Sunday, March 10, 2013

Puerto Princesa Underground River

A map of the river. Click to enlarge.
The Puerto Princesa Underground River. Some say it's overrated. I say it's over rated — the tour price of Php1500 is too much. My stingy mustache simply refused to spend that much for a ride down a river in the darkness. Granted the fee of Php1500 includes transfers to and from Puerto Princesa by van, to and from Sabang by pumpboat, buffet lunch, permit, and a 45-minute guided tour of the underground river, still my cheap self prevailed. But a visit to Puerto Princesa, I say to my first-timer self, should include the Underground River. If  there's a will, there's a way. And a cheap way there is.

First, the permit. You certainly cannot go to the Underground River without one. (If you got there without a permit, tell me how.) You must apply for a permit at their booking office at the City Coliseum in Puerto Princesa days before your scheduled visit. Slots can get filled up fast — they only allow a certain number of visitors per day. Or you can follow my lead and employ a travel agency to process a permit for you. Of course for an additional amount as service charge. In my case, it was Php175 for the permit plus Php50 service charge.

A crowded tourism office in Sabang
Then the problem of getting to Sabang. There are buses and vans going to Sabang whether you're coming from El Nido (5 hours) or Puerto Princesa (1.5 hours). Regrettably, I do not have any idea how much the fares are nor do I have the schedule. Our group swung by Sabang in our rented van on the way to Puerto Princesa from El Nido. This side trip cost us Php1500.

You have your permit and are now in Sabang. Then what? More digging in the pocket for fees. You have to pay the following at the tourism office in Sabang: environment fee Php40, boat rental Php700 (that's good for six persons already so gather up the gang or make friends with solo travelers or small groups), wharf fee of Php15 per boat, and, if you have a private vehicle or rented a van for your group, there's the parking fee of Php15.

Permit ready. All fees paid. Time to go to the waiting area to get assigned a pumpboat. If the line is long and you are getting hungry, there are a bunch of eateries in Sabang. Take your pick.

The pumpboat assigned to you will take you to and from Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP). The boat ride takes about 15 minutes, one way. If you see dozens of boats waiting near the shore as you approach the national park, expect to spend an hour or so waiting for your turn to get inside the underground river. As soon as you arrive in PPSRNP, get a priority number, lest you wait forever.

 Something tells me there's a long queue

What to do while waiting? Nope, not swimming. Sorry. Swimming is prohibited in the area; it's a marine reservation. What you can do is go look for monkeys and monitor lizards or take hundreds of photos around the beach. Be careful around the monkeys. Don't bring plastic bags. When the monkeys hear the sound of plastic they think it's food and will not hesitate to grab whatever it is they have fancied. And never grin at a monkey. You do not want to be attacked.

 A monkey taking a stroll on the boardwalk (left) and monitor lizards (right)

Tired of keeping yourself from grinning at the monkey? Go back to the waiting area and wait for your number to be called. Before boarding your row boat, don your lifevest and your helmet.

Into the mouth of the cave

The subterranean river is 8.2 km long but the tour will only cover 1.5 km. Beyond that, a special permit is needed.

I won't spoil your own underground river experience by repeating our guide's stories (besides I will never be able to tell it like he did). Here are a few of the photos taken inside the cave.

Blurry photos in the dark :D

I see a dinosaur
(Photo credits: Paupau Alvarez)

Bangs... ni Dora (the Explorer) :-)
(Photo credits: Mark Chongco)

Bats
(Photo credits: Mark Chongco)

March 18, 1937
(Photo credits: Mark Chongco)

The subterranean river is best enjoyed by:
  • having patience. You will have your ride in the darkness soon enough.
  • sitting in front and assisting with the light...only if your sense of hearing is 100% and you can follow instructions
  • volunteering to sit in the last row, right in front of the guide...if your ears function at 50% or less
  • paying attention to the guide
  • using your imagination. A must.
  • wearing a raincoat. Only if you're a gremlin.

Note: Van was hired and permits were processed through Trip@Palawan Travel and Tours. You may email Ms Abelle Marie Sualog at trippalawan@yahoo.com or call Sir Rommel Gevela at 0908 376 4933.


How Mustachio avoided the Php1500 tour package:
Permit Php175
Service fee for the processing of permit Php50
Van sidetrip (Php1500 shared by 10) Php150
Environment fee Php40
Pumpboat to Sabang (Php700 shared by 5) Php140
Wharf fee (Php15 shared by 5) Php3
Parking fee (Php15 shared by 5) Php3
Lunch at a carenderia in Sabang Php75
Total of Php636. Take that, tour package!



Puerto Princesa and El Nido:
Puerto Princesa: Zzzzs, Wheels, Meals
Vietnam in Palawan
The Gypsy's Lair
Puerto Princesa Underground River (you're here!)
Welcome to El Nido
Telesfora Beach Cottage in Corong-corong
A Perfect Day for Lagoon Hopping
A Perfect Day for Beach Hopping
Palawan on the Pocket

53 comments:

  1. We never got the chance to see the Underground River. :(

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    1. Huwhyyyy? :-( I thought you did. I was looking at your post earlier regarding the permit and linked it here.

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  2. Ctrl+c and ctrl+v nalang nako ni beh? hahaha

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    1. Ilisi lang ang word na mustache kay wala man kay bungot hehehe

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  3. sabi ng isa kong kaibigan na nakapunta na ng Puerto Princesa Underground River ay pangit daw. Para ka lang pumasok sa isang madilim na kweba. sayang daw ang gastos.

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    1. Hi techandgio! Hmmm... the underground river is not everyone's cup of tea, I guess. I, myself, enjoyed the short tour; I found the guide's spiel funny. My only regret was to sit in front where I couldn't really hear everything our guide was saying (because of the noise from the other groups and because my ears function just 60% haha). But if I paid 1500 for the tour, I think it would be too much.

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  4. Wow! You got it for half the price, much less even. Good for you. Well, we got ours from a travel agency. Since it was just the two of us traveling, we opted for the package for a hassle-free vacation, but we'll do what you did the next time we'll get there. We did not include El Nido in our trip, so we'll definitely be back. :-)

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    1. You really should go to El Nido! Thanks for dropping a message Adrenaline Romance.

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  5. hi.. do yo prefer staying at at lodge sa sabang? ung underground river, honda bay and mangrove paddle boat is all in sabang?!

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    1. Hi Joane. If you plan to have a lot of activities in Sabang, then I would suggest staying a night there. Since we only went to Sabang for the underground river, we stayed in Puerto Princesa City. Only the underground river and mangrove paddle boat is in Sabang (west side of Palawan). Honda Bay is on the east coast.

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  6. Hi Mustachio,
    can you please tell me how you got your permit for 175 and paid process fee of 50? really would love to take the route that you did. We're about 8 pax going there mga barkada lng then sagot ko kasi yung iba so I'm really looking to save as much as I can hehe :)

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    1. Hi Lavender Belle. We processed our permit thru Trip@Palawan Travel and Tours, where we also rented the van. Please check this link http://mustachioventures.blogspot.com/2013/03/puerto-princesa-stay-eat-transportation.html You can find the contact info there. Thanks for reading :-)

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  7. Hi! My family of 5 are planning to see the underground river tour, but just like you we think 1500 is quite expensive (it's that or we're just really cheap. Haha!). Do you think we can get a permit on Sunday August 4 for our desired tour of the PPUR on Tuesday August 6? And what time did you start and finish the whole activity? (The commute time + tour + ride home to the city proper) thaaank you! Awesome post BTW! :)

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    1. Hi jbeatrice! I would advice you to contact the travel agency asap and have them process your permit. We had to book our permit weeks in advance. You can also inquire how much it would cost to rent a car/van from them. In our case we went to PPUR on the way to Puerto Princesa from El Nido. We arrived in Sabang before noon and was able to start the tour around 130PM (there was a long queue). From Sabang it takes about an hour to get to/from Puerto Princesa. It would probably take half a day for the whole activity (going to and from Sabang + tour). Enjoy your trip. And thanks for dropping by :-)

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  9. Hi Mustachio, I'm a fan, hahahaha! :) me and my friends are going to Palawan early next year. I will follow your steps for our activites hehehe. I just have a question though, the boat going to the mouth of the cave and the boat going inside the cave has only one payment and that is at P700 good for 6 persons, am I right? Or do we still to pay for each boat?

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    1. Hello there! Wow, I have a fan! Hahah ;-) Yup, it's 700 roundtrip, maximum of 6 persons. All fees are collected before you board the pumpboat; no other fees will be paid at the PPUR area. Thanks for dropping by :-) Have fun in Palawan!

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  10. Hi^^ I'm going to travel to Puerto Princesa with my boyfriend this November 20-25, 2013 and we stay in Casita's de Az Pension. We want to go in Underground River. How can we avail the Php636? We are interested. Thank you

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    1. Hi msdesire. The total expense per person was only Php636 because we shared the transportation costs: van that we hired was Php1500 and it was divided by 10; plus the pumpboat to and from Sabang, which costs Php700, was also shared by 5 people (the pumpboat can accommodate up to 6 passengers).

      The permit, by the way, has to be processed weeks before your chosen schedule. If you choose to do a DIY trip, I suggest you have your permit processed asap. We had ours processed through Trip@Palawan Travel and Tours (you can find their contact info in the article above). For the transportation from Puerto to Sabang and back, there are buses plying that route. For the pumpboat to and from Sabang, you can try and ask other smaller groups at the port, if not, you'd have to split the Php700.

      Try to also ask Casita's de Az Pension, most accommodations can help with tours.

      Hope that helps. Thanks for dropping by! :)

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  11. Hi again.. I ask Casitas de Az Pension about underground river tour but it's exclusive Php 1500/pax. So we decided that we will choose Trip@Palawan Travel and Tour. Is it possible that we stay in 6days? How much it costs? Included underground river, city tour, honda bay. Coz I saw in your website that 4days & 3 nights it cost Php5, 500 included underground river tour, city tour, honda bay all included with lunch, permit, van, etc... Is it it possible 6days? Thank you po

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    1. Hi msdesire. I am not in any way related to the agency, I just availed of their services when I visited Palawan. Kindly contact the travel agency for your inquiry. But, I should mention, the price quoted by Casitas de Az Pension for the PPUR tour is correct. That is the standard rate for the PPUR package tour which is inclusive of transfers, permits, buffet lunch.

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  12. I think the underground river is incredible! Swerte lang ko kay I have a friend from palawan who went with me, and she has connections with the people in the ticketing area...so we only paid less than 500 all in! Hehehe. Pero I agree na 1,500 is probably too much..

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  13. Hi....
    me and my friend will have a 2n3d trip at puerto on aug. 13-15.. since i hav ample time to plan for dat trip i think i can do some research to hve a diy tour in d while city includng d ppur...
    Ask ko lng sana... s it ok na to secure d permit as early as feb or march? Or am i over excited lng.. lol
    thanx for all d info....

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    1. Hi Patrick. Try to ask the agency if securing a permit as early as now is allowed. They do recommend applying for a permit early, but I am not sure how early is "early" :)) We processed our permits I think a month before our trip.

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    2. Hi mustachio, this is a great post. Really helpful. Just wanted to ask if ok naman yung boat rental? Hindi naman pahirapan? We're planning to go there on summer and there'll be 6 of us. Baka mag diy na lang din. :)

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    3. Hi Sabrina! Thanks. Boat rental is organized. You just have to queue. :)

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  14. hi, how many hours it takes to tour the 1.5km?thank you

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    1. Hi Fraulien. It will take only 45 minutes.

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  15. Thanks Mustachio. I also read somewhere that when you register at Tourism Office in Sabang, you have to register an hour before your scheduled tour? Is this correct? Where can we schedule a tour? The 'scheduled tour' confused me because we'll DIY this and it would be difficult to schedule this in advance.

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    1. Hi Sabrina. When we were there we just lined up to register, to get a boat, and wait our turn for the tour. What I know is that you have to get the permit days ahead... I am not sure what that "scheduled tour" is. You might want to contact the agency that processed our permit, maybe they can help clarify. Thanks!

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  16. finally a blog that has the answer to my question! were planning a DIY underground river tour and our problem is how to secure a permit to PPUR without availing tour package. thank you very much! btw, how did you get your permits? will the travel agency hand it personally to you?

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    1. Hi Mi-Ann. Glad you stumbled upon this blog. Since we also rented a van thru the agency that processed our PPUR permits, they gave it to us on the way to Sabtang. If you only want to hire the agency for the permit processing, just ask them how you would be able to get the permits (if it's for pick up at their office or if they will be meeting you someplace for it).

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  17. hi mustachio.. me and my friend have plan to visit underground river. if we rent a van to pick up us from the airport, and take us to the underground river directly and go back to the city, is it possible? Maybe we'll be arrive at Puerto Princesa airport at 11:00am and i read that the last boat from Sabang leaving for underground river at 4.00pm.

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    1. Hi Meutia. Will you be going on a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) trip to the Underground River? Please make sure to have your permit processed in advance. Regarding the travel time, yes I think you can make it if you go direct to Sabang from the airport, but please double check with the van operator. If it's just you and your friend, renting a van might be too expensive. I would suggest availing of the tour, which is around Php1500 per person. The tour will already include van transfers to and from Puerto Princesa City, meal, permit, boat transfers, and the underground river tour. Thanks for visiting the blog. Enjoy your trip! :)

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    2. Thank you for ur reply.. so happy :)
      Yes, i will be going on DIY trip. When i read ur blog tells that "Van was hired and permits were processed through Trip@Palawan Travel and Tours." <- i wanna try to contact the travel.

      Van sidetrip (Php1500 shared by 10) Php150 --> because we're a group of 10, it doesn't matter.

      Although the tour to underground river makes everything simple, including meal, permit, etc, I think the tour is still so expensive. considering we won't eating lunch there and they suggest us to start the trip at 7.30am.

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    3. That's great, you're going as a group (I thought it was just you and a friend); DIY would be perfect (I agree, the package tour is expensive). Anyway, if you get hungry, there are small eateries in Sabang.

      By the way, we went to the Underground River on our way to Puerto Princesa from El Nido (we hired the van to take us from Puerto Princesa to El Nido to Sabang and then back to Puerto Princesa)...so I am not sure if that 1500 is the standard rate or a discounted rate.

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    4. We paid Php12500 for the van (Puerto Princesa–El Nido–Sabang–Puerto Princesa). If it was only Puerto Princesa–El Nido–Puerto Princesa, it would have only been Php11000. So, yeah, I am not sure if Php1500 is the standard price for Sabang...

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    5. Ok then. Thanks so much for ur reply.. I want to try to contact Ms. Abelle Marie :)

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    6. Thanks for reading the blog Meutia. Have fun on your trip! :) Drop me a line if you find yourself in Cebu.

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  18. hi mustachio, im so glad to have read your blog, it gives me so much hope on diy tour to ppur.. do you think your contact at the travel agency could help us in securing the permit for ppur? we are a family of 7 (6adults&1kid) and i can't afford the tour package (most of the expense fot this tour will come from my pocket)... thank you..

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    1. Hi mirAmir. Glad you found your way here. I am sure they can! Try to contact them.:)

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  19. Hi mustachio, me and my frnds plan to have a 3d2n tour ( el nido + underground river) is it possible for us to have this trip or any suggestions?Ty!

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    1. Possible but too amazing-race-ish... Keep in mind that El Nido is at least 5 hours (by van; or up to 7 hours by bus) from Puerto Princesa, and Sabang/Underground River is about an hour from Puerto Princesa, not counting the wait time for the queue for the underground river tour...

      You can see in our itinerary http://mustachioventures.blogspot.com/2013/03/palawan-budget-itinerary.html that our first day was spent on the road to El Nido...

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  20. Hi Mustachio,

    My husband and I are staying at Daluyon in Sabang and they just sent me an email offering to book the tour at 1,610 per person-- so not even including a transfer, since we will already be in Sabang, and more than 2x as much as the usual rate! They are also quoting 3,000 each way for transfers to the hotel. It all seems a bit much. However I am not sure if we can hire transport through the agency you mentioned to get there in the evening when our flight arrives, and if we do go there using hotel transport, we won't have any way to pick up a permit independently in Puerto Princesa (suggestions? it seems awkward to have them mail it to the hotel...). Also I was wondering, if you pay the 700 fee for the boat, do they *have* to fill it up with 6 people? Or is it "your" boat? I would definitely be really annoyed to pay so much to the hotel and then have the two of us stuck in a boat with 4 random people not sharing the cost, for example... Thanks! :)

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    1. As far as I know the standard rate for the underground river tour is 1500 per person and already includes the van transfers from Puerto Princesa to Sabang and vice versa. Considering that you are already staying in Sabang, then 1610/pax is high.

      For transport from airport to Sabang, check with Lexus Shuttle. They have a couple of trips between PP and Sabang. Their website is http://www.lexusshuttle.com/share-a-van/. You can also hire a van from them, but it looks like it will cost almost the same—2500 for one way transfer according to the website. I am not sure if the schedules and fees on the site are updated so it would be best to contact them directly through phone or email.

      You can also check with the agency posted above how much they can offer for a van hire. For the permit, if you process thru them, ask if they can meet you at the airport to give you the permit (if you aren't hiring a van from them). If not then maybe you can go to their office when you arrive, I think their office is just near the airport, a tricycle ride away. But then that might also depend on what time your flight arrives. You can find their contact details in their facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/TripPalawan-Travel-Tour/217966664892151

      For the boat fee of 700, it will be exclusive... unless you ask people around to share the boat and divide the cost.

      I hope that helps.

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    2. Thank you, that's really helpful! I definitely will see what I can arrange outside the hotel for the permit at least then!

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  21. Hi Mustachio-- sorry, one follow up! I emailed the people at Trip Palawan and they are quite responsive and nice, but I'm having a bit of a sticking point when it comes to paying them to get the permits-- it seems they only accept Western Union and bank transfers. Was this your experience? I was expecting to be able to send a Paypal or card payment, something a bit more secure/not so full of fees. Did you use one of these or were you there in person to pay cash? While they are much more reasonable to deal with than our hotel, I'm just a bit reluctant to deal with Western Union or an international bank transfer to an unknown person for a USD 15 charge... Thanks again!

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    1. Hi Marie. Sorry for the late reply. Been off the grid for a week. Yes, I had to send payment thru bank deposit. That's the common mode of payment here: bank deposit or money transfer thru Western Union or the like. It's usually the hotels that accept card payment. Even the local bank deposit will charge a service fee.

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  22. hi mustachio, your article is very informative.. do you think the travel agency who assisted you with the permits could also help us in securing the permits only? because we plan to go straight to PPUR on our day of arrival so we could have an all day beach bumming and island hopping on our second day.. thanks!

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    1. Thanks for reading. Quite sure they would process just the permit — kindly inquire at the agency, the contact details are posted above.

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  23. Hi, thanks for your article and very helpful. is the agency reliable and do they have a good transportation services?

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    1. Hi Ellie. We were satisfied with their services. As for their vans, just make sure to request for newer vans. Thanks for visiting the blog.

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