The Subterranean river of Puerto Princesa
Though the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP) has a lot to offer visitors, most people make the trip from Puerto Princesa only to see the underground river, which is heavily celebrated as one of the new seven wonders of the natural world. Also part of UNESCO history, the river is now a huge source of pride to the Philippines.
The subterranean river system is 8.2km long and has several large chambers, up to 120m wide and 60m high. It flows underground almost the entire length, and empties into the ocean, so the lower part of the river is brackish (a mix of fresh and salt water) and subject to tidal influence, which makes it a natural phenomenon. When the sun is shining, the brackish water is known to turn an eye-popping bright blue-green (more green than blue).
The river isn’t the only attraction of the PPSRNP though, as the beach by the mouth of the cave features an impressive karst landscape, and the old-growth forest that fills the park is full of exotic flora and fauna. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw a handful of large monitor lizards crawling around, forked tongues darting about!
Since the river was given the honor of being one of the new seven wonders of nature, there was a huge jump in the amount of daily visitors, so much that a cap has been put into law for preservation reasons, which allows only 900 tourists a day into the subterranean river… but that seems to be largely flexible depending on the clout and amount of pesos you hold.
Truth be told, I was bored. Being deaf and unable to hear the tour guide, I was mostly just staring at inky blackness until another boat appeared in the distance, and then I’d watch the boat until it passed.
The couple sitting at the front of our boat had the only torch (the one Xeek and I brought was woefully inept) and so they were the ones who wielded the power. They aimed it where they wanted and, occasionally, where the tour guide told them to. Here and there I caught glimpses of bats, even nests of baby bats (Xiker groaned at the keening), but apparently bats did not interest the couple.
Xiker says the tour guide was funny when he bothered to speak English, but didn’t really say anything educational about the formations, rather quipping stuff that was intended to be funny. “This rock is called Tom and Jerry.” “This one is Sharon Stone! Look at the curves on that thing!” Xiker says the guide then catcalled, though I have no idea what that is supposed to sound like.
Pretty cool experience overall, but if it weren’t for the lovely beach of Sabang, I would’ve thought it was a bit overhyped. I was disappointed that there were no real educational signs around the park and that I had to get online just to learn about the river and such.