Puerto Princesa, located on the island of Palawan in the Philippines, is often used as the gateway to El Nido and Coron. Most people simply use the Puerto Princesa airport as a jumping off point for their excursions to the more popular islands up north, but in doing so they are missing out on a wonderful part of the Philippines! Puerto Princesa offers it visitors a fantastic food scene, access to Honda Bay and tours going to the Underground River, which was named as one of the 7 Wonders Of Nature in 2011! In this guide I share things to do in Puerto Princesa, where to stay, where to eat and how to get there.
THINGS TO DO IN PUERTO PRINCESA
There are lots of things to do in Puerto Princesa, but if you have just two days in the itinerary for exploring this area I suggest two day tours, first the Honda Bay Island Tour and second the Underground River. I took both of these tours with Corazon Tours, a Puerto Princesa based tour agency, and loved them both. Not only were the tours themselves great, but the guides, organisation and experience using Corazon Tours was amazing!
Day 1: Honda Bay Island Tour
Corazon will arrange a 7am pick up from your hotel and then you will drive about half an hour to the port where you begin the Honda Bay Island Tour. From here it is a 15 minute boat ride to the first spot on the tour. The great thing about this island hopping and snorkeling tour is that each of the spots on the itinerary are close together so you don’t spend hours sailing around. I have detailed each of the spots on the tour along with timings so you know exactly what to expect!
1st Stop – Pambato Reef
- Time To The Location: 30 minute drive to port and 15 minute boat ride
- Time At The Location: 1 hr
This is a floating dock that the boats moor to and you can swim and snorkel around the area. Life vests are mandatory in the reef even if you are a good swimmer and these will be provided by your tour company. There isn’t anything on the dock so don’t expect to be able to get snorkels or fins here, so make sure you bring your own or hire in advance. The snorkelling is really pretty and depending on your group, you can spend up to an hour exploring the underwater world.
- Time To The Location: 15 minutes from Pambato Reef
- Time At The Location: 1 hr (only if you skip or spend less time at Pambato Reef)
We had a bit of extra time in our itinerary as a number of guests on our boat were not swimmers and were not able to enjoy Pambato reef so we headed over to Starfish Island instead. The island has a marsh area and long stretch of sand beach that you walk along to the end before heading into the water to snorkel and see all the beautiful starfish. There is a designated area to snorkel here, and you are permitted to pick up starfish for photos for up to 5 minutes – however, we did not do this as I am not sure of the ethics and disruption to the relaxed starfish life having several tourists pick them up!
There is also a shaded area to stop and have lunch or snacks on the island here with fresh fish and seafood available. Our tour had a planned lunch at Cowli Islands so we didn’t eat here, but I imagine some tours would have spot as the lunch break in the itinerary.
- Time To The Location: 5 minutes from Pambato or 10 minutes from Starfish island
- Time At The Location: 1 hr at the island
This island is also know as the disappearing and reappearing island as it is under water at high tide. This stop is a really pretty stretch of sand with a few small huts where you can get a bite to eat or stop at the bar and have a White Russian for 150 pesos like we did! The island is beautiful and a lovely spot to snorkel and swim.
- Time To The Location: 15 minutes from Luli Island
- Time At The Location: from around 11.30am to 2.30pm
This was my favourite spot of the day, a relaxed island filled with swaying tall palm trees. Cowrie Island is the last stop on the Honda Bay tour and you will stay here for lunch and more swimming. Lunch is served between 11.30 and 2pm buffet style, with fresh fish, chicken and seafood along with rice and pasta. I was actually surprised how delicious this was and a bonus that it was included in the tour price!
Whilst you are here make sure to stop at the coconut stand and rehydrate yourself with fresh coconut water. You can then follow this up with a lazy swim, or if you are feeling more adventurous you can take a banana boat ride or hire a jet ski!
After Cowrie Island, it’s time to head back home and it’s a quick 15 minute boat ride back to port and then half an hour drive to Puerto Princesa central. All in all a wonderful day out exploring and snorkelling!
Day 2: Underground River Tour
On Day 2 I highly suggest that you go to the Underground River. The Underground River in Puerto Princesa was declared one of the new 7 Wonders Of Nature in 2011. It shares this honour with other wonders including the Amazon Rainforest, Halong Bay, Iguazu Falls, Komodo, Jeju Island and Table Mountain. And if you are checking all 7 wonders off your bucketlist you will not be disappointed with this one! If you are staying in Puerto Princesa you can again book your Underground River tour with Corazon Tours.
About The Underground River
- The cave was originally discovered by natives in the 12th century
- At 8.2km long, it’s the largest underground river in the world
- Tourists can only visit the first 1.5km of the Underground River, as the farther in you go the river becomes narrower and has less air
- There is a 2nd floor of the cave that has giant crystals, but no air and cannot be visited by tourists. In 2010 National Geographic announced they wanted to explore it, but they still have not been yet
You will again have a 7am pick up from your hotel, followed by a 2 hour drive to the port. Depending how fast your driver goes this could be less or if there is traffic more. I recommend to take car sickness tablets as the roads here are winding.
At the port your guide will arrange the boat over to where the underground river begins. This should not take long as we waited about 20 minutes, but if there are a lot of tourists it could take longer. The boat over to the small beach where you dock is around 15 minutes and from here you will take a very short walk through the forest to the mouth of the Underground River.
About The Tour
I was incredibly impressed with both the organisation from the tour company Corazon and at the Underground River. You first take your life vest from the boat and on arrival you will be given a hard hat and an earpiece with a small digital guide. You will wait your turn to board a paddle boat that has around 12 people in it and begin your journey into the Underground River.
What is so unique about this experience I found was the attention to responsible travel. The reason you have the earpiece guide is because they do not want any talking in the cave so that visiting does not cause disruption to the animals whose habitat is within the cave (mostly bats!). The vocal guide is timed perfectly as you navigate through the cave, and the guide will point out certain rock formations with his torch and tell you about the history and formation of the cave, along with some of the fun interpretations of what the rock formations looks like.
Within the cave you will see St Paul’s Cathedral, a vegetable market, a nativity scene, Sharon Stone, Jesus and a T-Rex. A little like cloud spotting, you will use your imagination to visualise these famous faces in the rocks!
At one point, the guide will turn off his torch so that you sit in complete darkness and see how completely absent of light the farthest point that you will reach in the cave is. After this point, the boat turns back and heads along the same route back out of the cave. The total time inside is roughly 45 minutes.
- Your tour company will remind you, but you must have identification such as a passport of drivers licence with you to enter the Undergound River.
- Be prepared to wait around. You may have to wait at the port for a long time before the boat takes you over, and then wait again for your boat into the Underground River. We did not have to wait long at all, but I have heard some people waiting over 2 hours. I suggest booking with a tour company like Corazon Tours that leaves early in the day so hopefully you are one of the first boats over.
PLANNING YOUR DAY TRIPS
I highly recommend booking your day trips through Corazon Tours who did an excellent job, provided friendly guides, and made both days a very enjoyable experience!
- Book the Island Tour here. 1,450 pesos per person.
- Book the Underground River Tour here. 2,150 per person.
HOW TO GET TO PUERTO PRINCESA
Puerto Princess is 1.25 hour flight from Manila serviced by several airlines, including Air Asia, Philippines Air and Cebu Air. Since our itinerary had us in Cebu before Puerto Princesa, we took an Air Asia flight from Cebu City which took just one hour.
If you are travelling to multiple areas in the Philippines, please note in my experience flights are often delayed or even cancelled due to weather. Make sure to leave plenty of time in your itinerary to account for this.
Secondly, make sure to check baggage fees before booking your flights. The cheaper flight options may wind up more expensive when you add on the baggage fees. Philippines Airlines includes 20kg per person, other airlines you have to pay for baggage, with Cebu Pacific being particularly expensive. I would also recommend that you weigh your bags and purchase the correct amount of weight in advance if you are travelling Air Asia. They do check and will charge you at the airport US $15 per kg overweight, so it’s cheaper to add this online in advance.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUERTO PRINCESA
We chose budget friendly Best Western Plus Ivywall, which cost roughly US $60 per night including breakfast. We actually loved this hotel as the rooms were a good size, quiet, and included a double bed, which was surprisingly difficult to find in the Philippines, as most hotels we stayed in seemed to only offer two single beds!
- Find the best price on the Best Western Plus Ivywall
- Find the best price on hotels in Puerto Princesa City
WHERE TO EAT IN PUERTO PRINCESA
Puerto Princesa is something of a foodie heaven, as there are lots of great restaurants to choose from and plenty of bars along the main road Rizal Avenue to choose from. Our favourite restaurant was Artisans, which is conveniently located right opposite the Best Western.
The menu here is extensive with everything from steak and seafood to Indian and Mexican. Usually such variety worries me, but everything we had here was delicious and we went back more than once. Other popular restaurant options include Kinabuchs Grill and La Terrasse.
HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY IN PUERTO PRINCESA
Depending on what you would like to see I suggest two to three nights in Puerto Princesa. If you are only interested in the Underground River you could spend just two nights and one day, but if Honda Bay takes your fancy then three nights will be enough to fit in both these day trips.
I hope that this article has inspired you to visit Puerto Princesa on your next trip to the Philippines. Adding this part of Palawan to your trip itinerary will be worth the extra days!
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Book Your Stay In Puerto Princesa
- Find the best price on the Best Western Plus Ivywall
- Find the best price on hotels in Puerto Princesa City
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I took both my tours with Corazon on a complementary basis, as always all opinions are my own and reflect my true experience on the day trips. This website is a free resource and to keep it free for our readers we may use affiliate links in our articles. Please see our Disclosures for more information.