Boating Underground: One of the New 7 Wonders of Nature

Featured writer: Donna Amis Davis

Beaches, boats, bats and caves – for an experience like no other, put the Puerto Princesa Underground River on your bucket list! The Underground River, as it is also known, or shortened even more to PPUR, was recently officially named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Where else can you combine tropical white sand and waves, outriggers and canoes, stalagmites and stalactites, monkeys and monitor lizards all in one experience? Oh, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, besides!

The Underground River is located in the Philippines, on the island of Palawan. If you look at a map of the Philippines, Palawan is the long skinny island off by itself at the westernmost part. Palawan is known as the Last Frontier of the Philippines, as it is one of the least developed islands, with the most virgin forest still intact.

Our family is proud to call Palawan our adopted home. We first moved here about 30 years ago, in the early ’80s, so have seen the island grow and change. We really love Palawan. And we like to make sure our visitors fit in a trip to the Underground River when they come.

I personally think the entrance to the Underground River is one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. And getting there is half the fun! Once you are in the Philippines, a quick one-hour flight from Manila brings you to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Then from Puerto Princesa, take a van or jeep up to Sabang, two hours north. You will be fascinated by the bamboo huts, quaint villages, huge tropical trees and virgin forest along the way. At Sabang, hire one of the Underground River boats to take you 20 minutes up the coast. This is a spectacular ride on a motorized outrigger boat which the locals call a banca. The west coast of Palawan is absolutely gorgeous.

Along the Coast of the South China Sea

The boat will land at a perfect little beach. From there it is a short hike through the woods to the mouth of the Underground River. Along the way, be entertained by the families of monkeys living in the trees overhead. Our native monkeys are called Philippine long-tailed macaques, also known as crab-eating macaques. And watch for the monitor lizards – a huge Palawan native lizard.

The Landing Beach for Underground River

Now it is time to put on your hard hat, and enter the guided canoe for the trip into the side of the mountain. The canoe is paddled by hand. Whoever sits in front gets lantern duty. They will be in charge of shining a high-powered flashlight to illumine the sights inside the darkness of the cave.

The cave is home to two colonies of flying creatures – bats and swiftlet birds. The swiftlet has narrow wings for fast flight, and the ability to catch insects in flight. The swiftlets in the Underground River are quite unique among bird species because they use a simple but effective form of echolocation, which sounds like a series of clicks, to navigate in total darkness through the chasms and shafts of the caves where they roost at night and breed.

As you navigate into the Underground River, you will hear the swiftlets’ clicks or calls echoing overhead, as they hunt for insects. Don’t be surprised if one wings by and actually bounces off your helmet! Fortunately, the bats stay up in the roof of the cave during the day, and only venture out at dusk.

The stalagmites and stalactites have whimsical names, such as the Mushrooms, Skull, Bacon, Holy Family.

Want to guess what this one is called?

The Puerto Princesa Underground River is the second longest underground river in the world. Named Cabayugan River, it starts back in St. Paul Mountain approximately 5 miles (8.2 kilometers) inland, and is navigable for almost 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of that distance, before it dumps out into the South China Sea. The geology of the area, limestone karst, is responsible. Over eons, water has eaten away at the soft limestone and created this river as well as the craggy formations all up and down the western coast of Palawan.

In 1999 the area was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites on the basis of its “important and significant natural habitats for conservation of biological diversity,” and for its “exceptional natural beauty.” The area contains the complete spectrum of a mountain-to-sea ecosystem, including rainforest. It is home to many protected species of birds and plants. Now in 2012, being named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature is added to that honor.

This sanctuary is protected by the local government because of its rich biodiversity. Capacity of the Underground River is limited to 780 persons per day, so it is advised to plan ahead when visiting Palawan.

After your tour of the Underground River, be sure to allow some time to relax at Sabang Beach.

Beautiful Sabang Beach

And when you return to Puerto Princesa, more fun awaits. Puerto, as the locals call their city, is full of inexpensive restaurants of amazing variety, as well as fun places to shop for wood carvings, sarongs and pearls.

Read more from this author at:

Many thanks to Chris and Elisa Schlink for several of the photographs used in this post.

Check out Bucket List Publications Online Magazine for more great photos and articles from bucket list seekers. 

272 thoughts on “Boating Underground: One of the New 7 Wonders of Nature

  1. Wow, amazing! Lucky you managed to get pictures of the monkeys. This past December I went on holidays and tried taking pictures of the monkeys I saw in the wild, but they were so quick! Didn’t get any…


    • These fellow are a bit on the cheeky side. They’ve happily been living near this natural wonder, and taking advantage of it, grabbing a picnic lunch when no one was looking! The monitor lizards are pretty brave, too!


  2. Outstanding article, great pictures and most wonderful place to visit. This almost looks like one of the beach scenes in a James Bond movie. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. Awesome place.


  3. Thank you so much for all your kind words. The people of the Philippines are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. They are waiting for you to come! And the monkeys and the monitor lizards, too.


    • Hi Donna! I like your blog and thank you for this beautiful blog about one of the heavenly places here in our country. I love that you and your family love your adopted home.


    • Great post! Me and my friends are planning to visit the PPUR next summer. I’m a Filipino native but haven’t been to Palawan. Lucky you! 🙂
      Thank you anyway for sharing and telling the world about the beauty hidden by our(including you) country!


        • Thank you very much Donna for this wonderful post about our country. Palawan is paradise somewhere between the Heavens and the deep blue sea! =) We hope that we’re also able to raise awareness on the importance of preserving the vast biodiversity in the province and in other equally beautiful places across the globe.


    • I am honored that Lesley Carter chose my story for her blog! What a great way for this little tucked-off-the-beaten-path spot to get some attention. There is so much more to see and do on the island of Palawan once you are there, too, you would love it.


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  5. Hey Donna,
    Thank you for featuring PPUR. We are all proud that it is now included in the seven wonders of the world. I hope you can blog about El Nido too. I already listed Palawan in my list of places I want to travel in the Philippines (I am base in Manila by the way) and try Tamilok. Have you tried it? I am very curious.


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  7. Wow, a good inspiration and photo-taking of your travel.
    And I would like to thank you on behalf of Daylight Tune Ministry for visiting and liking the post “Motivation Right Before You”.


    • The monitor lizards that live around the Underground River National Park have gotten very used to tourists. In days gone by, you used to be able to picnic outside the Underground River. The monitor lizards would hang out at the picnic tables, hoping for a hand out or some crumbs. They have the ability to flick their tongues for a very long distance. They aren’t harmful, but some people are scared of them. So the tour guides would guard the picnic tables with long sticks with streamers on the ends to shoo the away the lizards from those who worried.


  8. this is an awesome place! I’ve been there once about 15 years ago and to date, is still the most captivating thing I’ve ever seen. thank you for reminding me about this magical place! 😉


  9. i’m from the Philippines and yet, still haven’t found the time to visit Palawan. My sisters had a couple of times. I envy you!


  10. As always, great article, awesome photos. I’ve been to Sabang Beach about 5 years ago, still looking good! It’s a good diving site too, have you tried to dive in Sabang?


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    • Of course, Chris, you know it isn’t fair to compare your work environment with our natural wonder! In the city here there is noise and traffic here, too. Add roosters crowing at all hours, and the neighbor’s late-night off-key blaring loud karaoke, and the other neighbor’s screaming toddler! LOL.


    • Oh I know. The Philippines gets such a bad rap sometimes! But they did get a shout-out recently. They were voted one of the least-rude countries in the world for travelers. No surprise there, is it?


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