The Philippine city offers bucolic vistas and one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature for the largest cave chamber in the world, writes Nova Renata
PUERTO Princesa has been on mymy list of travel destinations for the longest time.
Compared to the more popular and touristy islands of Cebu and Boracay, Puerto Princesa doesn’t have much to offer -- which explains why several direct flights to city have been cancelled over the years.
Nonetheless, the idea of an underground river is just so mesmerising to me and so I decided that the place is worth taking a 2am connecting flight from Kota Kinabalu to Manila just to get to Puerto Princesa.
Thecity is reminiscent of Bandung 10 years ago, with its narrow roads and army of tricycles breezing in from all directions. The shops are still very much old-school, with traditional shoplots and outdoor markets.
Puerto Princesa City, or PPC in short, has four shopping malls, with the latest addition ofSM City Puerto Princesa, which opened in September.
Being a smaller city does make PPC a lot more economical tovisitcompared to bigger cities in the Philippines.
In fact, if you’re travelling on a shoestring budget, you can still get by with less than PHP500 (RM42) daily.
Food and transportation in PPC are also a lot more affordable and the people are some of the friendliest I’ve encountered on a trip so far.
Unless you’re hopping off to neighbouring destinations in Palawan, such as Coron or El Nido, a three days, two nights’ stay in PPC will provide enough time to see all the attractions in the city.
Upon touching down at Puerto Princesa Airport, you will find several booths outside the airport offering day tour services and transfer to your hotel. The cheapest way to go around in PPC is by taking a jeepney,a cross between a jeep and minivan but with a lot more attitude.
However, since the jeepney takes more than one passenger at a time and usually only goes to certain areas, the tricycle is your best bet to go anywhere faster.
Some of the tricycle driversare also licensed tour guides. If you have time to spare before checking into your hotel, I’d recommend going on a city tour before getting your tricycle drive-cum-tour guide to drop you off at your hotel.
The city tour coversimportant landmarks, such as the public market (a traditional outdoor market selling foodstuff and all sorts of goods), City Baywalk (a public esplanade overlooking the sea), Plaza Cuartel and Immaculate Conception Cathedral.
You can also visit Palawan Museum to learn more about the history ofPrincess Port.
This city tour usually doesn’t take a long time -- in my case, less than two hours -- and your guide will give youtips on the best places to enjoy cheap seafood, experience nightlife, get great bargains and more.
Best of all, the airport transfer and city tour package costs only PHP500, which is very reasonable.
The main highlight of Puerto Princesa will be the Puerto Princesa Underground River, listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
A day tour to the underground river costs PHP2000, inclusive of lunch and return transfer.
The underground river, officially known as the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, is situated in the town of Sabang, 80km north (or two hours’ drive away) from PPC. The journey to Sabang town is a pleasant and scenic one.
The roads of Puerto Princesa provide a stark contrast to the often congested roads in the bigger cities. There are hardly any vehicles on the road, even on weekends, and you will see lush green views of padi fields, undulating hills and bucolic villages.
From Sabang town, youneed to take a 15-minute boat ride to the National Park where the underground river tour commences.
Despite being a high-profile tourism destination, similar to the likes of Vietnam’s Halong Bay and South Korea’s Jeju Island, the Puerto Princesa Underground River is not at all crowded, which is a big plus.
The boat cruise into the underground river cave typically takes about 45 minutes. Throughout the cruise, visitors are required to refrain from speaking or from making anynoise, so as to minimise disturbance tothe cave inhabitants.
However, each visitor isgiven an audio guide that they can listen to while experiencing the underground river tour.
Engulfed in the midst of the verdant limestone outcrops of the St Paul Mountain Range, the underground river is bordered by the St Paul Bay in the north and the Babuyan River in the east.
Although the underground river is 8.2km long, only 4.3km of that length is navigable by boat.
Areas deeperare impossible to explore due to oxygen deprivation. The cave houses many impressive stalactite and stalagmite formations, as well as several large chambers, most notably the 2.5 million square metre-large Italian’s Chamber — the largest cave chamber in the world.
It is said that in 2010, a group of geologist discovered a second floor on the underground river.
A cave dome measuring 300 metres long have also been discovered above the underground river, which means that there’s possibly a lot more of this wonder of nature left to be explored.
ZIPPING ON THE SABANG
One thing that you have to experience when in Puerto Princesa is zipping across the Sabang Beach on the Sabang X Zipline!
At 800m long and suspended 46m above sea level, the Sabang X Zipline is the longest zipline in the Philippines and one of Palawan’s signature attractions.
The zipline platform is located about 10-15 minutes’ hike from the Sabang wharf, so it’s good to wear comfortable shoes.
From the platform, the zipline ride will take about90 seconds, offering a breathtaking view of the sea and the surrounding majestic mountains.
If you’re still thinking about investing in a selfie stick, this is just the reason to get it. A zipline ride costs PHP550.
After the zipline ride, you can enjoy the beautiful view of Sabang Beach, which is one of the most popular and accessible beaches in Palawan. With its soft white sand, clean surrounding and refreshing ocean breeze, Sabang Beach is a great choice for a picnic.
Bear in mind, though, that at certain times of the year, the current can be too strong and unsafe for swimming. Do inquire before swimming or surfing.
Charming duplex in the rainforest
WHILE there’s plenty of accommodation to choose from, one place that I personally love andwill recommend to anyone visiting Puerto Princesa is Uyuni on the Hill at Mitra Road Santa Monica.
Although it is located slightly further from the city area (about 30 minutes’ drive from the airport and 40 minutes from the city), the private duplex is full of charm, being enveloped ina hilly rainforest.
Made almost entirely out of bamboo with cheery yellow interior and quirky decor, Uyuni on the Hill is the perfect home away from home.
Each villa in this double storey duplex is equipped with a small kitchen and cooking facilities, a cosyliving room, a large bedroom witha gorgeous view of the St Paul Mountain Range and a rooftop terrace area where you can hang out and watch migratory birds take flight.
The sunrise view from Uyuni on the Hill is also worth waking up at early in the morning. Come 6am, the St Paul Mountain Range in the horizon will be bathed in a halo of amber sunlight to showcase the beauty of nature in all its glory.
Uyuni on the Hill is also located just a short walk away from Mitra Ranch, Baker’s Hill and Palawan Butterfly Garden, some of Puerto Princesa’s other notable attractions.
Uyuni On the Hill
Mitra Road, Sta. Monica
Puerto Princesa City, Palawan,
Tel: +63 920 948 1479
STAY Uyuni on the Hill is a private duplex with two villas, namely the Pagoda and the Suite. Each villa can accommodate about two to four people. Uyuni on the Hill makes a great romantic abode for honeymooners.
EAT There are restaurants a short walk away from the property. Should you require transportation,just communicate this to the housekeeper who lives next door.
DO Explore nearby attractions, such as Mitra Ranch, that also has a zip line, enjoy the delicious homemade polvoron of Baker’s Hill and visit the Palawan Butterfly Garden.
GO Uyuni on the Hill is located 30 minutes’ drivefrom Puerto Princesa International Airport. Most tricycle drivers will knowthe place once you show them the address.
HIGHS Breathtaking view, raw nature experience, fresh air, very affordable, peace and quiet.
LOWS Far from the city, and being close to the rainforest means plenty of mosquitoes and other insects.
RATES PHP700 (RM58) per pax per night for the Pagoda and PHP2,700per couple per night for the Suite.
Pictures by Nova Renata