Exploring the Underground River

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Underground River Header Image

Underground River Header ImageThe Underground River is one of the main attractions of Puerto Princesa in Palawan. For a long time and until 2007, it was considered the world’s longest underground river. In 2012, the Underground River was chosen as one of the 7th wonders of Nature.

In addition, the national park hosting the river is officially a World heritage site by UNESCO since December 1999 due to its rich ecosystem and for having one of the world’s most impressive cave systems.

Alex facing the entrance of the Underground River

The entrance of the Underground River

Where is the Underground River located?

The Underground River is located approximately 80 km north-west of Puerto Princesa near a beach town named Sabang, which is the point of departure of the boats to the Underground River site.

Getting to the Underground River

You can ride a bus from Puerto Princesa to Sabang at the San José bus terminal, which will take you around 1.5 to 2 hours to get to Sabang.

The Underground River being one of the most visited site around Puerto Princesa, you can expect large crowds of tourists. That is why you want to get there early enough.

How to prepare your tour for the Underground River

Many tour operators have packages that cover everything including transportation from Puerto Princesa (pick-up at your hotel) to Sabang. You can also do the tour yourself.

We usually prefer organizing our own activities to avoid the tourist masses but in that case, we chose to go with a tour operator for the following reasons:

  • Accessing the site requires you to get permits at the Sabang Pier office. It’s not hard to get it yourself but we didn’t have time to get them as we arrived late in Puerto Princesa the day before our tour.
  • You will only save a few pesos from doing it yourself.
  • You can’t avoid the crowds as they maximize each boat that goes in the Underground River (We will clarify more below)

The Underground River tour

If you’re doing it yourself, you should arrive early (Office for the permits opens at 8 a.m. but you can expect many people to arrive before the opening).

Long line at Sabang Pier

Many people waiting to get on the boats at Sabang Pier!

  • 6 a.m.: Pick up at our hotel. Our guide is very nice and knowledgeable sharing some history facts about Puerto Princesa and the Underground River while we are on our way.
  • 9:30 a.m.: We arrive at the Sabang Pier and wait for 30 mins while our guide is securing the permits and paying the environmental fees. You wouldn’t believe how many people are already waiting to board the boats.
  • 10 a.m.: We got our permits but we are far down the list and will need to wait a couple of hours before we can get on a boat. The good thing is while waiting, you have the possibility to do some side activities like Kayaking in Mangroves or Ziplining above the water. We chose to do the zipline and we were lucky to find a desert beach all for ourselves on the way.
  • 3 p.m.: It’s finally our turn to get on the boat that will take us to the entrance of the park. The boats have a maximum capacity of 6 people which explains why we had to wait for so long!
  • 3:30 p.m.: We arrive at the entrance of the park and secure our audio devices for the tour. The audio device is available in many languages. After a 5 mins walk, we arrive at the entrance of the Underground River where we have to wait for our turn to get on one of the canoes. You can’t get one by yourself and have to be with a guide.
  • 4 p.m.: Our turn comes. We wear life vests and helmets with torches (it’s pitch-black inside the caves so you will need the torches). The tour goes on for an hour while your audio guide tells you about the history of the Underground River and why it is so unique.
  • 5 p.m.:  We finish the tour and head to the entrance to get a boat back to the Sabang Pier.
  • 5:30 p.m.: Arriving at the Sabang Pier. We take our bus back to Puerto Princesa.
  • 7:30 p.m.: We are back in Puerto Princesa.
Front of the boat facing the entrance of a cave

Entering the Underground River

Side activities

As we mentioned, you can go enjoy ziplining above the water or kayaking in the mangroves while waiting for your turn.

We chose the zipline and we spent the rest of our free time swimming and chilling on the beach nearby.

The water there was beautiful and the weather just perfect. Definitely a better option than grilling on the pier.

Zipline aerial view of the sea and beach

Ready for the ride!

Couple ziplining

IG stories behind the scenes! 😉

Nanda walking on the beach

Better here than on the Pier!

Couple swimming under water

How we spend time waiting for our turn.

The budget

Since we took the tour, we don’t have the budget breakdown for the do-it-yourself option. You will find below the details of our stay in Puerto Princesa for the Underground River tour.

As per our hotel, we chose to stay in The Lotus Garden Inn located near the airport. The place was decent and the price included breakfast.

However, the hotel had small pools in their Zen garden which means it was a mosquito rave all day and all night. The rooms were okay but the bathroom terrible.

In conclusion, you can find better! 😉

Activity Budget
  Lotus Garden Inn (2 nights)  Php 2,600 or US $51
  Tricycle from Airport to Hotel  Php 60 or US $1.1
  Underground River tour  Php 3,800 or US $75
  Zipline  Php 550/Pax or US $11/Pax
  Zipline Photo Souvenir  Php 250 or US $5
  Two dinners in Puerto Princesa  Php 1,100 or US $22
  Total (based on 2 people)  Php 4,455/Pax or US $88/Pax

Conclusion

While we enjoyed our tour of the river, it was way too crowded and there was nothing left for surprises. We feel like there are better things to do, especially if you’re on a budget and your time is limited.

Another activity to do around Puerto Princesa is the Honda Bay Island Hopping tour. You can read all about it here.

Have you been to the Underground River? Did you do it yourself or did you book a tour? Do not hesitate to share your experience and feedback with us! We’d love to hear from you! 😉

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