By Jay Ledesma
DAVAO CITY – If you’re looking for a destination that offers attraction ranging from beaches to wildlife reserves, the place to be is Puerto Princesa.
We spent one Holy Week in this city capital of the island province of Palawan. The moment we got out of the airport, we immediately understood why Puerto Princesa has been acclaimed several times as the cleanest and greenest city in the Philippines. For us, coming from Davao City, which also has been awarded the country’s cleanest city, the clean and fresh air of Puerto Princesa come as a special treat.
There’s so much to explore in Puerto Princesa. But the best and not to be missed tourist spot is the world-renowned Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, famously known as the Underground River. This was our first stop.
Named as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and included in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites since 1995, the Underground River is something all Filipinos can be proud of.
Upon entrance to the river, the cave is filled with nothing but darkness, giving it a mystical ambiance. The only source of light is the torch at the front of the canoe we were riding in.
Once inside this 8.2 kilometer-long underground river, we can’t help but marvel at the jaw-dropping cave formations, stunning limestone cliffs, and pristine waters, which also turned out freezing cold.
In each turn of this winding river, we were awed by the magnificent stalactites and stalagmites, which over thousands of years, have turned to various shapes and forms. Our favorite is the formation resembling the nativity scene.
There’s supposed to be a variety of species in the caves to include fish, crabs, giant spiders, bats, swallows, and snakes. But we only saw are fish and bats when we were there.
We ended the 45-minute Underground River canoe ride with so much pride that this beautiful creation is God’s gift to Filipinos.
Our next agenda is the Honda Bay Island Tour. Honda Bay is about a 30-minute ride from Puerto Princesa. There’s supposed to be numerous islands scattered in the Bay, but our tour only included three islands — the Luli Island, the Cowrie, and the Pambato Reef.
The Luli Island has a beautiful white sandbar which at low tide almost forms a perfect circle. I may say it’s one of the most beautiful sandbars in the Philippines. I just wish that there are not many bamboo huts on it so the island ambiance is preserved.
The sandbar has flags all along with it so it’s perfect for selfie and groupie moments.
Our next island stop is at Cowrie Island which is known for cowrie shells. Several cabanas and spa huts welcome us on this Island. We enjoyed our seafood lunch here. My husband and I also had a body massage while the kids went snorkeling.
We ended the tour at Pambato Reef.
It is a floating platform in the middle of the ocean and serves as the gateway to a wonderful underwater paradise.
Locals call the Pambato Reef as the mini-Tubbataha. Ironically, there is no island here but only a floating cottage. It’s so cute that the roof of the floating platform is a giant sea turtle or a pawikan. The main attraction is the reef which is in the middle of the bay. The shallow sections are about 10 feet from the coral reefs. I am no swimmer and I don’t snorkel. But am glad I tried it otherwise I would have not seen that beautiful marine life. Though I still shiver each time I think of the dark deep blue portion of the ocean beyond the yellow cordon which I accidentally crossed.
It was an exciting and enjoyable island- hopping experience for us!
As it was Holy Week, we made sure that we’re able to visit the churches in the area. We were lucky that our hotel receptionist recommended that we go to Mt Calvary, PP’s religious destination. We didn’t know about this place when we got here in PP.
We went there on Holy Thursday. As its name suggests, we had to climb hills for the Station of the Cross.
It was an uphill climb at the first seven stations. The steps are steep but they have benches around for those needing a brief rest. However, it’s a descending way from the 8th station towards a replica of the tomb where Jesus was laid.
Very timely that as we ended the Station of the Cross, the mass was about to begin at the chapel located at the top of the hill, between the 7th and 8th station. The Holy Thursday mass is when the ‘washing of the feet’ is re-enacted.
How blessed we were that during the re-enactment, my family was randomly chosen as one of those whose feet were washed by the priest. What an overwhelming spiritual experience!
The must-do restaurant hopping and shopping we did during the rest of our stay in PP.
Overall, we had a grand time in Puerto Princesa. Not only did it delight our senses, but it also touched our spiritual being.
Just how a Princess would, Puerto Princesa definitely captivated us! Come and be captivated by the beauty of Puerto Princesa!