If Puerto Princesa were a person, she would most definitely be just like her name – a Princess. It somehow feels wrong and almost blasphemous not to refer to the city as a “she”, after all, she is exactly what they say would be. The place is beautiful, magical, clean! She is downright amazing!
More and more people have put Palawan in their “must go to” places and this has become evident with the sheer number of changes made within the city for the tourists that are flocking to the city. Although it is a city, she (I will refer to Puerto Princesa as a “she”) has more to offer than just shopping – but the shopping is good, let me be upfront about that.
I’ve been to Puerto Princesa once before, back in 2011 when they were campaigning for the underground river to be part of the new 7 wonders of the world. It’s a bit of a paradox when I came back. Everything has changed but everything also stayed the same. I know it sounds like a country song but that’s the truth. Last time, I wasn’t able to do some of the tours but this time, I made sure that I will be in every single one of them. Determination is my greatest and worst trait.
There are the usual Puerto Princesa tours to take:
1. The City Tour aka Shopping tour: Puerto Princesa is a city surrounded by forests and other natural..err… things. This is what makes her unique. She has the creature comforts of an urbanized person but also has something to offer everyone else and especially those who are looking to commune with Mother Nature. This tour will take you to the tourist spots in the city – the church, the cuartel (for the history buffs), Mitra Farm, the Crocodile farm and Baker’s Hill. It’s also known as the shopping tour as the tourist guide will take you around the usual shopping spots.
I wish they sent a better tour guide. We had a good tour guide last time but this time, the girl seems more keen on getting the tour over and done with. I would suggest that you schedule this tour last if possible. This way, you can gauge how much space is left in your suitcases for your pasalubongs.
2. The Underground River tour: A definite must visit when you’re in Puerto Princesa. You can have this arranged by your hotel when you book with them. Please note though due to the sheer number of tourists wanting to go there and the limited number of slots per day, you have to book this tour at least a month in advance. You have to provide them with a photocopy of your ID as well – for government purposes. My advise is to prep the photocopy before you actually go and visit. Do not bring your passport or other important ID, unless you have a waterproof bag (Like Blood Red‘s Waterproof pouch. It is the best!)
This takes a while, let me just say it upfront. The travel from the city to the wharf/port takes about an hour and a half to two hours. It’s an adventure though especially if you get a driver whose background in driving is Mario Kart. You really get to think you’re in a theme park ride.
Once in the wharf/port, you may wait for up to 3 hours before you get to the underground river. Flocks of tourists wait their turn and only 900 tourists are allowed per day to visit the attraction. Although there are small eateries and stalls within the area, there is still a lot that can be done. There were a lot of tourists waiting for their bancas and they were just there, sitting patiently and were bored. Maybe the PP local government can tap into this captive market and give something else for them to do while they are waiting for their boats.
Though I have been there before, it is still breath taking. The place has not been damaged by humans (thank goodness) and the wildlife like the monkeys and monitor lizards seem to be more comfortable with humans being in their island.
You get to understand and feel just how small and insignificant you are in the greater scheme of things when you are in the caves. The natural structures that have been crafted and built by water and gravity just make you feel so small. Oh, make sure you put on some mosquito repellant. Don’t be one of those people who think they won’t get bit. Trust me, PUT SOME ON.
* Optional Tour – Ugong Rock: This place is run by ABSCBN Foundation together with the local community. This is for the young adventurous people. I only say that because I said no to it. Did it before and I think I’m good with that. It’s exciting to be able to spelunk and climb the rocks and then zipline your way down but it was just too much work for me.
3. Honda Bay and island hopping tour: As mentioned previously, Puerto Princesa is a city. That being said, you don’t really get any beach front action from the hotels – unless you book it a bit far away from the city. This is your chance to see just how beautiful the beaches are.
Depending on what you signed up for, you can go snorkeling in the middle of the ocean, visit two islands and then back home. We visited Cowrie island (it’s a rather large island with amenities and activities) and starfish island.
Be conscious of the time though. It’s so easy to get lost in snorkeling and chasing after the fishes. In my case, this one fish was following me around and was “challenging” me. I was laughing so hard, I think you can hear it in the video. It was seriously following me and was posturing!! “You come to my ocean, huh? You think I can’t handle you?! I handled sharks bigger than you, human!!”
My expert advice? LATHER ON THE SUNBLOCK. Put sunblock before you get in and then put some on again after you’ve taken a dip. No harm in making sure you don’t burn to a crisp.
4. The Iwahig Firefly Tour aka The best one ever!!: This was my favorite! I wish I could’ve captured it and shared the beauty of the place with you but my camera was not cooperating that day. (Ok, truth is I haven’t really figured out the exposure and aperture settings…) Some sage advice though: Go there when the moon isn’t full. The bright moon lessens the effect the fireflies have, although the bright round moon reflecting off the river’s calm water’s were very romantic. Douse yourself with mosquito repellant. Listen to your boatman/tour guide and learn something.
It was something out of a Disney movie. I swear, if my travel partner didn’t threaten to throw me off the boat, I would’ve sang The Little Mermaid’s “Kiss the Girl”. It was breath taking, amazing and to cap the already amazing tour, we had a clear sky and say the stars brightly twinkling above us. We also had a shooting star grace our presence.
I will be back, I promise. There are still a lot of places in Palawan I would love to visit. You can get to Palawan either by plane (Air Asia, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines) or by ship (2Go and Aboitiz).
Check out my reviews of places to stay in Puerto Princesa.