Deep underground on the island of Palawan in the Philippines lies the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, it’s the world’s longest navigable underground river and makes for an exciting experience in one of the Philippines’ most popular islands. Here’s everything you need to know about exploring the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

Where is the Puerto Princesa underground river?

The river flows directly underneath the St Paul Mountain Range, found on the mid-western coast of Palawan island. The river system was created millions of years ago as water channelled its way through the rock creating a series of vast chambers and caverns.

The cave system stretches for a total of 24km beneath the mountains. Visitors can explore a smaller portion – entering the cave from the point where the underground river reaches the sea.

Puerto Princesa Underground river entrance, Palawan, PhilippinesThe entrance to the Puerto Princesa river 

The river and caves are home to a complex ecosystem that has adapted to the underground conditions over hundreds of years. Many of the species found in the caves are endemic to the river system, including certain types of giant spiders, crabs, fish and snakes, although bats and swallows are likely to be the only creatures you’ll see.

Thinking of planning a visit to see the Puerto Princesa underground river? Get in touch! We can connect you with a local expert to organise a fully personalised trip.

Visiting Puerto Princesa

A trip to the subterranean river national park is absolutely worth the effort if you're visiting Palawan. It's an otherworldly experience as you paddle through the dark. The clicking of bats and the echoing drips of water are the only sounds you hear. You'll glide through cavernous rock cathedrals and past stalactites into the centre of the earth.

Most tours will take you 4 km (2.5 miles) along the river. Some tours with special permits organised in advance can explore all 8.2 kilometres (5 miles). That far into the cave, boats can no longer pass and visitors have to swim between the rock walls.

Conquer your fears of small, dark spaces however, and you’ll be treated to the rare sights of waterfalls gushing through the cave walls, a unique 20 million-year-old fossil of a sirenia or manatee, and a tiny rock passage that leads into a vast room, carpeted from floor to ceiling in glimmering crystals.

Puerto Princesa Underground River: the Philippines’ 8km-long subterranean wonder: Cave of Puerto Princesa subterranean underground river on Palawan, Philippines.The entrance to Puerto Princesa underground river © Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock 

Even the journey to the cave itself is worth it: you’ll enjoy a scenic 20-minute boat ride across the sea, past towering limestone karsts and walk through the national park, home to monkeys swinging through the tree canopies and giant monitor lizards slinking their way through the undergrowth.

How to get to Puerto Princesa underground river

The jumping-off point for the underground river is the small village of Sabang. Sabang is located around 40km (24 miles) north of the capital of the island – also called Puerto Princesa. You can book a day tour from the capital or stay in Sabang itself. Along with a lovely beach, it has a couple of luxury resorts and affordable beach huts.

In order to protect the river ecosystem, all visitors must have a permit. While you can organise permits and boat hire yourself, joining a tour is much simpler. Due to limited capacity and high demand, it’s best to book at least a few days in advance.

Puerto Princesa Underground River: the Philippines’ 8km-long subterranean wonder: Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park, Philippines.A boat trip prepares to enter the river system © Jesper Olsson/Shutterstock 

What to expect on your visit

Tours from Puerto Princesa usually include transport and permits and often lunch. From Sabang, tours are shorter (and cheaper) but you may have to arrange a permit separately. You can get one at the office on the wharf.

Helmets and life jackets are provided and must be worn for the duration of the tour (which lasts around 45 minutes). Remember to keep your mouth closed when you look up, as the cave is also home to thousands of bats, who often drop unwanted "gifts" (read, faeces) from above.

Inside Puerto Princesa Underground River, cave system, the PhilippinesThe view from inside the river system

An audio guide is available on most tours and provides lots of scientific information about the river and the caves (as well as atmospheric music). If you find yourself looking around in bewilderment trying to spot the different formations, remember you can remove your earphones and let your imagination take over.

Share

Book Your Trip To Philippines

Get your dream travel planned & booked by local travel experts

At Rough Guides, we understand that experienced travellers want to get truly off-the-beaten-track. That’s why we’ve partnered with local experts to help you plan and book tailor-made trips that are packed with personality and stimulating adventure - at all levels of comfort. If you love planning, but find arranging the logistics exhausting, you’re in the right place.

Learn Morechevron_right

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Explore places to visit in Philippines

Your comprehensive guide to travel in Philippines

Map of Philippineschevron_right

Sign up for weekly travel inspiration

Sign up to our newsletter for weekly inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs