The cabayugan river arises at Mount St Paul at an altitude of 100m and flows underground for almost its entire length to an outflow in St. Paul’s bay. This river is 8.2 kilometers long and is said to be the longest navigable river in the world. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and of the new 7 wonders of nature.
The main features of this subterranean river national park are its spectacular limestone karsts and its rich bio diversity. But, as a tourist, you will find any things interesting. First, the ride into the dark river on tiny rafts and seeing the limestone formations inside the cave using searchlights will be very interesting.
Second, you will realize just how wide the cave is and the sheer magnitude of it will impress your imagination. Out of these 8.3 kms, about 4.5 is navigable, but only 2 kms are allowed for the typical tourist. For the full navigable distance, one needs a research permit.
The other interesting things are the innumerable number of swiftlets inside the river cave and the thousands of fruit bats inside. You will be cautioned not to open your mouth while staring up at the bats, but that is part of the fun.
Only people with necessary permits are allowed into this national park that allows a fixed number of visitors per day. These permits can either be pre-arranged through a travel agent or you can go to Puerto Princesa city and get it on your own. The next step is to get to Sabang, the small beach hamlet from where the boat rides begin to the national park. Sabang is about 76 kms or roughly 2 hours from Puerto Princesa city. There are 3 ways to get to Sabang from Puerto – private vehicle, public bus and public van service. The public van service is air conditioned and fairly comfortable.
You can either explore the underground river as a day trip from Puerto or decide to halt at Sabang, explore its beautiful beaches and go for hikes amidst its mangrove forests. For the underground river ride, you will have to present your permits and ID proof at the checking counter near the boat jetty (anyone can guide you here) and they will help you with the boarding. You will have to pay for the boat charges here. It is then a 15 minute ride across open ocean to the Puerto Princesa Underground river national park.
At the national park, you can read a lot of material about the various flora and fauna living in this park as you walk through the dense thicket of tall tropical trees to the place where you get your life jacket and helmet. Once you all fitted with the protective gear, a tiny raft takes you inside the river. An oarman and a forest guide accompany each raft. The forest guide handles the search light and educates you on all the interesting stuff about and in the cave. So, please pay close attention to what he is saying even if some of them speak with a slight accent. The underground river ride will be over in 45 minutes, but you will marvel at its beautiful formations, the fact that the river upstream has fresh water and at the entrance is more brackish and the eerie like natural setting.
If you wish to photograph inside the cave, do carry a separate flash unit that will work over and above the search light as even the light from the search light will not be enough for even high ISO photographs. And watch out for the rowdy monkeys who are known to steal belongings of the tourist.
This natural wonder might not come across as truly WOW if you just do the underground river trip as we get to see only a bit of it (as the government is trying to preserve the natural setting and the wildlife), but if you explore the forests, try and understand the flora and fauna, I am sure, you will find the place truly a wonder!