What do I know about Puerto Princesa prior to my recent trip? Aside from it’s the capital of Palawan and it’s where you can find the Subterranean River, I had ZERO knowledge of the place.
This year I had one of the best summer a real beach bum and a certified adventurer could asked for. From hiking down Batad rice fields, whitewater rafting in CDO, chasing Moriones in Marinduque, island hoping in Camiguin, Nagsasa, Calaguas and Poctoy, I had a blast so I decided to cap off the summer of 2013 by crossing out another entry on my travel bucket list: Palawan. I had been to Coron few years back and I would like to round up my Palawan experience by seeing another two “must see” tourist destination here in the Philippines- Puerto Princesa and El Nido.
This elongated province of 1,780 islands and islets with white sandy beaches known as Palawan was first discovered 22,000 by cave dwellers from Borneo and the province and was regarded as the “cradle of Philippine civilization”. Having peacock as an emblem, the city by virtue of Proclamation No. 1264, in 2007, was designated as highly urbanized city independent from its mother province, Palawan. Historically, Puerto Princesa was named after Princess Asuncion, daughter of Queen Isabella II and Francisco de Cadiz, the queen’s consort. Born in 1864 and suffered an untimely death. To commemorate her daughter, she named this newly discovered island as Puerto de la Princesa. Soon the name was reduced to just Puerto Princesa. In terms of landmass, it is the second largest city after Davao. Many Palaweños regard their place as the city within the forest and they have a very good reason to do so. One thing I also noticed when I was in Puerto Princesa is the abundance of Vietnamese restaurants and hang-out places. Few inquiries later and I found out that the city had once became a haven for Vietnamese refugees in the 70’s.
One thing that made my recent trip to Palawan great was that it was almost like a free PR trip with my uncle whose doing half business half vacation on the island together with his office staff. Who would pass up a free trip to Puerto Princesa and El Nido for 9 days? So I tagged along offering my photography skills as exchange deal for them.
We arrived around 7pm in Puerto Princesa and we look for nice place to eat. Our host brought us to a place called Ka Inatô long the national road. The place is quite cozy and studied with carved stick figures reminiscent of Giocometti’s masterpiece. The food is as great as the ambience of the place. After a sumptuous meal, we went to Sienna’s Place, 15-minute tricycle ride from Robinson’s Place along national hi-way which will be our home for few days while in Puerto Princesa. The place was a modest 15-room complex with a public mini pool open until 12 midnight.
The next day we did a city tour of Puerto Princesa but it turned out to be a little bit disappointing because of flight delays. My uncle’s workmates along with their relatives had their flight rescheduled twice so we ended up having the city tour in the afternoon. Aside from Underground River and the Honda Bay Island hopping tours, another popular tour that you can try is the Puerto Princesa City Tour. Most travel agencies and the partner hotels offer these tour for 600php/per person. This includes all the entrance fees to the different tourist spots while riding on an air conditioned van across town. Since its already late, we did only covered Mitra’s Ranch, Bakers Hill and the Baywalk.
Mitra’s Ranch – this ranch situated on top of the hill is owned by ex-senator Ramon Mitra and his family The place was teeming with horses roaming around the hill densely populated with trees. It gives a very nice view of the bay to the east and sunset to the west. Other popular activities aside from sight seeing are horse back riding and zip lining.
Baker’s Hill – this neatly landscaped parked dotted with life-sized statues and nice houses is another tourist draw. Perfect hang-out place for family, the place also have a bakery where tourist can buy delectable pastries and other treats.
Baywalk – its a newly developed 3 km stretch of bayside plaza where one can enjoy a night time strolling beside the beach while eating grilled seafoods or barbecue. You can also rent bicycle (50php single, 150php with sidecar) if you grew tired from walking along the entire stretch.
Other points of interests and activities worth checking are the Ihawig penal colony, crocodile and butterfly farms, Puerto Princesa Cathedral, Plaza Cuartel, Mendoza Park and the Palawan Museum and the firefly and dolphin watching tour.
Our third day we did the Underground River/ Subterranean River Tour. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP), declared as one of the world’s new seven wonders of nature, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the PPSRNP is geographically located under the Saint Paul Mountain Range and can be reached by van in less than two hours from Puerto Princesa. The area is dominated by impressive limestone (karst) landscape that have the subterranean river as its main distinguishing feature. Reputedly the longest subterranean river system in the world at 8.2 kilometres, it features a complex system of stalactites and stalagmites rising at an altitude of 100 meters and merges directly into the sea. PPSRNP is within the 22,202 hectares of geological site. UNESCO declared the park as one of the most bio-diverse conservation areas in the world, with an impressive collection of fauna and flora.
The underground river in included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. On November 11, 2011, the Puerto Princesa Underground River was chosen, after a worldwide vote, as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature alongside Halong Bay (Vietnam), Iguazú / Iguaçu Falls (Argentina-Brazil), Amazon River and Rainforest, Table mountain (South Africa), Jeju (Korea) and Komodo islands (Indonesia)
Majority of hotels and inns within Puerto Princesa and all tour operators within the city offers a day pass of Underground River Tour package that costs 1,500php per head which includes hotel pick-up, park entrance fees, 2 boat transfers and lunch within the beach.
From Puerto Princesa town proper, one can reach Sabang via van well under two hours. From Sabang port, you will take a 15-20 minute ferry ride to the bay where the mouth of the subterranean river is located. After you register your party for the tour, in the information desk, you will take a short walk into the jungle occasionally visited by macaques and monitor lizards. It is not advisable to feed the monkeys as they sometimes become aggressive and coerce for food.
Our last stop the next day is the Honda Bay tour. One of the most popular activities offered by the local tour operators is the Honda Bay Island -hopping tour aside from snorkelling and scuba diving. The bay is located just minutes from the city proper. Diving sites abound the bay as the entire area is studded by patches of coral reefs and sand bars. Submerged reefs maybe found close to the surface of up to 24 meters. The place is also teeming with small reefs and ornamental fishes thats perfect for amateur to professional scuba diving to underwater photography and other similar activities. Included stops on the tour are the Dos Palmas Spa and Resort, Pandan Island and Pambato Reef. Other good places to check are Cowrie Island, Luli Island, Starfish Island, Tagbariri Island and Bacungan River. Most of these islands have separate entrance fees. Snake Island unfortunately was already closed to public.
Getting there and away
The most convenient way to go to Puerto Princesa is via Air. Cebu Pacific, Zest Air and PAL Express have daily trips from Manila to Puerto Princesa. Check their websites for exact schedules. When traveling within Puerto Princesa town proper and on short trips to the suburbs, tricycles can be easily available at a minimal fare (10php) or on hire basis (50php and up). Multicabs and jeepneys move around the city on specified routes. Travel to the outskirts and outlying villages can be jeepney or mini-bus.Car rental service by air conditioned vans can be availed when traveling to most tourist destinations in the city. Bigger tour groups may arrange for coaster or bus service through a travel agency or a tourist transport operator. Sea transport to islands and coastal beaches in the city is usually by a motorized outrigger boat.
Air travel from Manila to Puerto Princesa takes less than an hour and is available daily via Air Philippines, Cebu Pacific, Zest Airways and Philippine Airlines .
From/To Busuanga/El Nido
South East Asian Airlines flies to Puerto Princesa from Manila two to three times a week, oftentimes via Busuanga, Cuyo, and El Nido
Cebu Pacific operates flights from Cebu / Iloilo / Puerto Princesa
It takes 18 to 22 hours from Manila on board the Superferry and Negros Navigation. Superferry calls on Puerto Princesa once a week.
It takes approximately 10 hours from Coron to Puerto Princesa on board Superferry.
Travel on board via Montenegro Shipping once a week