The Wonders of Puerto Princesa
by Danny Tariman
My family loves exploring places. We roamed around Davao City last month, and this month, we are going to yet another destination: Puerto Princesa and the Underground River. Exciting, indeed!
We booked our trip early. Thanks to a promo of Cebu Pacific, we were able to get our ticket to the city for only 1 peso for a one-way airfare. As what we normally do, we search the internet for places of interest in the city. We also check the comments of various hotels available. We got this very homey B&B hotel for a very good price. It is like a home away from home. Plus, the staff always are smiling and very accommodating.
Here We Come, PPC!
We arrived at the airport early at about half-past-nine. We were met at the airport by an almost new Toyota Hi-Ace which took us to the hotel. The drive from the airport was easy in quick, I find out that the airport is just 15 minutes away from the city. I have noted that main thoroughfare is lined with many restaurants and shops that tells me I had arrived in a “tourist city”.
We checked-in at a B&B lodge with interiors and patio which is like home. We were welcomed by very helpful and smiling staff. I thought I was home. The room is clean and fresh. Indeed the comments of past guests, that we have read from the internet are true.
Off To A Good Start
Immediately after we had settled, we set our feet on the road. Our first stop: a popular local pizza store – the Neva’s Pizza. It was a good experience, We were served a home-made style pizza baked in firewood-heated oven. Oh, yes! We were seated in the middle of a garden. Something that I haven’t experienced back in Manila. A must-try for the city visitors.
After our lunch, we took a tourist van which toured us to various places in the city. First stop was a weaving factory & souvenir shop. I tried weaving a few strokes just to get a feel of how it is done. An experience,really! Then we went to Mitra Ranch with a villa overlooking the city and the seas.
We visited next the Bakers Hill. Aside from the nice hopia, what caught my interest here is the well kept garden. It is really awesome – ornamental plants every where that exudes a very fresh and relaxing ambiance. We had a light afternoon snack here – with its hopia and other stuff.
We capped the day tour with a visit to Palawan Wildlife & Conservation Center. This place keeps and maintains some endangered species in Palawan. This also houses a crocodile farm.
In the evening, we had time to re-connect with my cousin Ate Rose who had left Manila long time ago and is now living in Puerto Princesa. We hadn’t seen each other for many, many years. We had a great time over dinner with her and her family, in a very nice Filipino restaurant.
The Underground River
This is a long drive from the city proper. It was good that our tour guide was chatty and funny. We were laughing all the way from the city to Sabang – the drop-off point for the boat ride to the cave. During our trip, we were told that there are monkeys freely roaming in the vicinity of the cave and that we should take care of our bags and cameras as these monkeys may grab it ‘thinking’ it might have food. At Sabang tourist center, waited for about 30 minutes while our tour guide registered us and arranged for our boat. The boat ride was about 30 minutes. The excitement was growing as we were nearing the underground river. Indeed there were monkeys freely roaming. And not only monkeys, there are also big (about 2-feet long) mountain lizards.
The underground river tour was about 30 minutes. You will hear Oh’s, and Ah’s, and Wow’s as you go inside. It was pitch black dark. We were using a lantern (a battery operated flashlight) so guide us. Tip: volunteer to be the lantern holder, so you can have more control of the light direction and spot where you want to see more. You will be guided by the boatman where to focus the light.
Inside the cave you will see various formations of stalactites and stalagmites. The boatman has named each spot, from “vegetable market” (because to formations like carrots and others) to “cathedral” (because of the high ceiling), to “Virgin Mary” because of similarity of the rock formation to an icon of the Blessed Mother.
Back to the City
We had our buffet lunch at Sabang after our underground river tour. While others were resting, we walked about the place and see its surroundings. We visited Sheridan Resort & Spa which is a high-end hotel. It has a swimming pool and a garden that extends to the beach.
Along the way, we stopped by the Karst Mountain/Elephant Cave – so called because of the similarity of its facade to a head of an elephant. This is also the place where the reality TV series “Amazing Race” had a stop for the contestant’s next cue.
At the city, we tried its famous halo-halo (sweetened mixed fruits with finely crushed ice and creamy milk). Really good “must-try” for visitors. In the evening, we strolled at the Bay Walk. We also had a dinner “boodle-boodle” style where all food – rice, an assortment of grilled seafood (fish, squid, crabs, etc) – is served in banana leaves in the middle of a table.
Honda Bay Island Hopping
The final leg of our tour is island hopping at Honda Bay. We took a motorized boat. We were with a group of other tourists from Australia, the US, and an Arab. We had befriended them all.
Our first hop was at Pandan Island. My family had a good time here feeding various kinds of fishes. My son was also able to spot some star fishes. From Pandan, we took another ride for about 15 minutes and then we reached Luli Island. This island is said to be visible when low tide, and submerged during high tide. This island has a diving spot but we didn’t give it a try. Instead, we just swim in the deeper portions of the water where we took some photos of corals and live fish. We roamed around its surroundings.
Our last and final hop was at Cowrie Island. We had an eat-all-you-can buffet lunch. We had a satisfying lunch here. I had to go back few times to the serving bar. Hehehe. We also had as good chat with our new friends whom we had met in this tour.
Some tour packages are usually marketed as “1 day”. Make sure to have alternate plans as it can actually be finished early or mid-afternoon. This means you have a lot of free time during the later part of the day. Plan what to do, where to go. I suggest you check out other places of interest that may not be in the package tour itinerary.
When traveling with a certified tour guide (with ID issued by the local government), he will normally announce the dos-and-donts. Make sure to listen attentively. The airport strictly enforces its rules. We were checking-in at the counter when a foreigner beside me was also checked-in with a native handicraft. It was not really big; can be hand carried. But it was not allowed; thus it was required as a check-in luggage with a fee.
Puerto Princesa, indeed the gate to one of the world’s wonders!