Thursday, November 19, 2015

Celebrating Puerto Princesa Underground River Day

Puerto Princesa has long been a tourist destination but recently garnered more attention when it was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site on December 4, 1999. So obviously, you can't leave this wonderful city without visiting the Underground River at least once!

The Underground River

To get to PPUR, we rode the van to Sabang Wharf and travelled for 1 hour and 45 minutes at 90-110km/hr. It's really far so leave early. For solo travelers or those without a tour guide/agency, you have to secure a permit from the Underground River Booking Office at the PPSRNP Office, City Coliseum, Barangay San Pedro, Puerto Princesa City or call them at (048) 434-2509. Book 2-3 months in advance if possible.

If you want to skip all the hassle, book with an accredited tour guide/agency beforehand.

As my trip was sponsored by the City Tourism Office of Puerto Princesa City, I was very fortunate to be alongside the winners of the Bonggang Bakasyon sa Puerto Princesa contest comprised of 10 lucky Filipinos hailing from different parts of the country, with the inclusion of 3 locals who have not gone to PPUR.

the Bonggang Bakasyonn winners, travel bloggers, media people
This is the first time the government held such a grand contest wherein all the winners were flown free of charge to Puerto Princesa, plus they had the rare opportunity of going around and visiting various tourist spots for free.

Upon arriving in Sabang Wharf, we were greeted by the Tagbanuas doing their traditional Sayusad dance. Fresh buco refreshments, turon, bananacue and camote cue were also available giving us a glimpse of the Palaweno hospitality.

Most of the people I was with were also first-timers in Puerto Princesa, while some travel bloggers are already "sukis" as they've frequented this place so many times. 

Finally, the boat arrives and ferries us off to Sabang beach. The motorized boats can accommodate up to 12 people, the ride itself took only 20 minutes. 

With the influx of tourists, the government has now made stricter rules when visiting this natural wonder. Only 1,200 to 1,500 (peak season) visitors are allowed inside the Underground River per day in order to manage the long queues and to preserve the cave. 

A quick hike is required in order to reach the river itself, you  may spot monitor lizards while walking so keep your eyes peeled.

Nearing the river, you'll immediately catch the emanating scent of bat guano and urine. During the rainy months, the scent is even stronger. 

I was told, Puerto Princesa is the safest place in the Philippines. Being a cove, it is protected heavily from storms and typhoons, it is also not prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters. The various mangroves also protect the island from flooding. 

The water here is brackish water which is a mix of saltwater + freshwater. There are no crocodiles or alligators here, and the water runs deep in just a few metres.  

The tour itself is 40 minutes long, stalactites and stalagmites will greet you as you enter. Pay attention to the boatman's jokes and trivia about these awe-inspiring mineral formations.

Spanning 8 kilometers, the Puerto Princesa Underground River is considered as the longest navigable subterranean river in the world. It is also recognized as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and was inaugurated in January 28, 2012.

The person who sits in front will be responsible for holding the light as the boatman talks about the history of the cave. It's difficult to capture the beauty of these formations, but in the photo above you can spot several bats perched on the ceiling sleeping.

The crosses above are markings left by geologists and researchers who first studied the cave many years ago. Overall, it's impressive how the cave is in such pristine condition! Furthermore, props to the government for making sure that it remains as beautiful as the day it was discovered.

I found the tour quite interesting though a little lacking in information towards the end. I was advised that the City Tourism Office is currently working on providing headsets that you can wear as go on the tour, great for foreigners who can't understand the jokes and nuances in the Filipino language, and for those (like me) who prefer a more educational/scientific approach.

Preparing for the festival

Patiently waiting under the heat of the afternoon sun are about 100+ participants of the 2nd Puerto Princesa Underground River Day held every November 11. This year's celebration is a contest of sorts where students and government agencies/offices compete for the best interpretive dance and costume of  this year's jingle.

The Bonggang Bakasyon winner plus bloggers (moi included) were comfortably waiting inside the popular Bong Villanueva Salon and Spa for our makeover. He is known as the most recognized and admired hair stylist in the whole of Puerto Princesa with celebrities and politicians flocking to his salon regularly for his beauty expertise. I've already found my hair whisperer before, so I only requested for a blow-dry to make me look decent for the festivities.

By 4pm the activities commenced and we all walked outside to the plaza to watch kids and adults sashay down the road dressed up as Palawan's beloved animals. 

winners, bloggers, media people
Participants were decked in colorful costumes depicting peacocks, monkeys, fishes, bats, butterflies, all endemic animals/flora and fauna, most of which I've previously seen in my tours around the city. I was so impressed with the planning, the well-organized numbers, and the fact that every group (all 40+!) tried to outdo everyone in healthy competition. The vibe was so positive and contagious, all the bloggers were dancing and clapping, it was so much fun :)

Here's a peek at what transpired that afternoon:

The culminating activity for the evening was the awarding of winners of the dance and float competition, recognition of the Bonggang Bakasyon winners and media/bloggers.

And then as a final farewell, we looked up to the heavens and witnessed a wonderful display of fireworks that lit up the dark Palawan skies. Everyone took out their mobile phones and cameras, they oohed and aah-ed as the heavens became splattered with red, orange, green, and blue lights. It was a magical experience that reminded everyone how blessed we all are in the world, to be surrounded by friends, family, and the richness of nature.

It was truly an honor for me to experience the warmth of the Palawenos, to be introduced to Mayor Bayron, and to be invited alongside top travel bloggers such as Edmar of Edmaration, Lilliane of Wanderlass, and Edgar of Eazy Traveler. It was such a humbling experience as I've learned so much from them and their travels, they are truly inspiring people who have traveled the world and even completed the 81 provinces in the Philippines. I am still a fledgling travel blogger compared to them (as my inclination has always been beauty & lifestyle) so I was happily listening to their stories most of the time, picking up tips and tricks, learning more about the places they've visited and cultures they've experienced.

Thank you, City Tourism Office of Puerto Princesa City, for this unforgettable experience!

More Puerto Princesa adventures here:


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