Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Philippines.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in The Philippines.
I don’t know if it was worth it, a 12-hour day (including a stop for a buffet lunch and tamilok worm) for a 45 minute ride through the Puerto Princesa underground river in the Philippines.
It was a nice tour, don’t get me wrong. It just could have been better, maybe. Or maybe I was just expecting something different.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the “New Seven Wonders of Nature” (along with Halong Bay). It’s the world’s longest navigable underground river, flowing directly below St. Paul Mountain Range, it encompasses one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, and it’s one of the biggest tourist draws to the island of Palawan. The entire cave system stretches for a total of 24km underneath the mountains, the river winds through 8.2km of it, and the tours only take you to the 4km mark.
In theory, the Puerto Princesa Underground River tour should be a magnificent, calm, beautiful, experience.
I imagined a deep, dark cave, the darkest of dark, lit only by the guide’s headlamp. I imagined an intense silence only interrupted by the echos of birds calling in the distance, bat wings fluttering in flight, water droplets running down the jagged limestone karst walls and dripping into the river, and the boat’s paddle skimming across the surface of the water.
There was a lot of waiting. Waiting for buses. Waiting for boats. Waiting for other people. And instead of dark and quiet, it was all camera flashes and incessant corny jokes from a tour guide I could barely understand. I didn’t need to know that he (or, more accurately, whoever wrote the script) thinks that one rock looks like a mushroom or an elephant or a naked woman. I didn’t need a running commentary. I would have preferred to sit in silence, observing the cave for what it was.
But, things are what they are.
And the Puerto Princesa Underground River is what it is.
Photos from the Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour in the Philippines: