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Image courtesy of the Philippines Department of Tourism

Beneath the limestone peaks of the St. Paul’s mountain range in Puerto Princesa, an underground river has delved deep into the rock, carving a cave with impressive rock formations and crevices teeming with life. From its source in the mountains, it travels 8.2kilometres through a series of massive cathedral interiors until it empties into a lagoon, and out to the sea at St. Paul’s Bay.

This is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, acclaimed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the rich and unique ecosystem found within its subterranean reaches.

Reaching and exploring the park requires a fair bit of advance planning. From Puerto Princesa city, it takes four hours to travel to Sabang, where the tourism office issues permits for visitors. Tour operators stock guests with the necessary safety gear and illumination. A speedboat ride across the bay takes you to a beach within ten minutes’ walk of the cave entrance; another boat ride at the lagoon opening takes you into the pitch-black interior of the subterranean river.

The giant cathedral interior sports a series of intricately-formed, imaginatively-named limestone formations; nine species of bat roost in the moist, dark depths. Take the jungle trail around the park outside the cave to find the other living creatures that call this place home – the sea cows and hawksbill turtles that swim in the nearby coastal area, and over 160 species of birds that live in the nearby forests.

Elsewhere on the Web: Read the Philippines Department of Tourism’s overview page on Puerto Princesa’s Underground River.