1. Puerto Princesa Underground River
Where it is
- Puerto Princesa Underground River (full name: Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park) is a protected cave found approximately 80 km north of the Puerto Princesa city centre. It lies on Palawan island, in the south-western part of the Philippine archipelago. The park graces the Saint Paul Mountain Range, with its gorgeous landscapes of limestone karst, untouched forests, and extraordinary wildlife. You can enter the cave by boat, or hike from the town of Sabang.
Why it’s awesome
- Puerto Princesa Underground River was officially selected as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. It encompasses one of the planet’s most magnificent and impressive cave systems. The river is more than 24km (15 miles) long, with huge passages and colossal chambers. One chamber is so long that its length still hasn’t been measured, but we know it is 120 metres wide and 60 metres high. Another huge chamber is called the “Italian’s Chamber.” This chamber’s volume is estimated to be 2.5 million square metres, which makes it one of the largest cave rooms in the entire planet!
- The cave contains a section of the world’s second-longest river. The 8.2 km-long Cabuyagan River winds through the cave before merging into the West Philippine Sea. The Puerto Princesa Underground River was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. That makes it a truly unique site for spelunking in the Philippines.
- Puerto Princesa Underground River encompasses a complete mountain-to-sea ecosystem. The cave contains breathtaking sights of stalactites and slatagmites, plus speleothems. As well, the area is an important habitat for biodiversity conservation.
- The national park protects some of the most biodiverse and important forests in Asia, according to the WWF’s Global Report. There are a 8 intact forest formations linked to the underground cave: montane forest, freshwater swamp forest, beach forest, forest on ultramafic soil, mangrove forest, forest on limestone soil, riverine forest, and lowland evergreen tropical rainforest.
What to expect
- Tourists usually visit Puerto Princesa Underground River on guided tours. Your group will travel in a canoe that holds up to 9 passengers (including the guide). Life jackets are necessary! Upon entering the underground cave, it will be super dark. With a flashlight, your guide will help you to see the rock formations surrounding you. As you navigate the narrow channels, you may encounter bats hanging from the ceiling.
- Then the cave will open out and you will pass through large cave rooms and chambers. Along the way you will be stunned by beautiful stalagmites and stalactites, as well as flowstones or drapery (a type of rock formation that looks like vegetables hanging on the cave ceiling and walls). After covering 1.5 km inside, your canoe will head back. Unfortunately it isn’t possible for your tour to go all the way through to the West Philippine sea! Be sure to pay attention and keep an eye out for “the Guardian.” This amazing rock formation near the exit of the cave is shaped like an ancient man on a desk with a logbook. Pretty cool, huh?
- Once you emerge from the cave and get back to your phone, you can officially tell all your friend that you’ve been spelunking in the Philippines at one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature!
2. Aglipay Caves
- The Aglipay Caves cave complex is located at Barangay Villa Ventura in the quaint town of Aglipay. The caves fall within the pristine forests and hills of Quirino Province, approximately 10 kilometers from the provincial capital Cabarroguis.
Why they’re awesome
- The Aglipay Caves cover an area of 101 hectares. They were discovered in 1983. The cave complex has 37 caves, but only 8 are explorable for spelunking. It is a highly popular tourist destination for its spectacular form and mysterious beauty. The caves go down 20 metres in a labyrinth of crawl-spaces and chambers. Prepare to be in awe of the beautifully formed stalactites and stalagmites, plus other fascinating geological formations.
What to expect
- As with most spelunking in the Philippines, you must visit Aglipay Caves with a guided tour. A minimal entrance fee is charged. Be sure to brief your guide about your level of spelunking experience so that they can customize the tour to give you the best memories of the Aglipay Caves.
- There are 8 explored caves in total, which would take you almost three hours to explore. You will probably want to take a break in the 6th cave, though. It’s like a private subterranean oasis, complete with a river and cascading waterfalls (the source of which are unknown). The waters are cool and inviting – you can swim if you wish! Don’t mind the insect-chomping bats that reside overhead.
- The first chamber you will enter is pretty easy. You will first take concrete stairs, and then descend into total darkness. Even with lamps or flashlights you can’t really see the entire chamber, but that’s part of the fun. Your beam of light will catch beautiful formations in the walls shaped like rice terraces.
- When your guide leads you outside the cave, don’t be shocked. The tour hasn’t ended that quickly! In fact, it’s just the beginning. You see, the Aglipay Caves are rather unique— you have to exit before you enter another cave. They’re not really interconnected.
- When you finally reach the 8th cave, it’s a serious challenged. The entrance will shock you. It is a small hole that will freak out even the mildest case of claustrophobia. But fear not, it’s just the entrance. Once you slip through it (the guide will go first to relax you), you will emerge in a very spacious chamber. The next cave destination, though, might not be for the faint-hearted.
- From Cave 8, you will enter Cave 2. It’s a crawl space, but spacious and breathable. You just have to walk like a duck for five minutes… until you reach the hole of another entrance, this time waaaay smaller. From here you will have to slither. Worm your way along until you reach the exit: a semi-dangerous steel ladder. You really have no choice. Just take lots of care, and you will survive. The ladder is actually named “The Ladder of Success” because it is such a huge feat.
- Outside the caves, more interesting activities await you. There’s a butterfly sanctuary to visit and a picnic area complete with huts, if you want to relax and you packed some food. You can also enjoy trekking, camping, or bird-watching (there are reportedly 27 species of birds in the area, including the kingfisher).
- There are accommodations available if you fall in love with the place and want to stay for the night. You have your choice of camping sites, modern cottages, or dorms..
- It is NOT recommended to go spelunking in Aglipay Caves without hiring a local guide. Do not be an idiot and venture on your own, no matter how expert you feel that you are. This is for your own safety. Bring your own spelunking gear, like lights and a helmet. Have fun, but safe fun.
3. Calbiga / Langub-Gobingob Caves
Where they are
- The Calbiga Caves (officially named the Langun-Gobingob Caves) are the largest cave system in all of the Philippines and the second largest in the entire continent of Asia. This cave complex, which is the planet’s third largest karst formation, has a staggering area of 900 square kms and length of 7m.
- The caves are found in the fourth class municipality of Cabliga, in the province of Samar. The pristine and utterly mysterious caves were first discovered in 1987 by a group of Italians spelunking in the Philippines.
Why they’re awesome
- The vastness of the Calbiga Caves is quite unimaginable. Inside you will be transported to an otherworldly terrain that encompasses chambers so massive they resemble coliseums, on top of underground lakes, rivers, and natural springs.
- The Calbiga Caves complex consists of 12 caves. If you are determined to explore the complete set of chambers, get ready for a 2- to 3-day spelunking and camping expedition inside the caves. This has been done by Joni Bonifacio, a local cave master and speleologist. Bonifacio has been roaming and exploring around his hometown of Samar for more than two decades already. If you’re okay with experiencing only the highlights of the cave, then it will take you just four hours.
What to expect
- Getting to Calbiga Caves is a process: From the town of Calbiga, hire a motorbike to take you to Barangay Panayuran. This is the starting point for your hike to the caves, which will take at least 1 hour. The hike is scenic and pleasant. Along the way you will pass viewing decks where you can stop for a preview of what is in store for you – the Calbiga Caves in all their colossal glory. The hiking trails are dangerously slippery in rainy weather, so be sure to go spelunking on a day with fine weather.
- Your tour guide will most likely tell some tales about the caves as you approach them. These superstitious beliefs that are pretty common in Philippine provinces. The guide will talk about mythical creatures or monsters residing in the caves, and you can just treat this as a bonus – a fascinating story to get you more hyped up for your cave exploration.
- When you finally reach the opening of Calbiga Caves and enter, darkness will slowly engulf you and your ears will start to become hypersensitive. Bat wings flapping noisily above you, water pitter-pattering from rock formations, and your own heavy footsteps will echo as you trudge through the muddy earth.
- Next you will head to the Gobingob Campsite, more plainly known as the “Football Chamber.” This is where your jaw will drop for the sheer size of the chamber (like a football stadium!). It resembles a cathedral decorated with artful stalactites. From time to time, you will hear or see crickets hopping joyously inside this chamber.
- An underground watercourse runs around the fringes of this chamber. You can swim here or scoop up a drink of the mineral water. Watch out for the swimming crabs and fish, though! Or if you’d rather, take a rest or have a picnic at the campsite inside this part of the cave.
- Get ready for the most thrilling part of your cave expedition: swooping down a vertical cliff with a rope to drop into a 40-metre deep chamber. Yes, rappelling! Then you will find yourself in a chamber with short stalagmites, like some cool installation art. More thrills await you as you further explore this super-large cave, like humongous stalactites that reach the cave floors (or even extend underneath). You have to cross an underground stream at one point, through waters reaching your waist.
- Within the tour, you will also be taken to the “mother of all chambers” called the Langun. Guides say this chamber is so big it could hold 3 football fields. It’s approximately 270 metres long and 160 metres wide. On a perfect day, you will be lucky to catch sunbeams penetrating the chamber, and it feels like stepping into an episode of “The X-Files.”
- Exiting the cave is a slightly gross experience because you will have to walk through “Guano Mountain.” This ankle-deep mixture of bat droppings and live beetles feels like quicksand but don’t worry, it won’t swallow you! After the pain comes the gain: “Heaven’s Gate”, or the cave’s exit. The exit is dramatically framed by rock formations leading out into the abundant green forest. Now time for a 3 hour hike back to where you began! But you’ll never regret a moment of spelunking in the Philippines in this magical cave.
Spelunking in the Philippines: helpful articles and blog posts
We only recommend writers and blogs that we read regularly and believe will deliver substantial value to our readers. The following is our top picks of articles and blogs that we think are worth reading for you to get more information and a more extensive guide to the 3 most beautiful caves in the Philippines:
- “One of the New 7 Wonders of the World – the Puerto Princesa Underground River”– by Sammi of My Tan Feet
- Quirino Province: Underground Adventure at Aglipay Caves from EAZY Traveler
- Langun-Gobingob Caves – “The Biggest Cave in the Philippines – Calbiga, Samar – from trexplore.ph
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