The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP) covers not only the world-famous Palawan Underground River but also the ‘sleeping dragon’ mountain, pristine forests, limestone karst landscapes, mangroves and white sand beaches. It is undoubtedly among the most important biologically diverse preservation areas in the Philippines.
It was formerly known as St. Paul Subterranean River National Park by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 835 in 1971. In 1999, another presidential proclamation effectively increased its total conservation area from 3,901 hectares to a whooping 22,202 hectares. The increase in the land area also brought the change to its present name.
The park was inscribed to the prestigious UNESCO List of Natural World Heritage Sites on December 4, 1999. It was also declared a National Geological Monument by the National Committee on Geological Sciences (NCGS) last December 11, 2003. And just recently, it was chosen to be the Philippines’ official representative to the Search for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. The latter recognition has especially increased tourist arrivals to date. This shows that preservation efforts and tourism could actually go hand in hand.
I booked an organized tour (Php 1500.00) when I visited the PPSRNP last September. The main reason for that is that I only had 4D and 3N to explore Puerto Princesa City on my own. Since the park is located at Sabang which is 80 kms northwest from the city proper, public transport in going to and fro that port is hard to come by. There were some folks who were stranded that afternoon because the last bus left hours before its published 2:00 PM schedule. Signing up for the tour ensures that I would be back at my hotel within the day.
During the 1.5 hour van drive, we were treated to a visual feast of wonderful sceneries, lush mountains and interesting rock formations. The roads are also well paved except for a few portions which are still under rehabilitation.
Since we arrived earlier at the Sabang port, our group took the Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour (Php200.00). We then had a lunch buffet by the beach afterwards.
If you have plenty of time, you could also explore the Sabang falls to the south of the port. Aside from the mangrove tour, you could also visit the Ogong Rock on your way back as an additional sidetrip. At the top of that rock, one could see spectacular views of the limestone formations in the vicinity. For the extra adventurous, you could head for the jump-off on foot via the 5.2 km monkey trail or the 5.3 km jungle trail. It won’t cost you anything and the experience is extraordinary. If given another opportunity to visit Palawan, I’d take this off the beaten path next time.
The forests at the jump-off are home to various fauna and flora species. Monitor lizards are said to freely roam around even at the shore. But I only saw one resting near the cave entrance that afternoon. We were also forewarned of the monkeys that may snatch off anything that is placed in plastic bags. They would mistakenly identify it as food that is why unsuspecting tourists could easily lose their lunch or camera or even mobile phones to these playful primates.
The underground river tour lasts for about 45 minutes. The river is actually 8.2 kms long but only 4.3 kms is navigable. Only 1.5 km of the latter is allowed for the tour. Additional permits and appropriate gear are required for those who would like to proceed further into the cave. Our boatman/tour guide gently paddled the fiber glass paddle boat into the calm waters. He occasionally broke the silence by uttering jokes and trivias. He also assured us that only bats, swiftlets and spiders thrive inside as other feared reptiles such as crocodiles could not survive the pitch dark environment.
We saw various speleothems such as stalactites, stalagmites, columns, flowstones and draperies. Each limestone formation was also baptized with different names depending on how it looks from a particular angle. Our guide pointed to us various fruits and vegetables, a nativity scene, highways, and even Sharon Stone.
The highlight for me was seeing the large cathedral halfway through the trip. I felt at that point that we were dwarfed by the immensity of this chamber. You would fear at the possibility of the 60m ceiling collapsing anytime. But at the same time, you would wonder as to how the waves and the mountain conspired to carve this huge cavern through all these years. Unfortunately, my point and shoot camera was unable to capture that grand display of natural art. In fact, it was rather useless inside the cave. I only managed to get a few images that have recognizable features.
I remember that we were not allowed to touch the cave walls or the limestone formations as our hands may compromise the delicate process. The clear and turquoise waters at the entrance looks so inviting but swimming is not allowed too. These and so many rules were strictly enforced by the caretakers and were followed by the overly excited tourists as well. It is not a surprise why the park’s unique beauty is still maintained all this time.
Indeed, the PPSRNP personnel and the Puerto Princesa city government have done an excellent job in preserving and protecting the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Ecotourism initiatives elsewhere may embrace the idea of a 5-star resort or a ‘sustainable’ copper mine in the middle of the forest to help in the expensive upkeep of the place.
But it is a radically different case in Puerto Princesa. The local government did not fully utilize every square foot of the park for lucrative short-term gains. But they also know too well how to wisely use their natural resources without depriving the next generation of what they are enjoying at the present.
This is my maiden entry to the weekly meme My World. If you want to see other contributions from all over the world, please click here.