Puerto Princesa is famously known because it’s home to one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, the Underground River.
This Philippine city was the last leg of a tour my cousin and I took through Palawan in the spring of 2018. After visiting El Nido and Coron, we were excited to wrap things up at this destination.
We arrived for the final chapter of our tour after taking a six-hour public van ride from El Nido. Our departure was delayed for over an hour because we were waiting/searching for three other passengers who had to catch a flight out of the Puerto Princesa airport that afternoon. It was a good thing I brought along a book so I could do some reading while we waited.
We were dropped off at our hotel for the next few days, Tres Pension House, which was our favorite of all the accommodations we stayed at throughout Palawan.
DAY 1: Underground River Tour
Our first full day of activities in Puerto Princesa was dedicated solely to the Underground River, which was an hour-and-a-half away from our hotel.
We picked up several passengers along the way and while we made our way to Subterranean River National Park – where the Underground River is located – our tour guide dropped a bunch of knowledge on the group including the following facts:
– Land in the area isn’t suitable for agricultural farming because there are a lot of rocks in the dirt
– Mining isn’t allowed in Palawan. The province is focused on ecotourism, which it believes is a more sustainable industry
We also swung by a shop to rent snorkeling masks (which, I want to note, were super clean!) and – if we needed some – aqua shoes.
Mangrove Forest Tour
Before touring the Underground River, we made a stop at an area where we could go zip lining or go on a mangrove tour. My cousin and I opted for the latter, which cost us P400 each.
We climbed into a paddle boat with a family of three and learned that the Philippines has lost a colossal volume of mangroves. Of what’s left, the tour guide said nearly half are in Palawan. Among the reasons for the decline in mangroves is that the wood is used for houses and firewood. It’s also eaten by termites.
I’m still looking for sources to verify the numbers the tour guide gave, but you can read a little more about efforts to preserve and restore mangroves here.
Paddling through the mangrove forest was a beautiful experience. We saw birds, fish and monitor lizards along the way. And it was mostly quiet apart from the water lapping while our tour guide paddled the boat forward and crickets in the area chirping.
A buffet lunch came next and we made sure to stuff our bellies before our most awaited stop of the day: the Underground River.
While we were on the way to our lunch stop, our tour guide told us about an exciting food item we could try: a woodworm. Woodworms eat dead mangroves and aren’t actually worms, but mollusks. That name, though, threw me off a bit and made me reluctant about trying it. But I decided to just do it because why not?
Chia and I ended up being the only one in our tour group to take the plunge. It made us feel really adventurous. Here’s proof that we did it: (Please excuse the crappy angle!)
I didn’t know what to expect but it wasn’t too bad. It was really cold and slimy, kind of similar to the texture of an oyster. We dipped the woodworm into a sauce made mostly of lemon, which I think was a huge reason it was tolerable. I actually don’t know how well I would’ve stomached the woodworm without that lemon. But, I wouldn’t mind eating it again 🙂 If you don’t like/are disgusted by the texture of oyster or sashimi, though, I wouldn’t recommend trying a woodworm.
Underground River Tour
I don’t have a lot of photos from the Underground River Tour mostly because it was dark inside, but also because I wanted to be as present as I possibly could while I was there. I can’t really put into words how fascinating this wonder is.
We took a boat to get to the entrance of the Underground River, then got onto a paddle boat with several other people, and then put on helmets and headsets to listen to a narrator that told us all about the Underground River.
Getting the information through the headset made it so we didn’t disturb the bats that live there. The guide used a light along the way to point out rock formations as they were mentioned in the recordings playing in our headsets.
The narration compared some of the formations to certain objects. I thought some of them were a miss, like a couple of the ones that were supposed to resemble vegetables. But the one that impressed me most was a formation that was said to resemble a nativity scene because it totally did. I was in awe that something like this formed naturally.
The tour lasted 45 minutes and it’s definitely a site you can’t miss out on while in Palawan.
DAY 2: Honda Bay island hopping
Day two in Puerto Princesa was devoted to a full day of island hopping in Honda Bay. It wasn’t as jam packed as the island hopping tours we did in El Nido. We visited only three islands, so it felt less rushed.
It was nice to be island hopping with a group again. My cousin and I found ourselves chatting mostly with a family who was vacationing in Palawan for just a few days.
Each of the islands we visited made an lasting impression on me for different reasons.
Starfish Island was the first place we saw that day. We got to do quite a bit there. First, we touristed and took photos with the Starfish Island sign.
We also had a lot of fun taking optical illusion photographs. They unfortunately didn’t turn out very well because it was hard to control the depth of field on my phone. But I did like how the one of me drinking the biggest bottle of Red Horse you’ve ever seen turned out 😛
The photos were taken by locals there and the cost for doing this is whatever you’d like to donate. We put P150 into the bucket.
Apart from taking photos, we were able to go snorkeling again. This was my favorite snorkeling site because the fish came closer so I was able to see them a lot better compared to previous sites. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, though. There wasn’t much coral in the shallower waters where we were, which means the fish probably just came up there because they knew people would feed them – which people shouldn’t be doing. So although I really enjoyed watching them, I also wish people wouldn’t mess with their diets just to get them to come up.
Our second destination on the Honda Bay Island Hopping tour was Luli Island. The same photo illusions at Starfish Island were there as well and were also available on a donation basis. Since we already did it at Starfish Island, we went straight into the water to go swimming.
There’s a diving board at Luli Island, which is what made it stand out for me. I was a little scared about jumping off the diving board, but it looked kind of fun so I did it a couple of times. It was kind of funny because a handful of people were scared as well, but they climbed up to the seating area where the diving board was just to watch people. One family watched me take a bunch of little baby steps to the edge of the board, and one person even counted me down and told me to “fly, fly, jump!”
The last – and lunch – stop for the day was Cowrie Island. This was memorable because we ate lunch there. It was a buffet lunch and there was so much good food! There were also drinks available for purchase separately from the lunch included, but I just grabbed a few cups of juice.
After scarfing down my plate of spaghetti, I walked over to the ocean and waded in it one last time before going back to the main island.
Palawan was so much fun and I will definitely visit again if I get the chance to do so in the future 🙂