All I knew about Sabang was that this is where I would find the underground river. Like Port Barton, I had heard good and bad things. It wasn’t all that expensive and I like caves so I figured I might as well go while I’m there. The chances of me being back there in my life were slim to none, so it only made sense.
The Puerto Princesa Underground River is now the 6th natural wonder of the world, as well as a world heritage site, meaning a lot of people want to see it. So it will be busy when you go, even in the morning.
This guide is for visiting on your own from Sabang, where the underground river is located, but you can do a tour and visit from Puerto Princesa if you won’t be staying in Sabang, which I would recommend you do. You can also see this and the Sabang Mangrove Forest in one day, easily, if you’re limited on time.
We opted to purchase permits and everything on our own instead of going with a tour group. This saved us a couple hundred pesos and let us go whenever we wanted. I don’t remember everything we needed but it ended up being about 550 pesos instead of the 1500-1700 pesos a tour would have been. (This was as of writing in 2016, it may have changed) Other than getting lunch and ease of travel if you were visiting from Puerto Princesa, I don’t know what the benefit of a tour would be since there are guides at the cave entrance that probably tell you the same things.
With everything ready to go, now we just had to wait for morning. We got up nice and early, met up with our new German friends, well one of them, and waited around for a boat and three other people that needed one. Eventually, we found both and were on our way.
The initial boat ride is maybe only 15 minutes. Then you hop out, get an audio guide, a helmet, and another boat. Next thing you know, you’re in the cave! The only light is from the boat guides and there will probably be a few of them in there at once.
It was pretty cool in there, but you don’t go in very far. And you’re int he cave for (apparently) an hour, but it felt like a lot less time than that. There were bats flying all oer, cameras flashing, the guide pointing out formations, and headphones telling us all kinds of cave facts.
Overall I thought it was kind of cool, but I don’t think I would have been horribly upset if I didn’t do it. I already had a way cooler cave experience in Belize, this one was just in a boat and much less adventurous.
DIY Puerto Princesa underground river tour:
- Go to Sabang the day before you want to take the tour, if not two days before just because Sabang is nice.
- Go to the permit office by the Sabang port to get your river permit. They only have so many walk-in permits available (the rest are for tours) so go earlier in the day if you can. We went in the afternoon in March and were able to get them.
- Wait patiently until the next day.
- Get up and get to the port with your permit for the earliest boats out that you can. It opens at 8, so get there early to make sure you have time to find other people that need a boat, too.
- Let someone know that you’re there and then wait a bit. They’ll call your name, you’ll pay the 150 peso environmental fee, they’ll stamp your permit and then you find the guys organizing the boats and tell them you need x# of people to meet the maximum of six people per boat.
- They can either find people or you can ask around yourself to speed up the process a bit. This also helps lower the cost per person of the boat ride.
- Once you get to the river, you will be given a helmet and an audio guide for the tour. You have to go in on one of the boats they provide, you can’t use your own, and they’ll send you in with the people you came on the main boat with. You’ll have to wait around a bit for a boat to be available.
- Eventually, you’ll be in a boat and ready to go. The guide with point out all the formations and things.
- Before you know it, you’re out and on your way back to Sabang.
Am I glad I did it? I suppose. Would I recommend it? Maybe if you aren’t a super hardcore spelunker. Would I do it again? Nope, unless I could walk in the back of it. It’s a cool thing if you have some spare time on Palawan and want to do something other than island hopping.
Tips for visiting the underground river in Sabang:
- Go right away at 8AM, it will be a lot less busy and make it much better since there won’t be as many boats in there as even an hour later.
- Get your permit the day before you plan on going. You can get this at the port in Sabang. It’s actually required to get the day before and you do not have to be in Puerto Princesa to get it.
- If you can find six people to go together, the boat will be a lot cheaper. They might tell you it’s easy to find enough people in the morning, but I might not believe them. If you can find six, do it, if not, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.
- This is more of a courtesy, but try not to use the flash on your camera once you’re in the cave. It’s really annoying and takes away from the experience. Also, don’t talk in there.
- If you’re afraid of bats, mentally prepare yourself for hundreds of them flying around in there. You are in there home after all.
- Remember your boat number/name so you know which to get back on when you leave.
- Apparently, you can walk 3 kilometers to the cave, which I wouldn’t have minded doing, but I didn’t know it was a possibility until now. It also costs 200 pesos to do this and I;m not sure how you do that.
Have you been to the underground river? What did you think of it? Do you want to go?