Puerto Princesa Underground River Part 3: Hidden Wonders of St. Paul Cave

“There’s nothing to see in the Underground River. It’s just rocks and darkness. BORING” – This is what I said before me and My Beloved Wife Lei went to Puerto Princesa.

So instead of booking a tour to the world famous underground river, I decided to get the Honda Bay tour. Going to the islands was fun but I realized that our Puerto Princesa trip will be incomplete if we never go to the Underground River.

Welcome to Puerto Princesa Underground River
Welcome to Puerto Princesa Underground River! (Note: that's not me)

Fortunately, we found a tour agency that helped us book a tour to the Underground River. They helped us get the entry permits and arranged our land travel to Sabang Wharf, then boat trip to the underground river, and even the buffet lunch. They got everything covered.

 After three-and-a-half hours of travelling and waiting, we finally reached the beach of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.

Landing at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River national Park

We were amazed by the clear seas and cliffs, which is a fine example of karst topography.

Karst rock formation near the Puerto Princesa Underground Cave

I read that Palawan was not originally part of the Philippine archipelago. About 30 million years ago, the island (together with Calamianes Group and Mindoro) is still part of the Eurasian Continental Plate (this is the land mass of mainland Asia and Europe). It just drifted away from the mainland and collided with the Philippine Mobile Belt 15 million years ago. That collision uplifted Palawan into its current form.1

Tectonic Movement of Palawan Island
Tectonic movement of Palawan Island.2

The uplifted limestone mountains of Palawan, which includes Mount St. Paul, were eroded and its rocks dissolved by rainwater and rivers forming the amazing karst topography that we see today.

These scientific data about Puerto Princesa Underground River blew my mind. The beauty that we admire today took millions of years to form.

A Walk through the Forest Trail

The entrance to the Underground River is at the foot of Mount St. Paul Range. The mountain is still wooded and located in the remote area of Palawan. That’s why we had to pass through the forest just to reach the entrance.

Forest trail to Puerto Princesa Underground River

Our journey through the forest was not scary because there’s a cleared path between the trees.

Our tour guide warned us about the monkeys in the National Park. She said that the monkeys are no longer scared of humans. These monkeys are attracted to the sound of plastic bags because they associate it with food.

I was not daunted with those warnings so when I saw a monkey I took a close up shot...

Monkey thief at Puerto Princesa Underground River

...which elicited an angry response. The monkey tried to steal my camera. Vicious sneaky animal! Good thing that it didn’t succeed. So, since that incident, I made sure to hold our bags tightly. Other park visitors were unfortunate because the monkeys stole their things.

This behavioural change for the monkey population in the National Park worried the environmentalists. The government even considered a closed season for the park to lessen the tourism’s impact to the environment.

After a short walk through the forest, we finally saw it: the entrance to the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

Puerto Princesa Underground River

The Puerto Princesa Underground River flows out of the St. Paul Cave. The cave and the river go together because it is the river that created the cave for thousands of years.

The place is beautiful. The water is of blue-green tint. It’s no wonder that the early inhabitants of Palawan considered the underground river as the home of the spirits. They didn’t enter the cave out of respect (or fear) to the diwatas.

We had to wait for our turn to ride the paddle boat to the Underground River. The waiting area is filled with tourists while the monkeys prowled around.

Waiting for our turn to enter St. Paul Cave

Good thing that trees shaded us from the sun. Lei took the opportunity to take her selfie while I roamed around the place.

I discovered that the underground river is connected to the sea.

Puerto Princesa Underground River water to West Philippine Sea

Finally! Our Journey Inside the St. Paul Cave

The Puerto Princesa Underground River flows throughout the length of the St. Paul Cave, which is located under Mt. St. Paul. According to our tour guide, Mount St. Paul was so named because it looked like London’s St. Paul Cathedral.

Diagram of St. Paul Cave
Diagram of St. Paul Cave.1

About 21 kilometers of the cave was explored. The diagram above shows that the cave almost covered the whole length of Mount St. Paul. Of course, there are still unexplored areas in the cave.

A little Google search revealed that the cave is well visited by foreign scientists. The first documented exploration was done by Balasz in 1973; then by Australians in 1980, Americans in 1982, and Italians in 1989.3 The latest exploration was done by Italians in 2011 which yielded the discovery of 20 million years old fossil of a sea cow.4

Our turn to ride the paddle boat came after 30 minutes of waiting. We finally met our boatman/cave guide:

Our boatman for the Puerto Princesa Underground River tour

I forgot his name but he told me that he once lived in Metro Manila. He returned to Palawan when he got tired of the city life.

Watch the video of our entry to St. Paul Cave:

 We were awed the moment we entered the cave. It was awesome that the stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and all other rock formations inside the cave took hundreds of years to form.

Inside St. Paul Cave
Inside Puerto Princesa Underground River

Our boatman knew that we were so awed by what we’re seeing that he warned us to never open our mouth very wide because we could catch either the cold cave water or the hot bat shit. What he said is funny but is also true. Up the cave’s ceiling we saw hundreds (or even thousands) of bats staring down at us.

Bats inside Puerto Princesa Underground River
The "black dots" on the white cave wall are bats.

I bet that they are so annoyed with us humans for always interrupting their sleep. Well, at least they didn’t pelt us with their poop.

Aside from telling jokes, our boatman said tidbits of history and scientific information. He told us that stalactites and stalagmites were form by dripping cave waters that contain dissolved minerals. Columns, on the other hand, form when the stalactites and stalagmites finally joined as one.

He showed us one rock formation that is about to become a column hundreds of years from now:

Future column of St. Paul Cave

Looking at the rock formations is like looking at the clouds in the sky. You need to unleash your imagination to enjoy the journey. Our boatman is good in imagining things and he brought us to the vegetable section, cathedral, the face of Jesus, the image Nativity scene, and many more.

Here are some of the things that we saw inside the cave:

Rock formations in St. Paul Cave
Boating on Puerto Princesa Underground River

I noticed that there were black crosses painted on the cave wall. I wonder if they have mysterious meaning.

Crosses on the wall of St. Paul Cave

Another interesting writing on the cave wall was written in 1937. I was not able to read the whole name but I saw LT. which may mean lieutenant. If my guess is right then that person would be an American military officer who was a member of the team who mapped Palawan in 1937.5

Wrtings on the wall of Puerto Princesa Underground River dated 1937

Our boatman told us that some cavers discovered an exit to the St. Paul Cave other than the one that we previously entered. Too bad that our tour will not bring us to that new exit.

Visitors of St. Paul Cave

Our journey through the cave passed too quickly that we thought we spent an hour or more in the darkness. The truth is that our tour lasted around 30 minutes.

Exit of St. Paul Cave
Light! I see light. We're saved!

I felt happy when I saw the light at the end of our journey. St. Paul Cave may have awesome things hidden in the dark but it doesn’t beat the beauty of the sun. We read this important reminder before we left the dock:

Important reminder for Puerto Princesa Underground River visitors

I heartily agree with what’s written on that sign. Giving tips to the boatman is a good sign of appreciation. Since our boatman/cave guide gave an excellent service, we didn’t hesitate to give him a tip.

That ended our journey inside St. Paul Cave and our Puerto Princesa Underground River adventure. All the time that we spent travelling and waiting were well spent because Puerto Princesa Underground River is truly beautiful and world-class. It truly deserves its place in the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

Regards to my first comment that “there’s nothing to see in the Underground Cave”? Well, I admit that I was wrong.


Read more of our adventures in Puerto Princesa, Palawan:

First Night in Puerto Princesa: Dinner Date at Haim Chicken Inato
Our Overnight Stay in Balay Inato, Puerto Princesa
Honda Bay Tour (Part 1): A Big Disappointment at Starfish Island
Honda Bay Tour (Part 2): Killing Time at Luli Island
Honda Bay Tour (Part 3): Finale in Cowrie Island
Second Night in Puerto Princesa: Sisig Night at Kinabuch’s
Marianne Home Inn: Our “Home” in Palawan
How We Obtained the Permit to Enter the Puerto Princesa Underground River
Puerto Princesa Underground River Adventure Part 1: Playing the Waiting Game at Sabang Wharf
Puerto Princesa Underground River Adventure Part 2: Our Boat Ride to the Underground River


Some information included in this post came from these sources:

1. St. Paul Limestone Formation National Geological Monument located in the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

2. An Ancient Origin for Enigmatic Flat-Headed Frogs (Bombinatoridae: Barbourula) from the Islands of Southeast Asia by David Blackburn, et al. Posted on Kansas University Natural History Museum website.

3. Recent Explorations in the Saint Paul Karst (Palawan, Philippines) by Antonio de Vivo et al. posted on Laventa website

4. Extinct Sea Cow Fossil Found in the Philippines from Phys.Org

5. Bibliographic Information on Palawan Nautical Chart posted on Stanford University Libraries website

Puerto Princesa Underground River Adventure Part 2: Our Boat Ride to the Underground River

We traveled through the plains and the mountains. We endured the boring stop at Sabang Wharf. Now, we’re on the last part of our journey to the most famous underground river in the world. Riding a flimsy (and noisy) banca, we braved the sea to reach the Puerto Princesa Underground River!

Our boat trip to Puerto Princesa Underground River

Our boat trip began at Sabang Wharf. The wharf was especially made for boats ferrying people to the Underground River.

Sabang Wharf, Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Sabang Wharf, Puerto Princesa, Palawan

This boat trip to Underground River reminded me of one of the scariest sea travel of my life. Somewhere in Davao del Sur, our little banca was pounded by waves as big as a bungalow house. There were times that I thought that the sea will engulf us. Thank God that we had a very skillful boatman thus we survived the ordeal.

Scary waves didn’t appear during boat trip to the Underground River. In fact, the weather is perfect. The sun was up and the wind blew gently. We’re fortunate that the weather was fine that day because the boats will be grounded at the wharf if there’s a storm.

Steep mountains of Palawan Island

The view was amazing. It was years ago when I saw the same coastal features that I saw during our boat trip. Overhanging cliffs by the sea, unspoilt forest, clear seas; my eyes feasted on them all. I even saw a bird carrying a big fish back to its nest at the cliffs.

The view was beautiful so I decided to take a video of our boat trip, which you can watch below:

The boat is very noisy and it will be annoying to some people but I guess there’s no choice. Motorized banca is the cheapest way to travel to the Underground River.

View of the beach of the Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park

We finally reached the beach of the National Park after 20-minutes of sea travel. The imposing cliffs that we saw miles away during the boat trip now stand very close and it is quite amazing.

Wonderful cliff near Puerto Princesa Underground River

The rock formation made my imagination go wild. Remove the trees and it will look like a mountain in Mordor (a perfect view of desolation). I also thought of the ents and I had an inkling that the tall trees will move.

Pulling the boats to the beach of the Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park

After taking our selfies (with that beautiful cliffs at the background), our tour guide bid us to finally enter the Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park. We’re happy. We’re all excited! Few more steps and we’ll be seeing the world famous Underground River.

Welcome to the Puerto Princesa Underground River
Note: that's not me.

Puerto Princesa Underground River Adventure Part 1: Playing the Waiting Game at Sabang Wharf

Our 2nd day in Puerto Princesa is getting better and better. We got the permit that we need to enter the Underground River. The sun is shining brightly and the sky doesn’t show any hint of rain.  This only means that the heavens wanted us to go to the world famous spot in Palawan.

Our tour group had an interesting mix of people. We were composed of two Norwegian ladies, one FilAm, a mother, father, and little boy, and three honeymooning couples! The most amusing fact is that the other two couples got married on the same day as us.

Our group left the city proper immediately when we got our permit. Our destination is Sabang Wharf, which is located to the west side of Palawan Island.

It took us around two hours just to reach the wharf. The journey was not boring because of the scenery. The trees, the amazing mountains, and my conversation with the FilAm kept me awake. My Beloved Wife Lei, on the other hand, slept during the whole journey. I guess she’s still feeling a little unwell.

Sabang Wharf, Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Sabang Wharf!

We finally reached Sabang Wharf around quarter to eleven. Lei suddenly lost her sleepiness and prompted me to take her photos. She really enjoy her selfies.

Our presence, just in other tourist spots that we visited, attracted some vendors. A hat vendor was very aggressive in selling us her hats. Her tactic was a success because Lei bought a hat for a hundred pesos.

Mad hatter at Sabang Wharf, Puerto Princesa

That transaction left a bad taste in our mouths because we discovered that that same hat costs 80 pesos in the souvenir shops nearby. We were tricked! Well, that another lesson learned. We should never buy from hawkers.

Visitors to the Underground River are required to go to the Park Information Office at the wharf for the validation of the permits. The park officials checked our permits and our IDs. The registration was quick.

Buying souvenirs at Sabang Wharf, Puerto Princesa

Waiting for our turn to ride the boats to the underground river was boring. Good thing that there are souvenir shops at the wharf. Those are the best place to kill time and waste money. We bought refrigerator magnets and key chains as pasalubong. Our personal souvenirs would be the t-shirts that say “Underground River”.

Souvenir shirts at Sabang Wharf, Puerto Princesa
Our souvenir shirt, top row and third from the left.

Gemma (our tour guide) brought us to Gusto Grill, which is also located at Sabang Wharf. This place is an eat-all-you-can buffet restaurant so I (who is a veteran Mang Inasal unli rice eater) felt at home. There is a wide selection of Filipino food which all tasted fine. Since this an eat-all-you-can affair, I made sure to fill my plate with food.

Yummy food at Sabang Wharf, Puerto Princesa
Nagda-diet pa ako n'yan ha. :-P

Gusto Grill is crowded around noon and it may be hard to find a seat. Good thing that our tour guide is madiskarte and she was able to find our group a seat.The lunch at Gusto is already included in our tour so our tour guide dealt with the payment.

Gusto Grill at Sabang Wharf, Puerto Princesa
Lunch rush hour is over.

My Beloved Wife is not fond of traveling in small boats. A few small waves is enough to make her shriek. So, I knew what she’s feeling when she saw these little waves pounding the wharf:

Sea near Sabang Wharf, Puerto Princesa

Lei had no choice but to ride the little boat and brave the sea. A little sacrifice for seeing the most awesome cave in Palawan.

Bancas to the Puerto Princesa Underground River

I read of sad stories of some tourists who were trapped at Sabang Wharf because of inclement weather. The boats cannot leave the wharf and the foreign tourists had no choice but return to their country.I’m glad that the weather is fine and our trip to the Underground River will continue.

The fresh sea breeze made our wait bearable. The waiting area is organized with plenty of monobloc chairs to accommodate tourists. Good thing that the FilAm had plenty of topics to talk about. Our conversation went from comparison of the tourist industry in Thailand and Philippines to the improvement to Philippine economy.

An hour passed and our group was finally called. Well, I guess it’s time to go to the sea again.

Wait for us Underground River. We’re coming to see you!

Riding the boat to Puerto Princesa Underground River


How We Obtained the Permit to Enter the Puerto Princesa Underground River

I was asked to choose between Honda Bay tour and Underground River tour when I was booking the promo at Cash CashPinoy. I chose the Honday Bay tour because I believed that I will not see anything grand in an underground river. It will just be darkness and stalactites and bats, which are boring.

Well, I was wrong because I realized that our Puerto Princesa trip will never be complete without a visit to the underground river. So we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to the Underground River. The big question, however, is how can we go there.

We’re fortunate that we found a tour company that was willing to arrange an Underground River tour for us even though we didn’t inform them in advance. So, in the early morning of our second day in Puerto Princesa we found ourselves in the Subterranean River National Park Booking Office.

Puerto Princesa Underground River - queueing ticket
Yeah! We're 18th in the queue.

I read in from Cito Beltran that only 900 people are allowed to visit the cave per day. We’re fortunate again because the underground river tour was not fully booked and there were few people in the Booking Office. It really pays to be an early bird.

Puerto Princesa Underground River Booking Office

Getting a permit to visit the Puerto Princesa Underground River is quite easy because all you have to do is to ask your hotel to arrange the tour for you. The hotel (through a tour agency) will secure the permit for you, and arrange your transportation, food, and the banca that you will use to reach the underground river.

Walk-in applicants, like me and My Beloved Wife Lei, had to go the harder process of securing the permit personally.

Walk-in applicants should bring a valid ID or passport and money a payment for the admission fee.

The following are the admission fees to the Puerto Princesa Underground River:

Admission fees to Puerto Princesa Underground River

The admission fee to Puerto Princesa Underground River Park is different to the fee when entering the cave. The park actually covers the beach and the forest outside of the cave. This means that if you’re an adult foreigner who wanted to enter the cave you have to pay 150 pesos to enter the park and 250 pesos for the cave.

Me and My Beloved Wife paid the Booking Office 275 pesos each to enter the underground river (cave).

Puerto Princesa Underground River - transaction ticket dispenser

Steps in Obtaining the Underground River Permit

1. The first thing that we did is get a transaction number. The queue ticket dispenser is located near the entrance of the Booking Office.

2. We then provided our IDs and other tour information to the clerk.

3. We were then directed to Table 1 for the assessment of the fees that we had to pay.

4. The last part is the payment of the assessed fees and then obtaining the visitor’s entry permit (VEP).

It took around 15 minutes to get the permit. There were few people in the Booking Office so our transaction was quick. I bet that the queue will be long in the late morning and afternoon. Our tour guide, who I will call “Gemma”, accompanied and guided us throughout the transaction. She is very helpful, especially to the foreigners (we had two Norwegians in our group).

Waiting for our transaction ticket in the Puerto Princesa Underground River booking office

Tips for Obtaining Permits for Walk-in Visitors to the Underground River

1. Get a reliable tour agency (or tour guide) that will help you obtain the permits. Tour guides know how the system works and have friends in the Booking Office.

2. Be a very early bird. This means that you should be at Booking Office right on the opening time of 8 AM. This will guarantee that you will be first in the queue and get the permit immediately. Take note that it’s 2 to 3 hours travel from the city to Sabang wharf. Also, the waiting time to ride the banca to the underground river is quite long. Getting the permit early means getting to the underground cave early.

3. Do not forget your ID or passport. This will be a big hassle (not only to you but also to your tour mates) if you forgot your ID or passport in your hotel.

4. Personal appearance is important. This means that you have to get the permit personally. This is required to prevent scalping.

I think that Lady Luck is smiling at us that day because we got the permit in the quickest way possible. We’re very thankful to God that our visit to the world famous Puerto Princesa Underground River will finally come true.

Underground River, HERE WE COME!

Our Super Dinner Date in Super Bowl of China

“Where should we dine?” – This is one question that always crop up whenever we have our dinner date. This is a difficult question because of so many restaurants to choose from.

The Question is on our minds one night until we caught Super Bowl’s 1-peso deal. There was a catch, however, because we have to order one main dish to avail of the promo. That was not a problem and we still chose to dine in Super Bowl.

Super Bowl of China

Super Bowl of China obviously serves Chinese dishes so we already had an idea what to expect with their food. There are the usual noodles, dimsum, yang chow, and chicken. They all looked yummy in the menu but what got our mouth watering was a seafood dish sprinkled with what seemed like siling labuyo.

Menu of Super Bowl of China

The staff of Super Bowl was generous enough to give us a bowl of chicharon while they’re preparing our food.

Chicharon of Super Bowl of China

The Super Bowl branch that we dined in is in SM Megamall. The place has some Chinese elements fused with Western designs.

Super Bowl of China - SM Megamall branch

Our orders finally reached us after a few minutes of waiting. We ordered the cuttlefish with spicy salt:

Cuttlefish dish of Super Bowl of China

We also took advantage of their promo so we ordered Stir Fried Beef with Oyster Sauce for just 1 peso.

Stir fried beef of Super Bowl of China

We enjoyed our dinner date not only because I’m with My Beloved but also because of the great food. The cuttlefish looks scary because of the labuyo but it was not very spicy. I believe that Bicolanos will not get the kick that they want with this dish.

The beef dish also tasted good. The best part of this is that we only spent 1 peso for this dish.

Our food in Super Bowl of China

The food was too much for the of us that we had to ask a Super Bowl staff to pack the leftover stir fried beef. Thus, my Super Bowl dining experience continued during breakfast the next morning.

All in all, we had a great dining experience in Super Bowl of China. The cuttlefish and the stir fried beef. Their staff was courteous and helpful with our “selfie”. We will definitely dine again especially if they have a repeat of the 1-peso promo.


You just finished reading a Foodie Sunday post. This a blog post series where I post about our foodie adventures. Expect to read about food; from homecook meals. to street food. to fine dining, to fast food, even the weird edible things.