It’s a shame, a real shame. This tour could have been
awesome, we were going to see one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World! But the whole experience, the waiting and the wasted time before we got to the river, really tainted the day.
I’ll start with why I would recommend it. As mentioned, the Subterranean River at Puerto Princesa is not only voted as one of the 7 Wonders of the World, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Paddling through the eerie cave entrance, the size and darkness of it gave me a shiver. Bats were squeaking and flying overhead, it very much felt like ‘the bat cave.’ With the pungent smell of bat poo (named guano) filling our nostrils, only the guides head-torch as our light, and with a wet bottom from the rain and canoe seat, we ventured further into the cave.
It was all very dramatic. The sheer size of the stalagmites and stalactites were enough for my mouth to gape. But I had to remember to keep my mouth shut, for two reasons; there are a lot of nocturnal animals living in the cave, we do not want to make noise and disturb them. Secondly, bat poo can drop from the ceiling and into your mouth. Eww! The twist and turns of the rocks were like a piece of art, reminiscent of a Dali painting. We reached an area named the Cathedral, a vast space within the cave surrounded by formations that are said to resemble biblical figures. Some of these, such as the last super and Jesus himself were a little dubious if you ask me, but still interesting to see. Overall, the experience within the hidden bat cave was one to remember.
We have to be patient and this is out of his control.
But there are things on this trip I’d rather forget! So, here is why I wouldn’t recommend doing the subterranean River with an organised tour. We were picked up from our hotel at 8am and the drive would take approximately 2 hours. We stopped for a refreshment break (understandable) but we were only 15 minutes away from our destination! We could have used the toilets there. It was a little odd. When we eventually arrived just after 10am, our guide explained that only 1200 visitors were permitted in the cave each day, and he will have to fill in permits and await our time-slot before we can go in. We have to be patient and this is out of his control. His options for filling the time were either a zipline or a boat tour of the mangroves. We didn’t fancy doing either of these as they were extra costs to our already tight budget. As a few people on our bus choose to do the zipline, we had no choice but to sit and wait for them. An hour we waited, with nothing to do. We watched locals pick coconuts.
Then, when the rest of the group returned, we went to lunch. Still no idea about what time we’ll see the river. Pete said this lunch is the worst he has had on any tour. I didn’t think it was too bad, but I did cover most of my food in mayonnaise. It was cold and some of the food looked questionable. Then, we waited some more. By this point it had started chucking it down. The rain broke through the roof and started dripping onto my shoulders. Fun. After another hour waiting at lunch Pete was absolutely livid and ready to burst. We finally moved onto the docking area where we were to get a boat to the entrance of the river. Kagools on, sandals off. This area was flooded and the water had reached my ankles. We were stood here for a further 20 minutes, waiting for our names to be called to get on a boat.
Four hours of our tour were filled with faffing.
This boat was to take you to another waiting area – great! Here you were given a little audio device, with only one earphone (that was odd) and a helmet. Looking fantastic in my bright blue Kagool, yellow helmet and rain dripping off my face, we eventually made it to the canoe, the actual boat that was to take us into the subterranean river. It was 2.30pm. Four hours of our tour were filled with faffing. And what makes things worse, you are only in the cave for 40 minutes!
So, doing this as a tour meant we were out from 8am till 5.30pm (by the time we got home) and only spent 40 minutes in the cave. Usually I am full of high spirits, ‘we’re here now so let’s make the most of it’ type of thing. But when there is nothing to make the most of, that is kind of impossible. You can do this trip yourself, without a tour group, which we would usually do, however it is pretty complicated. The process involves getting local buses and applying for permits all before 8am. Once the permit is granted you have to catch another bus/minivan/taxi to the port and join another tour group there. But the easy option, booking it with a tour, cost 1800 per person, £27 each! Not sure all the waiting and expense was really worth it.