Palawan in the Philippines is a beautiful island and is attracting more and more attention from tourists. This is largely because it ranks highly in the list of the best island in the world. Most people fly into El Nido or Puerto Princesa. We chose Puerto Princesa because the underground river is the easiest to visit from here.
Puerto Princesa is a nice city because it doesn't have tourism like El Nido. This means that the real Philippine life is still clearly visible here. It is very interesting to admire this at the daily market. The market is located around San Jose terminal.
We stayed in La‘casa aitor. Highly recommended, very friendly staff, very clean and very good value for money.
Unesco Puerto Princesa underground river
Without a doubt, one of the top things to do in Puerto Princesa is the UNESCO World Heritage Underground River. Nominated as one of the modern Natural Wonders of the World, this underground cave complex is a must-see for any traveller! You can do this on your own or with an organized tour. We did this ourselves and rented a scooter. The trip to the cave took 1.5 hour, this was doable and the roads were good.
When you arrive you will see an information counter where you can buy your tickets. You need 2 tickets. 1 for the boat that brings you to the cave, and 1 for the tour. It takes 15 minutes to sail to the cave. When you arrive they give you a life jacket and headphones with audio permit. After this you go with the guide into the cave, this takes about 30 minutes. It's beautiful and very peaceful. The guid has a light and shows you around.
Costes: 1200 pesos (€22) for the boat. You can share this so it's cheaper. We payed for 2 persons because we were the only ones. + 200 pesos (€4) for the tour.
Visit a prison and talk to prisoners in Puerto Princesa
In Puerto Princesa you have a very special prison, called Iwahig. This prison is unique because there are no walls around it and yet almost never anyone 'escapes'. The prison and its grounds contain a huge area that you can explore by motorbike, and nearly 3000 inmates work and live together here. As a tourist you can just walk into this prison and see what it is like to live here. There is always a prisoner who can tell you something about his life here. They are very approachable and happy to have a conversation with you. There is even a group called "the dancing prisoners" and they love to dance. I'm sure they will perform.
You have the maximum security compound where the heavy criminals are locked up. With good behavior they can sometimes go to medium security prison with some more freedom. Then there are the low security prisoners, who live in a compound and sometimes even with the whole family in a house on the prison grounds. Nice details, there is even an outdoor pool on site where you have the opportunity to swim with the children and relatives of the prisoners. This prison system can be called very special, but it is clear that good behavior pays off here. Good behavior is rewarded with liberties, such as working on the property's land.
Tip: If you plan to drop by, don't arrive empty-handed and buy something tasty or functional in advance to share during a chat. They are very happy with this because they often have no money for these kinds of things themselves. There is also a store inside the prison. Cigarettes always work well 😉
From Puerto Princesa to El Nido?
The cheapest option is to go with a minivan. The trip takes about 5 hours with a stop in between for food and a toilet. We went to the bus station of Puerto Princesa and you will be approached here immediately. It costs 600 pesos (€10) and they can pick you up from your hotel or you can come to the busstation yourself. You can also buy tickets online like de 12Go app, but its a bit more expensive.