Friday, November 28, 2014

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

Our recent trip to Puerto Princesa also allowed us to go to the Underground River again. This was  my third time at this natural wonder that's been recognised as one of the 7 Wonders of Nature. Regardless of the "formal" recognition, it is definitely a wonder of nature and one that is really worth the time and effort to see or experience. Only a short part of the subterranean river is available for the regular tours. Our guide explained that you will need another permit to explore more parts of the river, and an even stricter permit, equipment and guides with higher qualifications to get to the least visited parts of the river. The latter areas are of interest to scientists including geologists and even archeologists and palaeontologists as fossils and cave paintings are supposed to have been found deeper into the mountains. Now that will be something for the more adventurous to try out! While I am curious about the other secrets of the underground river, I am quite satisfied with the experience of the regular tour.

Sign at the jump-off point - Sabang Wharf
Outriggers and their boatmen waiting for their turn to ferry visitors to the Underground River site 
Rock formation as we turn towards the the beaches of the national park where visitors will have to leave their boats to walk towards the river and to board a smaller boat (banca) to tour the river.
Once passengers are off-loaded, boats are maneuvered towards a mooring area. This is to keep the beaches clear for other boats to off-load their passengers.
Boats and their crew waiting for their passengers to return for the trip back to Sabang when we arrived at the national park.
Visitors arrive at the beaches with a backdrop of the impressive rock formations at the national park. 
Pristine waters and excellent weather made for a pleasant tour.
Another sign, this time recognising the national park as a conservation area under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
Building housing comfort rooms at the park.
The staging area for tours of the river is a short trek from the beaches.
Visitors don safety vests and helmets for the tour. The helmets are pretty useful agains water and other droppings from above as you tour the caves.
A boatful of people enters the underground river as our boat follows.
Writings on the rocks by American troops who re-discovered the underground river and first explored it. I say "re-discovered" because Palawenos already knew about the river and regarded it as a mystical site. There are the only kinds of "graffiti" or vandalisms you will see aside from markers for explorers and scientists inside the caves. Fortunately, tourists have not left their own marks in the subterranean river.
The view of the staging area as we emerge from the underground river.
The river actually empties into the sea but that part of the park is basically off-limits to most visitors - part of the conservation efforts for the area.
We found that the number vessels (and visitors) have ballooned as we made our way back to our boat.
Another look at the boats that have accumulated since we arrived in the area shows just how many visitors come to see the underground river. There is supposed to be a limit in the number of visitors here (one reason why you need to get a permit in advance) but it seems like the local tourism office has allowed more than the limit and that this is happening on a regular basis. I just hope they are able to protect and maintain the national park.
As we set off to return to Sabang, I got a good shot of the rock formation that I have associated with a chess piece - the rook or tower.


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