Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour Do It Yourself Guide in Palawan
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (also known as the Puerto Princesa Underground River or PPUR), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the highlights of the island of Palawan in the Philippines. This Puerto Princesa Underground River tour do it yourself guide will assist you in making the most out of your trip without having to join an organised tour.
Having been chosen as one of the New7Wonders of Nature, the underground river emerges directly into the sea and is a popular excursion for foreigners and Filipinos alike who flock to Sabang to visit the complex cave system.
The National Park features spectacular karst landscapes, beautiful forests and diverse wildlife. The island of Palawan is also well-known for being home to El Nido, one of the Philippine’s most popular destinations.
Most tourists choose to visit the PPUR on a group tour, but by following this Puerto Princesa Underground River tour do it yourself guide you can explore the area independently, especially if you are traveling on a budget. If however, you would like to join a group tour, follow this link.
Related: Whilst you’re in the Philippines, check out our post about the best street foods!
The underground river is actually located in Sabang which is about 80 km away from Puerto Princesa. Prices for a standard day trip from Puerto Princesa to the PPUR, offered by several companies in Puerto Princesa, were rather expensive when considering that you only get to spend about 45 minutes inside the cave.
It is however very possible to do the whole thing independently by following this underground river Palawan blog post, rather than going with a group tour through an agency.
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Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour Do it Yourself Guide in Six Simple Steps
- Get your permit at the Puerto Princesa Underground River office at the City Coliseum in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
- Get to Sabang
- Go to the Puerto Princesa Underground River tourist office in Sabang on the day of your trip
- Get on a boat to the Puerto Princesa Underground River
- Tour the cave system on your DIY underground river trip
- Make your way back
1. Get your permit at the Puerto Princesa Underground River office at the City Coliseum in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Check the opening hours of the office to ensure that they will be open during your visit. A trike ride from our hostel to the office cost us 50 PHP (about €0.80). We were the only people at the office on a Saturday morning and the permit was issued immediately, thus enabling us to start planning an underground river tour do it yourself trip for the following Monday .
No payment was made at this point but an estimate of the total price was given. The permit can also be issued at the Puerto Princesa Underground River office in Sabang, but we preferred to get it beforehand just to be sure of securing a place on the boat. If you’re on a backpacker budget, we really recommend staying at Balai Esperanza in Puerto Princesa.
Related: Heading further north after your trip? Follow our guide to spending 3 Days in El Nido
2. Get to Sabang
In order to go to the Puerto Princesa Underground River, you first need to get to Sabang. We decided to stay in Sabang for a couple of days since we liked the vibe there, but you don’t have to do this even though we totally recommend it! Buses and minivans depart from Puerto Princesa to Sabang from the San Jose bus terminal.
We read that buses should leave at 7am, 9am and 12am, but we got on a relatively full bus at 9.30am which left at 11am. There were no vans to Sabang in sight. We really do advise you to go to the terminal as early as possible to check out the day’s schedule which seems to be “flexible” if you want your plan for an underground river tour do it yourself to work out!
The bus ride took about 3 hours. Many people on the bus seemed to be carrying the entire contents of their house including lots of live chickens! We were the only foreigners on the local bus which also seemed to double up as a transport vehicle making the entire experience rather amusing!
Different shops passed on goods to the bus driver which were strapped to the rooftop of the bus, until a very large variety of items such as aluminium rolls, metal poles and cardboard boxes formed a massive pyramid on the top of our bus which we carried for almost the entire journey. These were eventually dropped off to different people along the route to Sabang. The cost of the bus ride was 125 PHP each (about €3.00).
Related: Find out what we spent during our two months of traveling in the Philippines
3. Go to the Puerto Princesa Underground River tourist office in Sabang on the day of your trip
If you opting for the underground river tour do it yourself, it is best to get to the tourist office as early as possible in order to avoid the large hordes of tourists from the group tours. We were there at 8am after having had a breakfast of crepes and sandwiches at a nearby shack. The people in the office will charge you the following fees:
- Puerto Princesa Underground River entrance fee – 500 PHP (about €8.00)
- Environmental fee – 150 PHP (about €2.50)
- Audio guide fee – 85 PHP (about €1.40)
You then need to go to the jetty right in front of the office where you will be asked whether you would like to share a boat or to book your own personal boat. The cost of going on the shared boat (6 people in total) is 187 PHP each (about €3.00). You should not have to wait for too long to make up the number of people for the boat to fill up and leave.
4. Get on a boat to the Puerto Princesa Underground River
The motorised boat will take you to a beach where you need to get off and walk to an area where you are given the audio device and then shown to a bangka which is what will be used for the trip. The guy rowing the bangka also doubles up as your guide.
5. Tour the cave system on your DIY underground river trip
The bangka will take you inside the dark cave. The audio guide is very helpful in explaining the history and importance of the cave system and river, as well as describing various rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites.
Many of the formations have been compared to religious scenes or vegetables, both of which seem to be very important to Filipinos! Do be respectful and observe silence during the tour so as not to disturb the natural environment.
Conservation of the ecosystem of the underground river was given a lot of importance during the tour which we appreciated greatly. The tour only takes you along the first 4 km of the cave and is about 45 minutes long.
Related: Follow our guide to exploring the Rice Terraces of Banaue and Batad
6. Make your way back
Your boatman will be waiting for you at the beach to take you back to the jetty in Sabang to complete your DIY underground river tour.
Price of the Underground River Tour Do It Yourself Option
The DIY Puerto Princesa underground river trip cost us 922 PHP (about €14.50) each excluding transport to Sabang. The bus from Puerto Princesa to Sabang cost 125 PHP (about €2.00) each, so a DIY underground river tour starting from Puerto Princesa to Sabang and going back using public transport, would cost less than half the price quoted by agencies for group tours.
The agency price also includes lunch and possibly some include other attractions such as zip-lining and jungle walk which we were not interested in doing this time round.. although they seemed like fun activities!
Verdict of the Underground River Tour Do It Yourself Option
The trip from the jetty to the cave, the time inside the cave, and back took about 1.5 hours.
We have been to more beautiful caves than this one and we do feel that the price was rather steep, even when going on an underground river tour do it yourself, for such a trip.
Having said that, it is apparent that the cave and river’s importance do not lie solely in the aesthetics of the cave system and perhaps we could not appreciate its actual wonders fully.
With careful planning, it is possible to go to Sabang, do the tour and go back to Puerto Princesa on the same day but we preferred to stay in Sabang.
Related: Read about our experience in Buscalan
Tips for the Underground River Tour Do It Yourself Option
- Wear flip-flops or other shoes which you do not mind wetting on the tour. You will need to get into knee deep water to get out of the motorised boat.
- Do not wear long garments for the same reason as above.
- You will be given a helmet on the tour. Be sure to keep it on, and do not open your mouth if looking up. The cave is full of bats which have no problems showering you with their poo.
- Bring a waterproof camera.
- We really recommend staying in Sabang for a couple of days, there is more to the village than just the Puerto Princesa Underground River, the area is packed with caves, beautiful beaches and jungle trails all of which can be visited.
Other Things to Do in Puerto Princesa
Island Hopping around Honda Bay
On a tour around Honda Bay you will probably get to visit Starfish Island, Luli Island, and Cowrie Island. Island hopping around Honda Bay is not as good or as beautiful as that around El Nido and Coron, but if you don’t intend heading north to those areas, it is worth while spending some time seeing the Palawan islands around Puerto Princesa.
Tours around Honda Bay can be booked here.
Zip-line from Ugong Rock
Package tours to the Puerto Princesa Underground River sometimes include a stop at Ugong Rock, but separate tours to Ugong Rock also exist. A tour would typically include a climb up to the top of the rock, and an adrenaline-filled zip-line experience back down.
Tours to Ugong Rock can be booked here.
Take a City Tour
A half of full-day city tour will take you all around the main sights of Puerto Princesa, including the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Plaza Cuartle, and Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre (the Crocodile Farm). Of course you can opt to visit most of the city sights independently if you have time.
City tours can be booked here.
Visit the Iwahig Prison
This rather intriguing experience will take you inside of a real prison for an insight into the day to day life of the inmates. When you are there, you can interact with some of the inmates who might open up and tell you their life stories and reasons for being in prison. You can even buy items made by the prisoners themselves!
Watch the Fireflies
A paddle canoe will take you along the river at night time where your guide will point out the trees lit by the glowing insects.
Fireflies tour can be booked here.
Where to stay in Puerto Princesa
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Balai Esperanza but if your budget is not that restricted or would like some pampering and luxury, consider a night’s stay at the Canvas Boutique Hotel. You can also choose from a wide range of accommodation on Hostelworld, Booking.com or Agoda.