New natural wonder of the world – the underground river in Sabang, Palawan, The Philippines

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ July 9th, 2009. Updated on November 8th, 2010. Published in: Travel blog » Philippines.
Entrance to the Subterranean Cave in Palawan

Entrance to the Subterranean Cave in Palawan (click image to begin slideshow)

How to travel the underground river in Sabang?

I sat waiting for in the rain for over an hour. Across from me was a sign saying “Welcome to Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park” and another one saying “The worlds longest ‘Navigable’ underground river” and … another tiny marker saying it was a UNESCO world heritage site. I shivered as my fever took hold.

I grew impatient waiting for the boat men to show up. In total including my lunch it was nearly two hours of waiting. The Park didn’t let anyone go on the trail back after 3pm due to concerns over people getting lost and I was worried with the boat trip included I wouldn’t be able to walk back. I’d have to pay 1,000 + for a boat back to Sabang village instead.

Safety brought on my tourism?

Cave formations Sabang's Subterranean River Cave

Cave formations Sabang's Subterranean River Cave

However they did finally show up. And soon we were strapping on bright orange life vests and under sized helmets. I found it bizzare having to climb half a cliff earlier without anyone mentioning saftey, and now having to wear safety equipment for a safe calm water boat ride. Being in bad form I cared less about protocol and barged ahead to the front seat of the boat as the Filipino tourist group behind me made a big fuss about getting into the boat. But soon we were off.

Entering the Underground river in Sabang

The yawning cave entrance was reflected in brilliant near neon green water which was impressive. Yet soon after everything became dark, and then pitch black. It was after all an underground cave. Sufficed to say the boat man asked if I would clip on a car battery powered light and guide the way. My

Cave formations in Sabang

Cave formations in Sabang

punishment for jumping ahead on the boat. How would I be able to photograph and hold a light at the same time?

Cave shapes in Sabang

The boat man made the odd joke about sharks, crocodiles, and loosing his paddle as we went deeper into the cave. He too had a light and together when they both met I was able to shoot some photographs. The advantage swung back in my direction again.

Errie shapes of tanned and orange colored formations loomed out of the shadows as we drifted forward. Some baring jagged fangs, others vague faces. Hunchbacks, Madonna’s, the last supper were all pointed out by the boat man. A barrage of Filipino tourists behind me asked what it would be like at

Spotlights reflecting of caves in underground river

Spotlights reflecting of caves in underground river

the other end.

“We only go 4.5 Kiliometers sir.”

Sabang, home to the “worlds longest navigable river”?

The tour was only to the half way point. After that one needed a permit. My pessimistic view point reflected on just what the place was. It was one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Philippines. Fine, I can accept, and give it that. It’s noted as being the “World’s longest navigable river.” This I have a problem with as really it’s just a name. I have “the world’s only piece of chewing gun that touched the worlds

Strange unearthly shapes in the cave

Strange unearthly shapes in the cave

longest river”.

Illness spawned sarcasm aside, Id heard about the worlds real longest underground river being in Mexico. Then again maybe Bulgaria has the worlds longest underground ‘green’ river. Okay I will stop now.

My problem with “New” World Wonders

This has been a bet peeve of mine since I first heard about it some years back. There are 7 ancient wonders of the world. Period. Then people started to split modern world wonders up, Natural, Man Made etc. This I hoped was not for commercial gain. Ahem …

Then along came a bright Canadian man, who with a little ‘backing’ came up with the idea of

Hanging Alien like formation found in the cave

Hanging Alien like formation found in the cave

creating the New 7 Wonders of the World (opens new window to their website). In 2007 after many months of commercialism they named the New 7 Wonders of the world.  It didn’t stop there though. At the same time they then started the campaign for the New 7 Wonders of Nature (I don’t see it ending anytime soon). And … e.t.c.,

It’s a giant commercial voting spree open to everyone, telephone hot lines, online voting etc,. And the list is huge, 261 at last count and now narrowed to something like 77. It still doesn’t end there. The 66 are broken down into categories like Landscapes, Islands, Rock formation and Bonsai Trees … only kidding about the last one! But … who know’s.

Bat's hang from all over the cave

Bat's hang from all over the cave

In my mind each of these 277 nominations has it’s own commercial gain in being nominated. And it does have it’s positives, schools get involved, it brings educational understanding to the masses, and it brings in revenue for the said nominated sites and areas. And that’s were it all get’s a bit iffy in my book. Buy the t-shirt, the coins, the stamps. Go to the fancy incountry nomination ceremony’s, or better yet sign up to become a commercial sponsor, advertiser or heck just donate some money to the never ending lists.

Stalactites or stalagmites in Sabangs underground river cave

Stalactites or stalagmites in Sabangs underground river cave

It all grates with me. Not only do I know that if I ever go to a greater proportion of one of these 261 nominate sights will I be paying over the top fees to get there, get in, or simply take a photo. But they will be over run by tourists, and tacky signs.

Should there be only 1 set of world wonders?

I think back to the 7 Wonders of The Ancient World and I think honor through the annals of time.

They grew with history. There’s little commercial gain to be made aside from historical perspectives and a visit to Egypt and to some other alleged sites in the nearby regions. But the point is, they grew from legend. A tale of humanities past triumphs, history and tragedies. The New 7 Wonders of the world has taken from that and added in what is perhaps today’s biggest value – Commercial gain.

Round up of the underground river tour in Sabang

Either way and no matter what they call it the underground river in Sagang is for sure worth a visit. I wouldn’t get too excited over the 45 minutes tour. Bring strong rubber shoes for getting on the paddle boats, and a camera with a great flash or excellent night capabilities. The other option is perhaps to ‘pay’ a little extra for a private boat. Take your time photographing, in between telling the guide and yourself not to rock the boat.

Once we left the cave the rain was heavier than ever. It was 3pm on the dot as I squelched back into the jungle alone. The Filipino

Incredible formations are found in every corner of the subterrainian cave

Incredible formations are found in every corner of the subterrainian cave

tourists went straight to their boats. My head was pounding and I took some paracetamol. But my real problem was my chest. It was most likely the start of a chest infection. My first in a very long time.

Leaving the the underwater cave

Leaving the the underwater cave

I took the jungle trail back, which was meant to be easy. To say I struggled in the rain would be an understatement. Down slippery trails, rocks and steps I cautiously made my way along. I don’t even remember how long the 2.5 hour jungle trail back actually took me. But by the time I got to the town it was already getting dark. I was so wet my boots were squelching and I was completely sodden.

I knew what I needed to do before changing though. Take antibiotics before the infection set in any further. I could already taste the bacteria in my phlegm and knew something big was going to hit me. The problem was, there is no Pharmacy in the village.

Coming soon:

How I deal with getting sick when traveling


Finding Tibetan enlightenment in Sabang

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3 Great responses to New natural wonder of the world – the underground river in Sabang, Palawan, The Philippines

  1. Jessy V says:

    Love the caves!! I tried to comment a few days ago, but it kept coming up blank?

    I wanted to know the price of the Underground river trip?

  2. Hi Jessy,

    Thanks for the comment. Sorry about the comments not coming up for the last few days. I tried to improve the way they look, and ended up making them look like blank pages! Anyway they are back working again now!

    The underground river trip costs 200 pesos, payable at the tourist office in Sabang. You can take a boat trip for 700 or a return for 1200. But walking through the Monkey trail is free. So its 200 pesos in total!

    Hope that helps