Exploring Palawan’s natural wonder

Gliding across the sea and passing by the picturesque St. Paul Mountain Range, its rolling terrain of lush forest and beautiful karst formations seem like a teaser to a movie as one journeys to the well-renowned Underground River (formerly known as the St. Paul Subterranean River) from the coastal town of Sabang.
Excitement fills the air as the sight of limestone formations, tropical blue green water, and white sand beach come into picture. Local guides welcome tourists with a photo op at the entrance sign of the Underground River Park and lead the way to the registration section. There are monkeys hanging in the trees and few roaming around, several birds chirping and a lot of information posts that show how much the locals aim to preserve and promote the park.
A trail through the forest leads tourists to the jump-off point of the Underground River. In the efforts to continuously preserve the river, the management controls the number of visiting tourists of the Underground River, thus one will notice a queue of tourists waiting to get their ride. Others bring out their cameras and take advantage of the waiting time to take snapshots of the nearby attractions. Before boarding the boat, it is a must to put on a life vest and helmet.
When everyone has settled on board, the boatman seated at the far end of the boat paddles into the cave. The light behind disappears, and the person who sits at the front row illuminates the river and takes instruction from the boatman (who is also the tour guide). Once inside the cave, cold fills the air and one will hear swiflets or swallows flying overhead. The boatman then starts his spiel and the tour officially begins.
The underground river features limestone, stalagmite and stalactite formations of various shapes and sizes. With only the headlamp to illuminate the waterway, the atmosphere inside is truly mystic. Amidst the darkness, every pan and turn heightens the excitement and anticipation of what one is expected to see. Interesting formations include one that’s similar to a T-Rex dinosaur’s head, a melting candle, a hand, a fish’s head and even a face of Jesus Christ. The boat will pass by a part that’s called a market place since the amazing formations resemble to mostly vegetables such as the carrots, cabbage, a mushroom and a lot more. One of the many fascinating sights are the cathedral-like dome and caves where one can find formations like the Virgin Mary, the Last Supper and the Holy Family. “Look up, please,” says the boatman and one will see colonies of bats hung on the ceilings. Before the ride turns back, there are some noticeable writings on the stone walls which date back the 1930s.
The 45-min tour navigates through only 1.5km of the 8.2 km-long, winding waterway. The river, which flows directly into the sea, is regarded as the longest navigable underground river of the world until the discovery of Mexico’s underground river in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Named as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is home to a variety of flora and fauna, lush forests and swamps, and wildlife including endemic and endangered species, from birds to reptiles and other sea creatures.
This declared World Heritage Site is a reminder of God’s works. And through the words of the commendable tour guide, one will have a great understanding of the locals’ commitment to nurture a natural sanctuary and protect such remarkable creation.

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