Sunday, August 25, 2013

Puerto Princesa: Palawan's Unrivaled Princess

Puerto Princesa is a true haven of beauty of nature. Just within its city borders are some of the most amazing natural sights that every Palawenos can be proud of. No wonder about it since Puerto Princesa is one of the few places in the world where a complete mountain-sea-forest ecosystem still exist. With its rich biodiversity of seascape and landscape, Puerto Princesa City gears up as one of the greenest and cleanest city in the country.

One of the 7 wonders of nature - Puerto Princesa Underground River!
As the plane approaches the airport runway, I can already see from the plane window, a beautiful reef surrounding the runway that made me excited to explore this city of Palawan. Arriving early in the morning in the “princess of ports” is the ideal time to explore its natural sights and places of interests. Together with my family and relatives, we were fetched by our contact accommodation in Puerto Princesa – Victoria Guest House and Cottages who also did arrangement for our tour around the city.   Victoria Guest House and Cottages is conveniently located to near the airport with just a travel time of around 10 to 12 minutes. Upon arrival, we were welcome by refreshment drinks before we settled at their home-style room accommodation.

Stunning reef right from the airplane window as it approaches Puerto Princesa Airport.
Victoria Guest House and Cottages reception area.
One of the must-see to explore in Puerto Princesa City is the newly voted one of the 7 new wonders of Nature – The Underground River at Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. But before we embarked on the trip going to the Underground River, I must secure a permit first at its town office. Securing a permit to visit the underground river is a must since the tourism office is just limiting its visitors per day and must be arranged prior to travel date because it’s hard to get permit as it is mostly booked especially during Summer. Luckily, even we waited for a standby slot we were still able to get a slot despite of peak season of visitors. I failed to do prior arrangement for this trip to Underground River because our tickets to Puerto Princesa were open-dated with a possible for stand by passengers. With secured slots, we embarked on a 2 hour road trip to Sabang Port, the jump point of trip to the Underground River.

From Sabang Port, you must ride a mid-size outrigger boat for 30 minutes to reach the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park which has a docking port for boats. This is the best and faster way to reach the national park since the alternate way is trekking to the mountains and forests of the park which takes longer time to reach it. At the park, I was immediately greeted by the towering walls of rock formations and stunning white sand beach that I did not miss to photograph. There’s a short walk through the wildlife park and canopy of trees to reach the lagoon where the mouth of the underground river starts. Here, you still have to wait from a queue of visitors by group number as the next ride is a paddle boat good for a group of eight person.

Seaward bound...
Only in Puerto Princesa...
While we are paddling from the lagoon towards the mouth of the underground river, our boatman and guide brief us of the information about the park, the underground river and what to expect during the entire cruise inside the cave. The Puerto Princesa Underground River is 24 kilometres long and is navigable by boat up to 4 kilometres but we only explored up to 1 and a half kilometres of the river. The underground river is submerged inside a huge cave so as we paddle inside the cave, the temperature starts to drop and wind is chilly cold. We were warned when looking at ceiling of the cave especially with open mouth because bat’s droppings might drop on you.

The Puerto Princesa Underground River.
As we enter into an abyss-like darkness of the cave, only a single light at the front of our paddle boat is the source of light which use for pointing special rock formations that our guide explains throughout the cruise. Inside The underground river were wonderful and marvellous decorations of stalactites and stalagmites as well as cathedral-like chambers and dome as high as a huge arena. The rock formations inside resembles a lot of objects and person like a Holy Family tableu, fruits, towers, sexy woman, genital patterns which made us laugh but the scary shape that I saw was a Velociraptor-like dinosaur formation that seemed to be frozen in time.  

Inside the abyss...
Marveling inside the underground river.
The dark and eerie trip inside the cave may induce freakiness and not good for claustrophobics yet I was entertained by the beautiful rock formations that I saw inside the cave. It was also nice to think that is was naturally formed. I was amazed by these underground cave sights with huge pillar, chambers and towering like formations that would really made me marvel to its natural beauty. I didn’t mind the darkness and pitch black atmosphere. I think it is part of the thrilling trip to the underground river. The cruise inside Puerto Princesa Underground River takes almost 2 hours back and forth via a paddle boat. The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park where the underground river is located is inscribed in UNESCO World Heritage List for being the only national park in the country with thick tropical forest cover within the city. Last January 2012, it was chosen as one of the new 7 wonders of Nature campaign.

Seafood dinner at Victoria Guest House and Cottages.
By evening, I celebrated my birthday with a seafood dinner with my family and relatives. It was an early celebration since my birth date is the following day. Our seafood dinner consists of buttered shrimp, sweet and sour lapu-lapu (which spell-binded me with its taste!) and two bowls of sinigang sa miso. It was a sumptuous dinner! The dinner was part of the Iwahig River Firefly Tour and Stargazing package that we availed from Victoria Guest House and Cottages.

We proceeded to Iwahig River for our Firely and Stargazing tour which is definitely ideal to visit by night time. It was a 30 minute ride to the river from Puerto Princesa city proper. The firefly and stargazing tour goes via a paddle boat with guide who is also your boatman for a group of 3 people only per small boat. The cruise is via Iwahig River which was flourishing with numerous plantations of mangroves. These mangrove trees are home to fireflies which lights up the trees like flashing Christmas lights on a Christmas tree. It was delightful and wonderful sight to us as we cruise along the pitch-black surroundings of the river.  It also hard to take photos of the fireflies due to the darkness of the surrounding so I just contented myself a picture of it in my mind and stop taking photos of it. As we cruise along, the boatman explains to us the information about the fireflies and the importance of mangrove ecosystem and its role. The fireflies’ presence apparently indicates a clean ecosystem. I saw more and more firefly sightings in the mangroves as we continue to cruise. It was another natural beauty sight of Puerto Princesa to me.

Firefly and Stargazing tour!
Can you spot where the firefly is?
As we return to the port, we had a stargazing of star constellations in the bright starry night. It was perfect stargazing moment because the darkness of the surroundings makes the sky blanketed with star glowed throughout the cruise. The boatman shares to us the different constellations that we can see from the starry sky using a laser pointer light. While he explains the constellations, I realized that it was a beautiful evening – pleasant weather, delightful sights and a wonderful place. The boatman also point to us, the glowing planktons in the water with the laser light that makes it glitter in the river. As the cruise stops, I realized how important ecotourism works in the community of the Iwahig River. It just doesn’t promote and help the preservation of the environment by spreading awareness and doing active participation but also helps the community and its people in getting income and source of livelihood. What a great benefit from ecotourism!

The Iwahig River cruise takes about an hour tour. But if visitors prefer a morning cruise along Iwahig River, there are still paddle boats available for morning cruise too.  

Underwater Palawan...
The following morning was my birthday! I want to do something memorable like snorkeling and beach-bumming. I always had an affinity to ocean and beaches so we decided to do an island hopping tour of Honda Bay which famed for its numerous islets, rich marine life and white sand beaches. My other travel mates decided to do a city tour of Puerto Princesa City. It was a one and half hour drive to reach the jump point port of Honda Bay island hopping tour. But before we reached the port, we already went to a rental shop for snorkeling gears, reef shoes and camera water-proof case that proved to be useful in our island hopping tour.

Blue Corals at Pambato Reef.
The first island we toured is actually not an island but a reef named Pambato Reef. The reef has a huge and sheltered platform for visitors briefing and waiting area before diving into the coral garden which was covered by a giant art design of a sea turtle. Pambato Reef has large hectares of coral garden teeming with rich corals, fishes and other marine life. I particularly enjoyed seeing the glowing blue corals in numbers. It was my first time to do snorkeling on my birthday so I really enjoyed it a lot!

In Panorama: The sandbar of Luli Island.
In fifteen minutes, we reached Luli Island, so called for its characteristics of lulubog (sinking) and lilitaw (rising) above the sea. Luli Island is just small but also has a coral garden that is perfect for another snorkeling activity. The island is also characterized by having a long stretch of sand-bar which can be explored by its visitors.

Finally, we went to Cowrie Island which was our last island tour in Honda Bay. Cowrie Island is named after the cowrie shell and an ideal island for resting for visitors because it has the amenities of a resort island like restaurants, restrooms, nipa huts, etc. But what is also wonderful in Cowrie Island are its long stretch of white sand beaches surrounding it while facing the beautiful seascape and stunning mountains of Palawan. Photographs from these islands are post-perfect!

Welcome to Cowrie Island!
Parking spaces. It's more fun in Puerto Princesa!
In Cowrie Island we had our lunch included in the package tour. The lunch is a buffet meal and composed of large servings that is more than enough for our group in the tour. For me, it was a great birthday lunch while admiring the beauty of the islands and nature of Palawan! And there is much more to discover and explore In Puerto Princesa if time permits me. But with all of those marvelous natural beauty and beautiful sights that I experienced within the city, then it is no wonder that Puerto Princesa will always be Palawan’s unrivaled princess.  


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Puerto Princesa City: Palawan’s Unrivaled Princess is part of my Puerto Princesa City trip blog series last March 14-15, 2013. This is my second trip of Summer 2013 and part one of my birthday travel trip.
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