Puerto Princesa Underground River Overview


In this post I want to cover how to do the Puerto Princesa underground river by yourself, without booking a tour from Puerto Princesa.

Having recently done this myself I am aware that some information online is wrong at the moment, so I thought I’d write an up-to-date underground river DIY guide for people like me, who don’t want to be bundled on some long tour.

Doing the Puerto Princesa underground river by yourself is cheaper and it opens up the option of riding a motorbike to the town of Sabang, staying a night in Sabang and/or getting a van out of Sabang directly to your next location.

Doing the underground river by yourself also means you can be the first person at the pier and one of the first people in the river that day before it gets crowded.

This underground river DIY guide will cover costs, background information, location, getting there, where to head next, what to do on the day and also the two locations that you can get your permit for the underground river.

Underground River DIY Guide Video


If you’d rather get more visuals in your underground river DIY guide then I also made this video which shows you everything you can expect with the underground river.


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What is the Puerto Princesa Underground River?


The Puerto Princesa underground river (PPUR) is basically as described, except it is not in Puerto Princesa at all!

It is actually located near a small town on the island of Palawan called Sabang.

However it is indeed an underground river.

The area of the national park, like a lot of Palawan, has a limestone karst landscape. The PPUR cave is more than 24kms long and has at least 8kms of river flowing through it which flows into the West Philippine Sea.

The tour that you will do will not cover the entirety of the river due to its sheer size and difficulty in navigating the system.

The Puerto Princesa underground river was voted as one of the new 7 wonders of nature.

It really is the standout activity in the Puerto Princesa area, with the majority of Palawan’s attractions being in El Nido, things like the famous island hopping tours or climbing Taraw Cliff.

If you fly into Puerto Princesa this is worth doing on the way up to El Nido.

What do you do at the underground river?


The tour is a silent boat tour. The guides will not speak, you will listen to an audio guide as you float along silently for 45 minutes in the underground river.

It is a good setup as it makes the entire experience very peaceful and respectful of the wildlife that calls the river system home.

Either side of this 45 minute tour though is what this blog is about, the underground river DIY guide will detail how you get to the point of actually doing the tour.

Shot on the Sony A1 (Amazon/eBay link) using the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 (Amazon/eBay link).

Underground River DIY Guide


There are a few things you need to know to do the underground river by yourself which will be covered in this section of the underground river DIY guide.

Why do the underground river by yourself instead of a tour?


So many reasons, cost being the least of them.

Yes it is cheaper, but you’re in the Philippines on holiday and either option will hardly break the bank.

I think the main reason to do the underground river by yourself is the fact that you can take your time, do it first thing in the morning, not have to be anywhere afterwards and don’t have to sit in a van with randoms for 2 hours before and after the tour.

There’s less waiting around time, you work to your schedule.

You don’t need to go through Puerto Princesa (which is pretty boring) and can leave from Sabang straight to your next destination, whether that be Port Barton, El Nido or just straight to the airport to go somewhere else.

You can also spend a night or two in Sabang and check out the nearby activities, there are waterfalls, ziplines, caves to explore and even some jungle trekking in the national park if you want to mix things up.

Shot on the Sony A1 (Amazon/eBay link) using the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 (Amazon/eBay link).

How do I do the underground river by myself?


To protect the national park from overcrowding, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean National Park will only approve 900 visitors per day.

Each and every visitor is accounted for with an entry permit.

A lot of these permits go to the tours, but there are some reserved for walk-in purchases. I wasn’t able to verify the exact number but most people say this number is 100 of the 900 total.

However, if the tours don’t fill their allotment then their spare permits can also be purchased by walk-in tourists.

So to do it by yourself, you need to get a permit, there are two locations with which you can get a permit for the Puerto Princesa underground river.

Either in Puerto Princesa or in Sabang.


Where to get a permit for the underground river?


As of 2024 there is a lot of wrong information online about where to get the permit for the Puerto Princesa underground river.

The new location within Puerto Princesa is the building shown below near Mendoza Park. The opening hours are as advertised on Google (check for the relevant day you wish to visit).



The building will look like this, you can’t miss it. The name is printed right on the side of it.



But you don’t have to come to Puerto Princesa to get the permit if you don’t want to, you can get the permit in Sabang (the town where the river is) by walking down to the pier as pictured below.


Shot with the DJI Mini 4 Pro Plus (Amazon link).


There are advantages to not going into Puerto Princesa for the permit, especially for those coming from the north of the island, you can avoid the detour.

For those who fly into Puerto Princesa it will be just as easy to arrange for the permit in PP before leaving to Sabang, but the important thing is that you have the option to choose which works best for you and your itinerary.

How to get the permit for the underground river?


Go to whichever office works best for you, PP or Sabang, take a ticket number and wait to be called to the counter. Everyone speaks perfectly good English in both offices and will be able to answer your questions.

A few things to consider though:

  • You have to know what date you wish to do the tour, you can’t get one without the date written on it.
  • If you’re in Sabang and getting the permit for the following day, you will pay on the day you actually do the tour. If you’re doing it straight after getting the permit then you’ll pay then.
  • If you get a permit from Puerto Princesa then you will pay when you get to Sabang Pier and do the tour.
  • I was told that to get the permit in Sabang you have to be staying in Sabang for the night. However at no point did anyone ever ask for proof of accommodation.

The last point is an interesting one, I wouldn’t recommend riding into Sabang, getting a permit and doing the tour, then leaving straight away anyway. But in theory if nobody asked you for proof of accommodation you could do this I suppose.

It is recommended that you get there first thing during the day to ensure you get a permit for the day that you want and they don’t all disappear.

This is especially important in peak seasons, but I’ll discuss my experiences a bit further down in the underground river DIY guide.

Puerto Princesa underground river DIY costs


The costs are low and also variable. See the image below.

The final cost will depend on how many people you share a boat with for the underground river. As you are doing the underground river by yourself, you will be joining a boat with others to reduce costs or paying for an entire boat to yourself.

This is not the boat that takes you on the underground river, but just the boat from the pier to the beach where the underground river flows out to sea, you can see the path the boats take in the image below.



Of course if you’re trying to compare these prices to those of a tour from Puerto Princesa then you’d have to add in your own transport costs to and from Sabang for a fair comparison.

How to do the underground river tour by yourself?


Whichever day you have the permit for, you need to be in Sabang at some point before they stop running the boats out to the beach, this is usually at around 15:30 for the latest departures.

If you’re in Puerto Princesa and are riding a motorbike or scooter this is only an hour and a half ride. A van will take about 2 hours unless it is a private van that doesn’t need to pick up others.

Of course the earlier the better and the best way to get it done is to stay in Sabang the night before your permit date, then rock up to the pier at opening time of 07:30

Go into the permit office first to pay the money, get your tickets and head to the spot shown below where the boat captains and tour organisers will be.

Shot with the DJI Mini 4 Pro Plus (Amazon link).


Once here you can either pay for a boat to yourself, or join a boat of others to split the costs.

Please note that paying for a boat to the beach where the river meets the sea does not give you a boat to yourself for the actual underground river tour, you will still be on a boat with others for the underground river tour.

I did not ask how to get a boat to yourself in the underground river, I dare say you would need to pay a decent price to the right people but I didn’t care too much about that so didn’t ask around.

As soon as you join a boat and pay, that’s it. The rest of it is the tour, you’ve done all that you need to do.

However there is one other way to get either to or from the underground river and that is a jungle hiking trail that is about 5kms in length.

To do this you’d definitely want to be spending the night in Sabang so you’re not too rushed. It will be extremely humid and it costs 300 pesos.

The trail doesn’t open until 08:00 so you will not get there before the boats do, but it is a good way to see some wildlife, you can walk one direction and boat the other, or walk both, or boat both. But if you take a boat in either direction you’ll need to pay for it.

Shot on the Sony A1 (Amazon/eBay link) using the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 (Amazon/eBay link).

My Underground River DIY Experience


In the course of gathering all the information for the underground river DIY guide I went to both the permit office in Puerto Princesa and the permit office at the pier, just to discuss with both.

I flew into PP which is why I went there first, but I was unsure of when exactly I wanted to do the tour so I didn’t put my name down then and there.

As I was riding a motorbike all the way from Puerto Princesa to El Nido I was happy to rock up to Sabang and be able to do it whenever I wanted.

One thing I found curious was that when I got into Sabang and went to the permit office at roughly 15:00, they were asking if I wanted to do the tour then and there. This was early April so obviously they hadn’t sold all of the 900 permits that day and spots were available.

However as I wanted to do it first thing in the morning I asked for a permit for the following day, they wrote down my details and told me to come back in the morning.

I was meant to get there at 07:30 but got there around 07:50, paid my money and went to the front of the pier. I was in a boat with 6 others within 5 minutes.

The cost was 200 pesos to share the boat with 7 others, bringing my total cost to 935 pesos for the underground river tour DIY method.

We left at about 08:05, twenty minutes in the boat, then you line up for helmets and audio guides, 45 minutes tour on the river and after that you can leave as soon as your boat load of people is ready.

When our boat arrived on the beach for the underground river there was only two other boats there before us. By the time we left there were about 20 boats at the beach, so I am glad we started early.

For the majority of the Underground River tour we couldn’t see another boat inside the river system until we were near the halfway mark and the first two boats were coming back the other way.

I was ready to leave straight away as I was riding to Port Barton that same day, but had to wait about 20 minutes for the others to see the monkeys.

All in all after the 20 minute boat ride back it was all done and dusted in about 2 hours.

Shot on the Sony A1 (Amazon/eBay link) using the Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 (Amazon/eBay link).

Closing thoughts on doing the underground river by yourself


It’s absolutely worth it.

I’m not a big fan of mass tours but it can’t be avoided with this activity, so being there early and being one of the first in the river for the day makes it feel that tiny bit more private.

Even if I wasn’t riding a motorbike or scooter I would still arrange to get a van to Sabang and spend a night, then do the underground river by yourself.

If you want to go at a slow pace you can do two nights in Sabang, otherwise you can get a van to Port Barton, Puerto Princesa or even El Nido the same day if you do the tour early.

The underground river itself is amazing, don’t miss it just because it’s so well known, I found the formations and the peacefulness of the tour very rewarding.

Safe travels!

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