It’s a city surrounded by a whole forest and natural ecosystem. With its lush forests, unspoiled beaches, tranquil lagoons, and rich culture, Puerto Princesa should be part of any traveler’s bucket list.
Whether you want to stay within the city limits or go island hopping, Puerto Princesa has oodles of surprises in store for you. And there are numerous attractions to thrill every visitor, whether it’s about nature, culture, or history.
The city is located right in the central part of the province of Palawan, which stretches out to the South China Sea. It is about 567 kilometers away from Manila and about 460 kilometers from Zamboanga City.
The city is the least densely populated even though it is the second largest in the region. It is also acclaimed as the cleanest and greenest city, and it is where the Underground River, one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites as well as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
The best way to get to Puerto Princesa is by air. From Manila, it takes less than one hour to reach Puerto Princesa.
If you don’t mind spending more travel time, you can board the Superferry or Negros Navigation cruises from Manila, which takes about 18-22 hours to reach Puerto Princesa.
You can make arrangements for airport/seaport transfers and tours with your travel agent or hotel. You can get around the city proper via tricycles, multicabs, and jeepneys are readily available but with specific routes. If you want to go out of the area, you need to take jeeps or minibuses. You can also arrange for private car or van rentals to get to many tourist destinations. You need to use motorized outriggers if you want to go island hopping. Special tours can be arranged with your hotel or a transport operator.
The Underground River / Nature Trail / Caving at Sabang
Don’t miss the Underground River as it is the main attraction of Puerto Princesa. You can book this tour at the Underground River Tour Booking Office located 10 minutes from the Puerto Princesa airport before heading to Sabang, the jump off point. Identification cards and payment are required upon registering.
From the city, take a jeep or air-conditioned shuttle vans to Sabang. Then you will take a 20-minute ferry to the beach area near the cave’s entrance. The river itself is navigable up to 4.3 km. You take an hour’s tour of the cave where you’ll see stunning rock formations and various species of bats inhabiting the cave’s interior.
Fit travellers can take an alternative 5.3 km trek from Sabang instead of the ferry. Aside from the physical challenge, you will encounter the sights and sounds of an unspoiled wilderness and its inhabitants. There are designated areas to go bird-watching, and if you’re lucky you can spot up to 165 different species including 15 which are endemic to Palawan, such as the Palawan peacock pheasant, the hornbill, and parrot. You might also come across monitor lizards and monkeys along the trail.
You can use paddle boats to observe the mangrove forest in the area. You can contribute to the ecological cause by planting mangrove saplings.
Caving is yet another unforgettable adventure. You can climb Ugong Rock to view some awesome formations and drink in the picturesque surroundings. Explore the Kawili Cave, the Daylight Hole, and the Lions Cave.
As you rest after exploring the river and caves, do visit the Ethnographic Museum at the visitor’s center to learn more about the Batak and Tagbanua ethnic groups native to Palawan.
Sabang X Zipline
Want a really exhilarating experience? Try the Sabang X Zipline, an 800 meter long zipline about 150 feet above sea level. It is 10-15 minutes away from the Underground River’s wharf. To get to the starting point, you need to hike through the mountainside trail for about 15 minutes From the starting point, you will zip through the ocean and mountains and land on a small dock right in the middle of the ocean.
After landing, you can walk across a sandbar and then take a rope-controlled raft to get to the other side. From there, a jeep will take you through rough roads to get back to the wharf area.
The wharf area has numerous small eateries where you can try local cuisine such as tamilok (wood worm) if you dare! Less daring eaters can partake of more common household food such as pancit and adobo.
Honda Bay Island Hopping
This is another highlight of Puerto Princesa that shouldn’t be missed. To get to Honda Bay, you need to take a 45-minute tricycle ride for about PhP300 from the city to the wharf.
To make the most of this activity, you should stop by some shops (especially the Roadside) and rent snorkeling equipment and aqua shoes for about PhP150 each. You can also rent digital cameras for PhP600 or waterproof underwater cases for your iPhone or camera for PhP200.
At the wharf, you pay and get your boat and guide. Boat fees vary depending on how many islands you want to visit, and whether you want to do other activities like fishing and scuba diving. A short island hopping (3 islands) for 6 people costs about PhP800. There are also entrance, environmental, and terminal fees (range: PhP150-200). Here are the most popular islands:
- Pambato Reef – You can go snorkeling and view beautiful coral reefs and fishes.
- Starfish Island – You can walk atop a long sandbar bounded by mountains on one side and mangroves on the other. The place abounds with beautiful starfish you can just pick up.
- Cowrie Island – Unwind here with an alcoholic drink, a sumptuous lunch, or a relaxing massage. Very reasonable prices.
- Luli Island – It’s not really an island but a sandbar. The name is derived from “lilitaw” (surfaces) and “lulubog” (sinks). The beach is covered with fine sand that feels gentle on your feet. There are huts where you take lunch with your feet submerged in the cool water.
Local City Tour
For a more cultural taste of Puerto Princesa, you can rent a tricycle or private van and visit these key places:
- Immaculate Conception Cathedral – a pastel-blue church where the first mass was said in 1872
- Plaza Cuartel – site of the infamous Palawan massacre during WWII where 150 American soldiers were burned alive.
- Baker’s Hill – quaint park lined with lovely houses, well-manicured garden, and lifelike statues. You can buy fresh-baked hopia in various flavors.
- Crocodile Farm – a conservatory for crocodiles with a zoo and souvenir shop
- Mitra’s Ranch – situated on the hilltop where you can get a breathtaking view of the city. Ziplining is an option.
- Butterfly Garden – net-covered mini-zoo where you can encounter not only butterflies but also caterpillars, walking sticks, and even scorpions.
- Iwahig Penal Colony – a sanctuary where prisoners freely roam and live with their families. Handicrafts and souvenirs are available for sale.
- Palawan Museum – full of archeological relics of the Tabon Cave.
- Irawan Eco Park – offers zipline, canopy walk and carabao ride, as well as a nice place to dine because of its ambience.