- Puerto Princesa Underground River is one of the world’s longest navigable underground rivers at 8.2 km long.
- It flows directly into the South China Sea through a spectacular limestone cave system.
- The park was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
- Features stunning geological formations, diverse wildlife, and indigenous culture.
- Boat tours allow you to explore the underground river cave.
- Additional activities include jungle trekking, wildlife viewing, swimming, and ziplining.
- Advance booking is required for limited daily underground river tour slots.
- The best time to visit is June to November to avoid crowds.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is one of the most stunning natural wonders in the Philippines. Located on the island of Palawan, this UNESCO World Heritage Site features a spectacular limestone cave system with an 8.2 km long underground river that flows directly into the South China Sea.
With its incredible geological formations, diverse ecosystems, and cultural significance, it’s easy to see why Puerto Princesa Underground River is a top destination for travelers visiting the Philippines. This guide will give you all the information you need to plan your adventure to this remarkable national park.
Overview of Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
Known locally as PPUR, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is located about 50 km north of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan. It features a limestone karst mountain landscape with an underground river that runs through a cave before flowing directly into the ocean.
The park covers a total area of 22,202 hectares, with the St. Paul Underground River Cave as its main attraction. This natural wonder features spectacular geological formations of stalactites, stalagmites, and several large chambers. The underground section of the river runs for 8.2 km, making it one of the longest underground rivers in the world.
In 1999, Puerto Princesa Underground River was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its globally significant natural properties. It was also named one of the New7Wonders of Nature in 2012. The park is managed by the Puerto Princesa Underground River Management Board to ensure its protection and ecological integrity.
History and Significance of Puerto Princesa Subterranean River
The underground river cave is believed to be more than 800,000 years old. Local indigenous groups like the Tagbanuas knew of its existence for centuries before Spanish explorers arrived in the 18th century. In 2010, a group of geologists discovered that the underground river has a second floor, adding to its fascination.
In recent decades, the Puerto Princesa Underground River has become an iconic natural attraction, boosting tourism in Palawan. Its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has led to improved monitoring, protection, and conservation programs for the entire park. The underground river’s unique ecosystem also makes it a biodiversity hotspot with high endemism of plant and animal species.
What Makes Puerto Princesa Subterranean River Unique?
Aside from being one of the world’s longest navigable underground rivers, Puerto Princesa Underground River has several distinctive features:
- It is the only underground river that flows directly into the ocean. The final 1.5 km section of the river is brackish and subject to tidal influences.
- The underground river cave features spectacular formations of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and cathedral-size chambers along its course. The largest chamber measures up to 120 meters high.
- It is home to dozens of limestone rock formations with interesting shapes like vegetables, people, animals and religious icons that have been given nicknames by locals.
- The underground river ecosystem has highly diverse plant and animal species. Visitors may spot monitor lizards, crab-eating macaques, and Palawan hornbills.
Why Visit Puerto Princesa Subterranean River?
Here are some of the top reasons this natural wonder is a must-visit destination in the Philippines:
- The stunning geological formations and pristine condition of the underground river make it a rare natural phenomenon.
- It offers an unforgettable boat experience along the underground river by kayak or small boats.
- You can admire breathtaking views of towering limestone cliffs that surround the mouth of the underground river.
- It is home to incredibly diverse wildlife, including many rare, endemic and endangered species.
- The park features scenic hiking trails through lush forests with cascading waterfalls and intricate rock formations.
- You can learn about the indigenous Tagbanua tribe’s ancient practices and traditions in their tribal village.
- Puerto Princesa Underground River represents some of the most important tropical forest ecosystems in the Philippines.
Top Attractions in Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
Underground River Cave
The main highlight is an exhilarating boat ride through the underground river cave system. The route takes you into large chambers with dramatic rock formations surrounded by crystal-clear water.
This lovely stretch of white sand beach is the gateway to the underground river. It offers scenic coastal views and outdoor water activities.
Visit this native tribal village to see the indigenous Tagbanua tribe and learn about their culture. Authentic music, dance, and food are highlights.
Keep an eye out for long-tailed macaques, Palawan hornbills, and rare reptiles as you explore the park’s verdant forests.
Hike through jungle trails to natural pools, waterfalls, lagoons, observation decks, and golden-hued beaches.
How to Get to Puerto Princesa Subterranean River
The nearest airport is Puerto Princesa Airport which has regular flights from Manila, Cebu, Clark, and other domestic hubs.
From Puerto Princesa City, the national park is about 80 km north. You can get to the park by:
- Van – This is the most convenient option. Vans can be booked through tour agencies, hotels, or directly at the van terminal. Travel time is 1.5 hours and fares are ₱250 per person each way.
- Bus – Public buses drive from Puerto Princesa to Sabang village near the park. The journey takes about 2.5 hours one way.
- Rental Car – Drive north of the city through well-paved roads. The total trip is 1.5 hours. A valid driver’s license is required.
- Boat – Charter a boat from Puerto Princesa Baywalk to Sabang Wharf which takes 30-45 mins one-way.
Things to Do in Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park
Underground River Boat Tour
This popular guided boat tour takes you into the cave to view the river passage and magnificent geological formations. Tours last 45-60 minutes. Only a limited number of visitors are allowed per day, so book well in advance.
Explore scenic trails through dense forests to find secluded waterfalls and scenic lookout points. Popular routes are the Sabang-St. Paul Trail and the Talaudyong Viewdeck Trail.
Keep watch for long-tailed macaques, monitor lizards, Palawan porcupines and hornbills while hiking. Rare species like the Palawan bearcat may also be spotted.
Take a refreshing dip in pristine pools and waterfalls like Ugong Rock’s small lagoon. Sabang Beach is also ideal for swimming.
Glide over the tropical forest canopy on ziplines in Sabang for thrilling views. Zipline packages can be added to your underground river tour.
Mangrove Paddle Boating
Paddle through the flourishing mangrove forests along Sabang Beach for a close encounter with these fascinating ecosystems.
Where to Stay Near Puerto Princesa Underground River
Sabang Beach has the most accommodation options close to the park entrance:
- Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa – High-end luxury lodging with a private beach, spa, and outdoor pool.
- Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort – Spacious beachfront cottages nestled between forest and sea.
- PPUR Lodge – Simple budget rooms, dorms, and camping space, 10 mins from the wharf.
In Puerto Princesa City, some recommended hotels include The Legend Palawan, Hue Hotels & Resorts, and Aziza Paradise Hotel.
Tips for Visiting Puerto Princesa Underground River
- Avoid the peak months of January to May when crowds are larger. The best time to visit is June to November.
- Book your underground river boat tour and permits at least 1 month in advance online to secure a slot. Only 900 visitors per day are allowed.
- Hire a guide for hiking, birdwatching, wildlife trips, and spelunking for a deeper experience.
- Respect tribal communities by asking permission before photographing or entering villages.
- Apply insect repellent before jungle treks. Bring rain gear during the wet season. Wear shoes with good traction that can get wet.
- Swimming in the underground river itself is prohibited but allowed in nearby lagoons and waterfalls.
Sample Puerto Princesa Itinerary
- Arrive in Puerto Princesa, check into hotel
- City tour: Palawan Museum, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Plaza Cuartel, Baywalk
- Dinner at Kalui Restaurant
- Early van ride to Sabang Port
- Breakfast at hotel
- Underground River boat tour
- Lunch at Sabang Beach
- Jungle hiking or swimming
- Overnight in Sabang
- Mangrove paddle boat tour
- Ugong Rock zipline
- Afternoon van to Puerto Princesa
- Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center
- Dinner and souvenir shopping at the night market
- Honday Bay Island hopping tour
- Depart Puerto Princesa in the evening
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to book the underground river tour in advance?
Yes, booking at least 1 month before your visit is highly recommended as daily visitor numbers are restricted.
What is the best time of day to do the underground river tour?
Early morning is best as sunlight begins to stream into the cave. Avoid around noon when it is brightly lit.
What should I wear for the underground river tour?
Light, comfortable clothing that can get wet. Bring aqua shoes or sandals with straps. No flip-flops allowed.
Is there an entrance fee?
Yes, the entrance fee is PHP 500 for adults and PHP 300 for children. There are additional fees for the underground riverboat tour and other activities.
How strenuous are the hiking trails in the park?
Hiking difficulty varies. Most routes are easy to moderate over flat to gently hilly terrain. A few trails have steep sections.
Why You Should Visit Puerto Princesa Underground River
A journey to Palawan’s natural wonder is an adventure like no other. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences – cruising through mystical caves on an underground river, surrounded by spectacular rock formations and pristine jungle.
Beyond the main attraction, the park rewards visitors with waterfalls, beaches, wildlife encounters, and fascinating indigenous culture. With its immense natural beauty and ecological significance, the Puerto Princesa Underground River is a true national treasure of the Philippines that should be on every traveler’s bucket list.