If you want to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site like no other, the Puerto Princesa (sometimes Saint Paul's) Subterranean River National Park offers a unique experIence. Located in the Saint Paul Mountains 50 km (30 mi) north of the city of Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan, the Park consists of a dramatic limestone karst landscape with a full mountain-ta-sea ecosystem that includes important forests.
But the star feature is undoubtedly the navigable underground river that winds through a cave before discharging directly into an aquamarine lagoon on the South China Sea, a fact that makes the lower reaches of the river tidal. Access is from Sabang Beach – but be warned: the last part of the journey there will rattle your teeth, as the unmade road is awful. Once at Sabang, a permit to travel the river is obtainable from the National Park office. A 30-minute boat ride with great landscape views takes you to the river entrance. Alternatively, this can be a pleasant go-minute hike along the Monkey Trail that takes in a great swinuning beach along the way (no Swimming is permitted near the river mouth).
From there, the journey continues in an outrigger canoe, a single lamp illuminating the extraordinary geological formations of the lofty cavern within. The knowledgeable guide will be a mine of information on life within this wondrous place - including fish, bats and the swiftlets whose nests are coveted for soup - as he quietly paddles around showing you the best stalactites and stalagmites. Although 8 km (5 mi) of this hauntingly beautiful underground river has been mapped, only 4 km (2.5 mi) is deemed navigable. A special permit is required to explore the full navigable stretch, as the regular tour covers just 1.5 km (1 mi).
WHEN TO GO
Any time of year
TIME IT TAKES
Around an hour for the basic river tour.
The leisurely 20-hour ship crossing from Manila's South Harbour to Palawan - a worthwhile journey in its own right.
Exploring the amazing forests and limestone formations to be found above ground in the National Park.
Getting up close to the extraordinary (and fearless) monitor lizards that frequent the forest and shoreline.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
If you have a picnic in the National Park don't look away for a second - the long-tailed macaque monkeys are grand masters of food-theft strategy.