After the boat ride, there is still a bit of a hike going to the entrance of the river system so it was also a great way to enjoy the surrounding flora which was magnificent!
So take your time to take in the natural beauty around you as you still need to wait before you can board another boat to get inside the river/cave system. It is worth the wait anyway!
This world heritage site is the main attraction in Sabang. There is a P250 entry fee which buys you a trip down the river. Plus, a extra P40 fee. Alternatively, you can buy a P1200-1500 tour from any travel agency in the area.
If you decide to go solo, you can only buy tickets for the Underground River tour in their office in Puerto Princesa as that is the only place to get a permit. There is a limited amount of people allowed each day and booking office is more interested in selling tickets to tour agencies, so make your reservation at least 2-3 days in advance but it can be booked out a month in advanced during holiday seasons.
There are two ways to get to the entrance of the river from Sabang. The first is a boat (banka) and this costs P500-600 per boat (banka) from Sabang pier and is subject to weather conditions (this is what we took part of our package tour), and the second is a 1-2 hour walk through the jungle.
When you get to the cave entrance, you have to wait for another boat to take you inside.
As it was dark inside, will post more photos soon of the interiors ( need to reduce them first, or else too long here). Our guide was so funny, giving us funny names of the different stalactites and stagmites that are dotted everywhere in the river system inside like a cave system literally.
Before entering the river system, we had to wait for our turn to get into another boat to get us inside with a tour guide explaining and giving information about the river system.
So we had enough time to soak in the beauty around us and so enjoy the photos! Even without getting inside, you can still enjoy the verdant hills, flora and fauna around, especially the peace and amazing views.
All boats out of Sabang are subject to weather conditions. When we got there, it just rained so it was a bit muddy and wet of course, but not too hot.
According to the Sabang Wikipedia page:
There are about 45 Park Ferry Service boats registered for transporting tourist on a 5 km (20 minute) voyage from the Sabang Pier to the Underground River and back. These boats carry a maximum of 6 passengers. They are all about the same, so it doesn't matter which one you go on. They are the perfect size for getting in and out of the rocky Sabang Pier. The cost for a round-trip boat ride to the Underground River, including the Park Entrance Fee is P300. These boats may also take tourist out in St. Paul Bay for: sight seeing, snorkeling and fishing, and they charge a minimum of P1,000 for 2-4 hours.
Only a few charter boats in Sabang are fully registered and insured to transport passengers for tourism from Sabang to Port Barton and El Nido. Some of the boats making these voyages are in poor condition, have small engines, bamboo balancers, and are not properly registered. These voyages are for the young and adventurous, and are not recommended for children.
When you get to the cave entrance, you have to wait for another boat to take you down the underground river (included in the ticket price). Be sure to register and obtain your "boat number" the moment you arrive there. The whole process is much tailored to groups arriving on package tours, i.e. nobody will call you when your boat number is about to depart, so be active and ask local staff about the current number every 10 minutes or so.
We had some time to look around when we reached the cave entrance. (will put more in another post)
You must report there with your booking reservations that you would have arranged in their office at Puerto Princesa, they will check I.D.s of the persons on the list, pay 700 for the boat and you will be directed to a table on the pier that will assign you a boat(this may involve a short wait depending how busy they are). Then you will be taken to the beach inside the park where the river is, transfer to small boat for trip inside cave then return to Sabang Pier. The sign at the office says "NO PERMITS WILL BE ISSUED ON THE SPOT". ie book earlier in Puerto Princesa. Outside the office is a map of the park so you can see all the information regarding cottages, trekking etc. I understand that the Monkey Trail and Jungle Trail through the park to the underground river are now closed so the only way to access the U-river is by boat, which is a pity as the walk through the park was an adventure in itself. Life vests are supplied and must be worn during the 30 minute voyage to the underground river. While waiting to enter the river you might be lucky and see monkeys and monitor lizards. Unfortunately swimming is not allowed at the beach where the boat drops you off by the river.
About 30 minutes before you arrive in Sabang the shuttle van (if you are on a tour) will probably stop at the view deck just after Buenavista which gives you a wonderful view of Ulugan Bay with the three small islands called Tres Marias. There is the usual souvenir shop to buy the usual products that all the others sell, and a few snacks are available here.
Imagine a zipline thats built across clear blue water..along a coast of a white sand beach..and a backdrop of mountains and limestone formations..need i say more? Sabang x Zipline provides this diffrent zipline experience for only p550..and since its the longest zipline in the country thats built over a body of water..this zipline last for a good minute and a half or 2 (depending on wind velocity). A must do when in Sabang, Palawan!
One of the reasons why we wanted to go to Puerto Princesa is to see for ourselves the Puerto Princesa Underground River which is the Philippines’ official entry for nomination to the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Its main attraction is an 8.2-km underground river winding through an awesome cave before joining the waters of the South China Sea. The regular tour is a spectacular view of the stactites and stalagmites up to about 1.5 kms only. Special permit has to be secured to navigate the whole 8.2 kms.
The place is commonly called Underground River by locals and tourists but it is now called the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park by virtue of Proclamation No. 835 on March 26, 1971, officially declaring the underground river as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Note: If you take the package tour, the price ranges from P1,200 to P1,500/pax depending on which agency you or your resort/hotel book. We got ours for P1,500/pax less 10%. The package includes guide fee, land transportation via an air-conditioned van to Sabang, boat rental, entrance fee, and buffet lunch at a resort/ restaurant.
I learned that for DIY tours, expenses would vary depending on how many you are. Costs would include boat rental (P750 for the smaller boat with 6-pax capacity, and P1,350 for the bigger outrigger boat with 12-pax capacity, entrance fee of P150 per head, van rental for P3000- 3,500, tips (optional) to boatmen and guide and food. DIYers can eat early at any of the restaurants at Sabang Port, or packed lunch can be ordered. I didn’t see any restaurant at the underground river park, but there are vendors of mineral water, drinks and chips near the registration area.
First things first! All tourists going to the Underground River are required to log in/register at the UGR Office at Sabang Port. We booked a tour so everything was taken care of by our guide. Before reaching Sabang Port, our guide already got our IDs. (Yes, the ID is required, so be sure to bring your ID.) Upon reaching the Port, our guide hurriedly got out of our van so he could register us quickly in the Coast Guard Office.
Perhaps you're wondering why our guide had to move fast and register early. Everything is on a first come-first served basis. If we are registered early, we can get a boat immediately. Upon paying for a hired boat, our guide got a number which determined when we would be called to get on a boat. Once on the Subterranean Park, we had to log in/register again to get our number for the underground river tour. This is the SOP; you can't push and shove to get ahead of the others.
Our entrance fees were taken cared of by our guide because we got a package tour. For DIYers, fees would vary depending on age and nationality. I'm not sure if the following rates still apply today, but just to give you an idea, the fees then were: P250 for Foreigners, P200 for Filipino Adults, P100 for Ages 18 to 20, P75 for Ages 13 to 17 and P50 for Ages 6 to 12. There used to be a fee of P75 for Seniors but I heard 1 tourist say seniors are already free. In any case, bring your senior citizan'e ID to avail of discount/free entry.
After our UGR Tour, our guide brought us to the territory of the monitor lizards. Known locally as "bayawak", the monitor lizards freely roam in the virgin forest, but mostly at the area near the Underground River Ranger Station. We were lucky to see 3 of them near the pathway for tourists. Our guide cautioned us to watch them from a safe distance and reminded us not to feed them. One foreigner was trying to give something to a lizard and when it came near her, she screamed because she thought it was going to bite her.
Our guide took a picture of the monitor lizards behind me. As I stood, I saw 2 of them coming towards me...or so I thought. I was scared but luckily, it wasn't really coming for me. A man went out from a cottage bringing some dishes to be washed. Our guide said the monitor lizards must be familiar with the schedule for dishwashing so they went there to feed on food leftovers.
It was my first time to see monitor lizards up close. Seeing them freely roaming around made me realize that a happy coexistence between man and wildlife was really possible.
Our guide said that during peak months, the queue to the UGR Tour is very long. Numerous boats bring in tourists almost all at the same time so waiting time is sooo long. As an optional activity and for an additional fee of P150/pax, he brings interested tourists for a Mangrove River Tour. It is a 45-minute guided boat tour of the mangrove forest. If you do this activity, you will be endorsed to the local guides who can authoritatively orient you on the place. They say this activity is best done in the morning not later than 9AM when you are most likely to see wildlife. Later than that, you might not see wildlife and it’s going to be too hot already even if you have hats or umbrella.
I forgot to time our boat ride from Sabang Port to the St. Paul Subterranean National Park because I was so fascinated by the calm blue sea and the karst/rock formations on the way. We got excited as we finally saw the beach where the colorful pumpboats docked while waiting for the tourists. As our feet touched the beach, we were awed by the fine white sand, old trees with trunks bent by the weather, and karsts that reminded me of Caramoan. We immediately took some pictures, but our guide called us to hurry to the registration area so our group could quickly get a queue number. We had to personally sign the registration logbook, but our guide took care of our registration fees. Upon completing our registration, we were told we had to wait in line for the underground river cruise. We were group number 33, and they were already serving number 28.
Once you reach the boat area for the Underground River Tour, you can spend the time taking souvenir pictures. KNOW and REMEMBER your number, and even though it is not yet your turn, DON'T wander around. ( I will expound on this in my warning tip.)
The tourists have increased in number, but our alert guide, Ernie moved fast to get us a boat. We were the 2nd group in line to take a boat. Once on the boat, we were all required to put on our life vests; no exemption.
There are boats for small groups, and another type for big groups.
Famous Underground River.
Puerto Princesa St. Paul Subterranean River National Park features a spectacular limestone karst landscape with its underground river. A distinguishing feature of the river is that it flows directly into the sea, and the lower portion of the river is subject to tidal influences. The area also represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full mountain to the sea ecosystem and protects forests, which are among the most significant in Asia.