to get a ticket to tour the Underground River without paying the extra tour prices
Locals might try and offer you a tour to see the underground river. This tour will not include anything besides a normal ticket at an inflated price. Just continue on your way and make you're way down to the docks. We found a rather official looking building and went inside. There were some government people who explained to us that since the river is a national park, all visitors must pay a 40 peso fee for an entry permit. Don’t fret too much, 40 Pilippino Pesos is less than one U.S. Dollar. We paid our fees and brought the receipt they gave us outside to the docks. There we were able to buy a tour ticket for 250 Pesos ($5.56)
Once we had our tickets we were instructed to stay close. There was a line of people waiting to get on boats, but by the stream of outriggers going in and out we didn’t get the feeling we were going to have to wait long.
Even better than a tour package
It was indeed only a short while before our number was called, and Jess and I were shuttled onto a boat big enough for about 12 people, and to our surprise we shoved off almost immediately with only us and the two crew members on board. It wasn’t explained to us at any point how this was going to work, and so we opted to just relax and follow the crew’s instructions.
After a short boat ride we pulled up to a beach and were told to go ashore. One of the crew members stayed with the boat while the other took off into the jungle “Better follow him” we thought. We followed our guide down a boardwalk through the jungle until we came to a river filled with much smaller boats.
We were given a life jacket, a hardhat, and then told to get in with some other people. We waved goodbye to our guide who waited on shore as we floated off with a new guide and a whole group of ladies from South America.
As we came around the bend there it was, the ominous cave entrance that practically demanded you take out your camera. Our guide at the back of the boat paddled us into position with the stream of identical boats making their way in and out of the mouth of the cave.
That one looks like Jesus!
One lucky passenger at the front was given a light connected to a car battery so that we could see and we spent the next fifteen or so minuets paddling into the cave. “Look here, look there” our guide would say pointing at the stalactites and stalagmites “That one looks like Jesus” he would say, to the resounding “Why yes YES! It is Jesus!” from our South American co-passengers. It’s worth noting at this point that The Philippines were a Spanish colony for quite some time, and so most of the locals are Catholic.
Jess and I were a bit surprised to find that our boat turned around rather quickly. The river is about five miles long and so we had anticipated a longer ride. As it turns out the oxygen level drops rapidly the further you go down the river, and so it requires a different permit to see anything other than the first little bit. The deep exploration permit is also typically reserved for scientists and environmentalists.
After arriving back on shore we were greeted by the guide from our first boat who told us to follow him back down the jungle boardwalk and back to our first larger boat, where we were brought back to Sabang.
It was a short trip, and we were not exactly stoked to find ourselves dealing again with the issue of getting from Sabang back to our jungle resort but a fun day nonetheless. For less than $20 total you really can't beat the chance to see one of natures true wonders, the Underground River!
Have you ever been to an underground river? Was your experience similar to ours? Tell us in the comments below!