A river runs through it – Palawan, Philippines

Let’s see, where were we?  I have obviously fallen behind in my blogging.  I took some time off to socialize here in Texas, while enjoying the holidays and pausing from any activities that might tax my brain.  So here we are in a new year, and I still have stories to tell from our trip to the Philippines!

Sabang, Palawan
Parking can get a bit tight in parts of Palawan

Anyhow, in my previous post I was hinting about an amazing experience we enjoyed in Palawan.  If you’ve followed us during our travels, then you know of our explorations of caves big and small, which never fail to thrill and amaze us.  But here in Palawan was a cave that topped all others!

Just a 20-minute boat ride from our resort was the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, established in 1971.  Because of its globally significant natural value, it was inducted onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999.


The park encompasses one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, and its main feature is an underground river.  This river flows 5.09 miles as it passes through incredible rock formations before dumping directly into the sea.  The lower half of the river is brackish and subject to the ocean’s tides, making it the most unique natural cave phenomenon of its type in existence.  Our guided tour went only .7 mile into the cave; the remainder is off limits except for geologists and researchers with special permits.

Puerto Princesa Subeterranean River
Getting ready for our ride into the cave, the opening is to the right in the photo.

We walked a short distance from the motorboat to a paddle boat, locally known as a “sakayan” or “bangka.”  Our guide told us that access to the cave is limited each day, and the “no permit, no entry,” policy is strictly enforced.  This is part of the effort to conserve the river and cave in their natural state, as well as to avoid disrupting the ecosystem within. So after handing Steve the spotlight we rowed off in anticipation of what wonders we would see inside the cave.  We weren’t disappointed!

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River
The river flow is calm but steady.

Of course it was pitch black inside, but Steve was instructed by our rower/guide on where to point the spotlight as he described the various formations we were looking at.  Some were familiar from other caves we’ve explored, but many were unique to this environment. We glided over the river’s jade-green waters, in awe of the beautiful surroundings and almost complete silence – interrupted only by an occasional bat flying overhead 😉

There’s nothing small about this cave system!

Hundreds of formations lined the river, ranging from very small to gigantic groups of stalactites and stalagmites.  As you may know, stalactites are the ones that hang from the ceiling of a cave, like the one shown below that they call the “Jelly Formation”…

Jelly Formation, Puerto Princesa
Jelly formation

…while stalagmites rise from the floor due to the accumulation of material deposited by water dripping from the ceiling.

Dripping Candle
The “Dripping Candle” stalagmite rising from below

Some of the formations looked similar to everyday objects, and of course the locals with their vivid imaginations had names for all of them.  Our guide made the trip very entertaining, as he pointed out a “Holy Family”, the “Crocodile Head”, the “T-Rex”, an upside down pile of poop, a lion and more.  Some were easy to visualize, others not so much.

Holy Family formation
The “Holy Family” formation
Italian Chamber
The Italian Chamber cave room measured 393 ft. wide and 196. ft high
We were amazed at how these thin “sheets” of rock became separated from the wall through the water’s action. We’ve not seen this before

Hardhats were required, partly because some of the stalactites were low-hanging, but also because of the thousands of bats hanging from the ceiling over our heads.  We were advised to keep our mouths closed anytime we looked up, or to be prepared for a snack of guano droppings – yuck!

Puerto Princesa Subeterranean River and Cave
Thousands of bats hung precariously on the cave’s walls and ceilings


After spending 45 minutes in the dark, we were happy to paddle back out into daylight. Our guide surprised us by giving me the SD disk out of his camera so I could post these photos of our tour (only a few of my pictures came out because my camera was not set up for low-light shots).  I am grateful to Jun, our guide and rower, for these amazing photos taken inside the cave.

Light at the end of the tunnel
Puerto Princesa Underground River
The river empties into St. Paul Bay, completing its journey through the mountain and into the sea.

The eye-catching formations that could be admired only by using our spotlight put this cave at the top of our list.  It is absolutely pristine, due to the fact that there are no floors to be trampled over and the guides keep visitors safely out of “touching range” of the formations.

I could see why this park was nominated and officially recognized as one of the world’s New Seven Wonders of Nature.  The park shares the honor with Jeju Island in Korea, the Amazon in South America, Halong Bay in Vietnam, Iguazu Falls in Brazil, Komodo in Indonesia and Table Mountain in South Africa.

Sabang Beach
Back to the outrigger for the short ride home

Because of the cave’s popularity, tourism is booming and is now the main means of livelihood for island locals.  From what I saw during our visit, it is well-managed and controlled so far – I hope they can continue to handle the influx of tourists.  We totally enjoyed the experience of what we saw looming in the darkness, and highly recommend it to anyone coming to the Philippines!




  1. Not sure there are words to describe this tour. Wow!! The formations are amazing. I love the “jelly” formations. Looks just like a family of jelly fish with tentacles! The color is beautiful. I recognized the “Holy Family” immediately. I am surprised the bats continue to use the cave in the area of the tour. How neat to see so many of them:) What a unique cave experience! So glad you shared it with us.

    • I kept covering my mouth every time I say Wow! There were many fascinating formations that I wished you guys can see them 😦
      It must be awesome to see those bats go out in numbers as they look for food in the evening.

  2. Beautiful!! Reminds me of Palau and the rock islands. There was an underwater cave system we did a dive in. Love all your adventures. Have a Happy New Year with safe journeys!

  3. How beautiful but I must say…. It’s about time you got back to work. There’s been way to much cavorting and romping on the beach going on 🙂

  4. We too love caves but have never experienced one on anything but dry land. This looks like an amazing experience. 🙂

  5. What a wonderful experience, Mona! Those caves are vast. I love the jelly formations and the Italian Chamber. I would have been praying that the bats stayed exactly where they were. 🙂

  6. What a unique experience to paddle into such a spectacular cave! I’m glad your tour guide shared his photos with you so that we could enjoy the tour, too. 🙂 Great photo of you and Steve in the cave! It’s fun accompanying you guys on your exotic adventures.

    • Laurel, that was really surprising. He saw me with my little camera that he probably pitied me that I could not get good pictures. I traded him with a blank sd card. Those guides were really very friendly and respectful.

  7. That was a nice picture of the two of you near the end of your post. This reminded me of our tubing in the caverns of Belize. Neat photos… including the bats as well! 😀

  8. Thanks for this National Geographic type of a travel and nature post. You convinced so well enough that Palawan should be my destination next time I go to Philippines. Awesome, awesome captures. They are pro’s with taking pictures inside the cave.

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