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Sabang and the New7wonders Puerto Princesa Underground River

Updated March 4, 2011

Entrance to the underground river

Bangkas moored in front of Dab Dab Cottages - for transporting tourists to the Underground River

Beach view from Sabang pier to the north

Sunset in front of Dab Dab Cottages at low tide

Sunrise in front of Dab Dab cottages

View from Dab Dab Restaurant

View from Dab Dab Cottage (duplex)

Small lake next to Dab Dab Cottage

Small Dab Dab Cottage

Ipil hardwood furniture in Dab Dab Restaurant - created by owner Dante.

Sheridan Beach Resort and Convention Center - under construction - Dec 15, 2009

Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort

Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort - rear view over swimming pool.

Sabang beach in front of Taraw Vista Lodge.

Taraw Vista Lodge - view from beach

Entrance to the Mangrove River Forest tour.

Tour of the Mangrove River Forest.

Booking for the Underground River Tour

The Puerto Princesa Underground River was was declared one of the 7 natural wonders of the world by New7wonders in November 11, 2011. Now, everyone wants to go there. Only 780 visitors are allowed into the cave each day, but more than that arrive. To ensure that you get in, you'll need to book. As of this update, you need to book at least 2 weeks in advance to be assured a place. Arrange this through your accommodation or through your tour operator. If you don't have a tour operator yet, I personally recommend a long time friend, Manny. Click here to get his details.

About Sabang

I have been to Sabang many times over the last 14 years. Besides being a visually beautiful place, Sabang is also the gateway to the world heritage listed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Probably ninety five percent of all the visitors to Sabang take a day trip from Puerto Princesa, staying long enough only to eat lunch on the beach and experience the 45 minute underground river trip. The sleepy little village of Sabang transforms daily into an overcrowded car park as some 60 tourist vans arrive from Puerto Princesa - each van may have up to 12 passengers. Around lunch time, Sabang swarms with tourists. By mid afternoon, most of the vans have left and Sabang returns to its quite self. At sunset, when the air turns cooler, there is a soothing tranquility; village life returns to normal and children come to play in their reclaimed streets. Sunrise brings on an equal calm. All that changes again around mid morning – this is when the first of day trippers arrive for their underground river excursion. Consider at least a one night stay in Sabang and experience its quiet beauty.

Most tourists I spoke to wished they included at least an overnight stay in Sabang rather than doing the day trip. There is plenty of accommodation to choose from and plenty of things to do and see to keep you here for at least a few days and more.

Barangay Buenavista View Deck

You will pass this view deck maybe 15 minutes before reaching Sabang. Public transport won’t stop here, but insist that your hire van does. The views from Buenavista View Deck over Ulugan Bay are very beautiful. There are two structures from which to bask in this view. The small bamboo structure serves simple meals and coffee and you can enjoy the view from there. The best view is from the view deck of the second structure. Both establishments sell souvenirs. There is a wide range of necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings on sale. These are all assembled on site. Locally cultivated fresh water pearls are the major components used in the jewelry and trinkets. See the six pictures below.

Underground River - Day Tour Package from Puerto Princesa

If you want to do the underground river tour from Puerto Princesa City in one day, then the only reliable way to do it is to take the tour package from Puerto Princesa. It’s P1,500 fixed price and includes all costs including hotel pickup, park entrance fees and lunch on the beach. Any guest house or hotel will gladly book this for you. If the park is not too busy, you can expect the whole round trip to take about 7 hours. Filipinos should be able to argue for a P50 reduction because the park entrance is P50 cheaper for them - try it.

The journey to Sabang is 80km. You will head north for the first half of the drive along the east coast until you reach Salvacion. This stretch of road is cemented and in very good condition. There will be some beautiful views of Honda Bay along this leg. From Salvacion you will head east and cross Palawan to the South China Sea, passing through native forests and many small villages. The road from Salvacion to Sabang is almost completely cemented now, so the drive is no longer arduous. Traveling time by van is about one and a half hours, excluding any stops.

Making your own way to Sabang from Puerto Princesa

There is a 7am jeepney and a 9am bus (no comfort) going to Sabang. They leave from the San Jose terminal, near the new market, about 7km out from the center of Puerto Princesa. Most people get to the San Jose terminal by tricycle and you can expect to pay about P30 per person from the center of Puerto Princesa City, but there is no set price. The trip to Sabang will take up to three hours, depending on the amount of loading and unloading happens along the way. The cost one way is P125 if you look like a Filipino and P200 if you don't. A jeepney leaves Sabang for Puerto Princesa at 7am and 10am, and the bus returns to Puerto at around 1pm.

If you are a group of up to 12 people, you may consider hiring your own van with driver. The full day cost of a private van from and to Puerto Princesa City is P3,500. Your guest house or hotel can book this for you. You could also arrange one yourself and have them pick you up from the airport. If you are going to Sabang outside of the peak holiday periods, you may also be able to manage your own tour by following the instructions below. Consider also the possibility of having the van stay overnight in Sabang and bringing you back the next day for an extra P1,500. I recommend Manny to arrange your van hire.

Getting to the Underground River from the Sabang Pier

Once you are in Sabang, there are two more parts to the tour. First you need to get to the underground river by a small outrigger motorized canoe called a bangka. They come in two sizes; the smaller boats carry 6 people and the larger one carry 12 people. If you are on a package tour, the bangka booking would have been prearranged for you, probably by the tour guide. If you are uncomfortable in small boats on the ocean, then make sure that the tour guide has booked you on a large boat.

If you want to do the underground river tour without a package, you will need to arrange your own Bangka. This cannot be done on a day trip. You will need to spend an overnight in Sabang for that. Try and get on the first boats to the underground river at about 8AM. None of the day trippers will have arrived by then. Arrange all that the day before at the booking office at the pier if you can. Hiring a bangka usually requires joining a group if there are only one or two of you. There is nothing to stop you from hiring a bangka with only with yourself in it if you want to pay the full cost.

Note that maximum capacity of a bangka may not be allowed if the weather is rough. I was at the Sabang pier on May 8, 2009 when the waves in the morning were quite large. Only the large bangkas were permitted to go to the underground river and they were only allowed to carry 4 persons each instead of the normal 12. Many people were crowded around the pier on that morning waiting for the weather to clear up.

Hire of a small Bangka for the return trip to the Underground River is P750. This cost is shared by each of the passengers with six as the maximum. The cost is P1350 for a large bangka divided by the number of passengers with 12 as the maximum.

Also pay the entrance fee to Underground river national park while you are booking your boat - the rates are in the table below. The fee covers the cost of the park entrance plus the paddle boat tour of the underground river - it does not cover the boat journey from the Sabang pier to the Underground River entrance.

Underground River Fees

Foreigners P200
Seniors P75
Adults - Filipino P150
Age 18 to 20 P75
Age 13 to 17 P50
Age 6 to 12 P30

Getting to the Underground River via the Monkey Trail

You can save yourself the cost of the bangka by walking to the underground river and back via the Monkey Trail. It is a 5.2km trek one way. You must pay your entry fee into the park at the pier before you set off. At a slow pace, the walk will take you about 2.5 hours. At a fast pace, you can make it back in 90 minutes. You can negotiate for a bangka to take you back if you like, or alternatively, you can take a bangka to the underground river and walk back.

The Monkey forest Trail is a fantastic walk and you are likely to see monkeys, monitor lizards, squirrels, birds, and lots of lush rain-forest flora. There is another trail you can follow too, called the Jungle Trail, which provides an alternative route for a round trip walk. If I recall correctly, it takes about an hour longer and you may get a little muddy during the wet season. When taking a break along the trail, especially as you get close to the Underground River, be careful that the monkeys don’t steal you food or bags – don’t leave them unattended.

Walk along the beach to beyond Mary's and Michi’s and Monkey Trail starts just after that. You will see a hut there which is the booking office for the mangrove tour, which is also the start of the Monkey trail. You will need to cross a small river at the start of the Monkey Trail – the bridge was destroyed by a recent typhoon. The people operating the mangrove tour will take you across in their boat for P10 each. If you are coming back via the Monkey Trail, you will need to shout out to the boatmen on the other side to pick you up. If there is no boatman, you may have to wade through the river at the shallow end where it flows into the ocean. The depth may be up to your waist during the wet season. Take sunscreen and an umbrella for shade and a large plastic cover for your backpack when it rains, which it probably will! (You can buy large clear plastic bags at Ausan's store – a good size for waterproofing most luggage – especially for bangka trips).

Other Activities in Sabang

Mangrove River Tour - Take a guided boat tour of the mangrove forest. This is a fantastic thing to do, yet so few people do it. You pass the guides and boats on the way to the Monkey Trail. A guide and boatman will take you in a small flat bottomed boat through the forest and feed you information while you look at this wonderful place. They do a good job and the on-the-spot information is relevant and enriching. The local guides speak about this place with passion. Early morning is best – 9am latest. In the morning you are more likely to see wildlife rather than later in the day, when it’s too hot anyway. Take your umbrella and insect repellent. The cost is only P150 for a 45 minute tour.

Swimming - The beach on the northern side of the pier is good for swimming and a fun place to play in the waves. The beach can also be extremely dangerous because of an undertow. There are warning signs along the beach to remind you, but as you can see on a picture below, they are often ignored. On December 23rd, 2010, a mother of two lost her life when she was pulled out to sea by the undertow. This was in front of the Sheridan Hotel.

Sometimes there are some "stingy things" in the water but they usually cause only a minor irritation. I think the sting comes from bits of jellyfish tentacle floating in the water. It's not recommended that you sun bake on the beach in the early morning and late afternoon because of the sandflies. Read my section on Sandflies.

Halo-halo - Enjoy a halo-halo from a vendor near the pier. This is an ice confection composed of various jellies, beans, coconut meat, jackfruit and crunchy bits buried under shaved ice, topped with sweet syrup or condensed milk. Stir and mix it all up as best you can. Delicious on a hot day. This treat costs P25. I often eat halo-halo here. Generally it is safe when you can see the ingredients are well stored and the vendor is clean, which they all are. Surprisingly, this treat is not overly sweet, which is what makes it so nice.

Jungle trekking is also available and guides can be organized through any lodging place.

Places to Stay – economy and backpacker

General information – there is no electricity supply in Sabang so each resort has to generate its own. Electricity is only generated between about 6 pm and 1 am in the budget resorts. There is no internet although it is supposed to be coming soon. Your SmartBro Wi-Fi, GPRS or G3 will not work in Sabang because the cell tower is not configured for it. Some of the accommodation such as Mary's and Robert's are a bit run down and I would not recommend them to anyone.

Dab Dab Cottages and Restaurant – A beautiful place to stay and very good value for money - this is where I have been regularly staying for the last 10 years.  Nothing in Sabang comes close to the beauty of Dab Dab. It is about 10 meters from the sea front and only about 200 meters south of the pier. It does not have a sandy beach but it is only about 3 minutes walk to the main swimming beach. Their nine cottages are all surrounded by beautiful gardens. The cottage where I stayed on this trip has an idyllic setting. It is surrounded on two sides by a small lake and the font view is out to the ocean. The cottage (duplex) has a large verandah with a hammock, which is ideal for lazing and listening to the ocean waves breaking on the foreshore. This room also has a nice private bathroom.

The restaurant is a beautiful octagonal structure built completely from natural materials including bamboo and nipa. Dante, the owner of Dab Dab, is an inspired craftsman and has sculptured some extraordinary furniture out of giant Ipil hardwood roots left behind by the loggers. (see pictures) The restaurant is adorned with his creations, and his artistic flare extends out to all of Dab Dab’s cottages and gardens. The restaurant can be quite a scene at night, especially if there are lots of visitors in town. They play good music, not too loud and cook good fish. During the low season, you may need to order your evening meals in the morning, or as early as possible, as this is when the fresh fish come in. For bookings call or txt 0949 4699 421 (Smart) or 0906 7538 440 (Globe).

2 duplex cottages - fan - private BR 2 people P800
2 bungalows - fan - private bathrooms 2 people P650
3 cottages - fan -share bathrooms 2 people P400
1 family fan cottage – with BR 6 people max P1,500

Bambua – A beautiful nature retreat in a jungle setting surrounded by some 20 hectares of their own virgin forest. It is about 800 meters from the beach and ideal for those who would like to include some silence in their holiday. The surrounding forest seems to team with wild life and is I saw monkeys and squirrels during my stay there. They have two types of accommodation, the standard cottage is P950 (includes booking fee) and top-end cottage is P1500. Depending on the number of guests and the time of the year, you may need to give advanced notice if you want meat or fresh fish as part of your meals.

Taraw Vista Lodge and Restaurant – Taraw is a good place to stay if you must be near the sandy beach. There are 12 rooms to choose from. One drawback of Taraw is that about 100 day trippers from The Legends Hotel have their lunches served by Taraw in the shelters between the cottages and the beach, so it gets a bit crowded around the middle of the day.

2 family rooms - fan - private BR 6 to 7 people P1,500
5 cottages - fan - two double beds -private BR 4 people P1,000
2 cottages - fan - double bed -private BR 2 people P800
3 rooms - fan - single bed - share BR 1 person P500

Green Verdi Inn – located between the Sheridan and Taraw, They have only 3 rooms which appear to be clean and tidy. The rooms are set back about 100 meters from the beach so you won’t get that “on the beach feeling” sitting on your cottage verandah, but that is hard to get anywhere.

1 cottage - fan - 2 double beds - private BR 4 people P1,000
2 cottages - fan - double bed - private BR 2 people P600

Blue Bamboo – Probably overdue for some renovations - but the room rates are low so it is still good value for money. Blue Bamboo is located about a five minute walk south of the pier and right next to the local fishing village. The front cottage is not in bad shape but the smaller cottages are more for the low budget backpackers.

1 front cottage - fan - 2 double beds - private BR 4 people P500
3 cottages - fan - double bed - private BR 2 people P300

Robert's - Located next to the pier and in front of the swimming beach. The cottages are run down and I would not recommend them, especially for the price. The area in front of the cottages is packed with tourists during the middle of the day.

2 family rooms - fan - private BR 4 people P1,500
3 cottages - fan - double bed - private BR 2 people P700
4 single rooms - fan -private BR 1 person P600

Mary’s cottages – You may be disappointed with Mary’s. It is at the furthest and of the beach, and a long walk if you are carrying your pack in the middle of the day. The place is a little run down and tourists and locals that I spoke to said it was not clean. Cost is P500 a night and it seems that it has been many years since there has been money put into maintenance.

Michi’s -  the place looks long abandoned. When I walked past it on the way to the Monkey Trail I was asked if I would like to stay at Michi’s for P1000 a night. I thought the guy was joking, but he wasn’t. I could not imagine a more unappealing place to stay than this. I have been told since that their only guests come from Mary’s when it is full because it is right next door and people just don’t want to make the trip back along the beach to find alternative accommodation.

Backpackers - This flimsy looking 2 story bamboo structure looks and feels unsafe. I recommend that you don't stay there. The rooms are small and although you could squeeze two into the bed, I would be concerned about the floor supporting the weight. Backpackers is on the main road as you enter town - these tiny rooms are P200 per night.

Hotels and Luxury Accommodation

Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort – Ideal for those who want or need their creature comforts while in the jungle. This is a good place if you are traveling with young children, and it is currently the highest standard accommodation available in Sabang . There is a swimming pool and the rooms have hot and cold running water, cable TV, air-conditioning and 24 hour power. Daluyon is the only place in Sabang with satellite internet and Wi-Fi. The internet is for the use of their guests only. The room rates start at P4000 for the standard room which accommodates 2 people, and then there are higher end rooms for P4500 and P5250. The suite room has a separate living room and costs P5550. The Family Suite room has two bedrooms and a living room and costs P9000 per night for two persons. You will need to check if these prices are inclusive of the 12% VAT plus 10% service fees which are normally charged by Philippine hotels. The prices include breakfast for 2. Extra guests are P800 each, children under 3 are free and those aged between 3 and 6 are P400 extra. (see pictures) Landline is (048) 7230889 - Cell phone is 09273165513 – For international calls, the country code is 63 and drop the first zero in the number. 

Sheridan Beach Resort and Convention Center - Recently opened, this is Sabang's largest hotel complex. Pictures of the hotel during construction are included above. The cost of accommodation varies between P4,000 and P12,000 (add 10% service charge during the peak season). The Sheridan Beach Resort and Convention Center has a booking office in Puerto Princesa and their phone number is +63 48 434 1449. Their website can be found on the links page under Sabang accommodation

Leaving Sabang

By Road - By Road - A 7am jeepney and midday bus leaves Sabang for Puerto Princesa daily. There is no service that goes north to take you to either Port Barton or El Nido. Traveling by bus, jeepney or hire van will require you to go back to Puerto Princesa and then get transport north from there. As there is no road along the west coast, to get to Port Barton from Sabang you need to cross back to the east coast, travel north to just before Roxas and then head to the west coast again to Port Barton.

An alternatively way to go north, if you are prepared to take your chances on getting a ride, is to catch the 7am jeepney back to Puerto Princesa and get off at Salvacion on the main highway. You can then probably catch a bus, jeepney or van going north from there, but you would be unlikely to make it to Port Barton because the jeepney passes through Salvacion too early for you to connect with it. There should be no problems catching a bus from Salvacion to Taytay and from there on to El Nido. At worst you may have to spend a night in Taytay - I like Taytay so it would not be a bad thing for you. You may also be lucky in getting a ride straight to El Nido if that is your destination.

By Boat - I have done this several times and love going to El Nido this way. There are some stunning views of the coastline and the islands on the way. A semi regular service now operates daily, depending on demand and ocean conditions. The boat can take 14 passengers but they won’t take less than 8. The cost is P1200 per person to either Coconut Garden Island or Port Barton, and P2000 each to El Nido There is a booking office just before the pier and you must book the day before. The boat leaves at 7AM sharp and it takes about 3 hours to get to Port Barton and another 4 hours to El Nido. Apply lots of sunscreen because you can easily get sun burnt from the sun's reflection off the water. I suggest you enclose your backpacks in plastic bags in case the seas get a bit rough. Large clear plastic bags can be purchased from Ausan's store in Sabang. Bring drinking water and some snacks because there is no food available on the journey. There is a makeshift toilet on board.

Sabang beach - late afternoon

Sabang pier - late afternoon

Playing in the waves when the undertow is strong - click on the image to read the sign

Carabao pulling boy on sled - on the road to Sabang.

Bambua gardens

View from Bambua dining room

Blue Bamboo - front cottage

Blue Bamboo - rear cottages


Buenavista View Deck

Buenavista View Deck - view over Ulugan Bay

Buenavista View Deck cafe - view over Ulugan Bay

Buenavista View Deck - jewelry and trinkets

Buenavista View Deck - pearl necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings for sale

Buenavista View Deck - Woman making jewelry