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