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The New 7 Wonders of Nature: The Underground River

The Puerto Princessa Underground River, Palawan, Philippines

sunny 30 °C
View Philippines Trip on Anja Fourie's travel map.

After a week on the small island of Boracay, we make our way West to the larger island of Palawan.

The island is approximately 450kms long and has a width of about 50kms. The island's capital is Puerto Princesa. The island's capital is geographically one of the bigger cities in the Philippines, but also the least densely populated city in the country with a population of 222,673. The name, Spanish for Princess Port, is a real princess of ports as its depth can accommodate any size vessel and it is protected from the elements by its location. Queen Isabella II of Spain, named the port after her daughter. The city was founded in 1872.

1. Coming in for landing over Palawan
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2. Deep Forest Garden Resort

The hotel that we stayed in was called the Deep Forest Garden Resort. The place is quite magnificent and you truly feel like you are deep in the forest when you are inside the grounds. In the center there is a swimming pool, underwater chess, a bar, restaurant, lifesize casts of animals and some hidden places covered with vines and plants. Around this area, is a path, and all the rooms are located next to the path. Our room was really nice and the hotel staff very friendly. They also have a book, where you can look at the types of tours on offer around Puerto Princesa. The hotel will book them for you and they are also at a very decent price.

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3. Badjao Sea Front Restaurant
One of the first nights we were there we went to a restaurant that is located in the middle of the ocean. You have to walk across a bridge to get to the restaurant which is standing on stilts in the water. The views are very beautiful and the food was great.

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4. Firefly Watching
One of the tours we choose through the hotel, was to go Firefly Watching. You are unfortunately not allowed to take photos when you are near the fireflies, as the flash scares them off. The fireflies can only be seen far from the city lights, so taking a photo with no flash is basically useless. We were picked up at the hotel and taken to the port where a ferry boat picked us up and took us into the river. Here two smaller boats were waiting. They have very small engines that make a very soft sound, so not to scare the fireflies away. The water is surrounded by high trees and forestation on either way and the fireflies can be spotted in them. Groups of lights. The eery silence and blinding darkness of the night, made the spotting of the first group of fireflies so amazing. The water also contains algae, which lights up as the boat glides through it. It made it seem like the boat was spraying a stream of glitter behind it.

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5. Honda Bay
We also chose to do a Honday Bay Island Hopping trip. Honda Bay is the Bay where the city of Puerto Princesa is located in on the Eastern side of Palawan Island. Many small islands are scattered here, and the water is blue and clear and warm. This day trip consists of going to three different places. Your tour group also will not be big as the boats can't take many people. Not more than 8 at a time. First you will stop at a place to rent some snorkeling gear. Then get on the little boats and make your way over to a snorkeling sport. This is a man made mini-island of jetties floating in the water. The small boats dock here and you get in the water and snorkel for a bit. Some reef parts are protected which you are not allowed to swim over. It was very different than snorkeling in Boracay, where we were only 4 people. Here it was super crowded with tourists and about a 100 people are snorkeling in the designated area. We were only allowed a short time too and then we had to get out and leave.

Next, we went to one of the small islands and enjoyed lunch and some more swimming. The water is so warm that we mostly just drifted and relaxed in the shallow water. Although, there hardly are any waves. After lunch, you will head to one more island to swim and dive for star fish and then it is home town. After all the swimming and running around in the sun, we were proper exhausted and fell asleep in the car on the way back. A day well spent.

Check out this video of us: Snorkeling in the Philippines

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6. The Puerto Princesa Underground River (New 7 Wonder of the World)
Technically, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, is the site which has been given New 7 Wonders of the World Status. The river is located about 50kms North of Puerto Princesa. To get there, we once again, organised a trip through the hotel. To visit the park, you need a permit. To get the permit, you just go to the office in Puerto Princesa, wait a few minutes and then chosoe your time that you want to go. There are only certain times during the day when you can enter, and this is to ensure that it doesn't get too crowded. Beware not to choose a time that is too early as you need to be at the harbour, at least an hour before your permit time. And, the small and mostly dirt road from Puerto Princesa may take up to 2 hours. We had to get up very early for our pickup to be in time for our 10:30am permit.

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There are hotels that are on located on the harbour by the National Park, so you can stay there as well. When you get to the little harbour, your guide will tkae your permits and organise with a boat to the park. The park is accessible by hiking there, but not by any vehicles.
The 5min ride around the cliffside takes you to a small beach. Here all the boats unload the tourists and go back to fetch more. You get a boat number and you are only allowed to return with that boat. Also, prepare to get wet at least up to your knees, as you have to walk into the water to climb on the boat, as you can see in the photo below.

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Next, you can stop for some photo opportunities with the sign that shows the status of the river.

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You then get to put on some lifejackets and safety helmets. You walk through a little path and in the forest and get to another little beach. Here, you climb onto another small boat. This boat has no engine, but is rowed solely by the guide who sits at the back. The cave is approximately 24kms long. Regular tourists are only allowed up to 1km or so, but researchers can purchase an additional permit and enter further into the cave. Really deep areas are very difficult to explore, because of the oxygen deprivation. The cave also has a second floor above, which means that small waterfalls fall into the river.

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The cave houses a massive 300m high dome, with some incredible rock formations and inscriptions on the walls. These were from earlier explorers. The rock formations take on different shapes like people or animals if you look at it from the correct angles. Many bats live in the caves and you can hear them making noises throughout the ride. There are a total of 9 different species of bat in the cave. Reptiles such as pythons and sneasnakes are also swimming in the cave's water. This made us sit very very still on that little boat.

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The water is also a milky blue colour. The distinguishing feature of this river is that it flows directly into the South China Sea and is influenced by the tides.

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7. Bearcats and Snakes
After returning back to shore, we walked a little distance along the beach to a restaurant. Here we spotted some cows walking on the beach. And then, the bearcats and the snake. Bearcats, also known as the Asian Bearcat or Palawan Bearcat, doesn't really look like a bear or a car. It sort of reminds me of a sloth, but the paws are more like a rodent. They are from Palawan, but can also sometimes be found in other parts of South Eat Asia, such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. They are soft and adorably cute. Even the name is cute. They are really quite lazy, though and prefer to sleep and eat. They can also grow as old as 20 years.

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The snakes on the other hand were a different story. The 5 year olds play with them like they are baby kittens. I had the snake on me for about two second to take the photo and then I almost cried for the boy to take it off me. It is completely terrifying when that head starts to sliver and turn towards you.

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With our Palawan tour to an end, we had three more days left of our holiday and decided to head out of the rural areas and spent some time in the city.
Next stop: Manila

Posted by Anja Fourie 19.08.2012 17:23 Archived in Philippines Tagged boats fish ocean philippines palawan swimming snorkel underground_river puerto_princessa honda_bay

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Amazing experience!

05.02.2013 by Helena Fourie

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