Guest post and photos by Laura Koebel
Palawan Island in The Philippines has been described as one of the world’s best islands by Travel + Leisure and CN Traveler and it’s easy to see why. With its white sand beaches, mouth-watering seafood, radical limestone mountains, stunning marine life and world-class scuba diving, this island is spellbinding – and a brilliant place for families.
Palawan Island with kids
What differentiates the Puerto Princesa/Sabang area from other areas of Palawan is the Subterranean River National Park. The park is home to many species of wildlife (this was the only place in the Philippines I’ve seen monkeys in the wild), has many caves to explore and is named after the natural wonder, the underground river. Despite the two large resorts and the tourist draw of the underground river, Sabang has an off the beaten track feel without being so. Sabang town is small and life is profoundly simple; every afternoon you can watch the locals playing basketball on the pier and wandering on dirt paths will lead you to caves, waterfalls, rice patties and rainforests. The scenery is stunning without even stepping out of town.
Sabang has huge draw for the outdoor enthusiast. In the 2012 broadcast of The Amazing Race Philippines, leg 11 of the race included the Subterranean River, Sabang X zip-line and the Karst Mountain Elephant Cave (just outside of Sabang town). If this sounds like your kind of adventure then take a look at Ugong Rock Adventures, which sits halfway to the Puerto Princesa junction and offers hiking, caving, scrambling, and more zip-lines.
This trip is the perfect family adventure!
Visiting the Underground River & Sabang Waterfalls
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park became a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 and was also named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011. Also known as the Underground River, this is the main attraction in the area. There are mixed reviews on the Underground River tour but in my opinion it is well worth it if you stay in and around Sabang. Hundreds of tourists are shuttled from Puerto Princesa for this tour so it’s to your benefit to stay close so you can beat the crowds and be on one of the first boats out in the morning. Departing between 8:30 and 9:00 am will guarantee you are back in town for lunch.
There are a couple options for touring this site. For those just interested in seeing the Underground River, the bankas (Philippines outrigger boat) will take you right from town along the shoreline to the cave site where you hop on a kayak with 8-10 people and tour up the river (for approximately one hour). A boatman paddles you 1.5 km into the cave and highlights some of the features while you listen to an audio guide (provided at no extra cost to the entrance fees and available in several languages). After the tour you take the banka back to the pier. For those with more time and a desire to explore the jungle, you can book a guide (for a nominal fee) and hike in and out (5km, approximately two hours, one way). On our second visit to the area we took the boat in and hiked out. The hike was beautiful and well worth the little extra effort.
The Sabang Waterfalls is roughly 1km from town but it feels much longer. Walk along the shore in the opposite direction of the beach, through town and you will reach the waterfall entrance; ask anyone in town and they will point you in the right direction. Once you pay the minimal fee there is still a ways to go along a rocky path. There is no elevation but because of the rocks we all wished we wore our running shoes. The falls are right at the shoreline with a few shelters and a wading pool.
If you’re travelling for longer then there are various other places you can add to your itinerary including the Mangrove Paddle tour and visit the Elephant Cave. There are also many places to explore within Puerto Princesa as well including Firefly watching with dinner, a city tour of Puerto Princesa nd the Batak Tribe Village hiking tour. For those with more time, an extended trip including stops in Port Barton and El Nido offer a more complete Palawan experience.
Since it was our second visit to Sabang the highlight for me was hiking out from the Underground River. The initial assent is on zig-zagging stairs over stunning limestone formations. There are no grand views as you are in dense, shaded forest the entire hike but once you reach flat ground there’s a fun cave to walk through. Before you arrive at the beach you walk next to a mangrove river (river boat tours available) where we were lucky to see monkeys and monitor lizards.
Where to stay in Sabang
Sabang is a small village and most Underground River tourists don’t stay overnight so accommodation options are limited and they seem to be either high end or budget with nothing in between. The lack of mid-range accommodations in Sabang is a definite deterrent for families with a more conservative budget. You can also stay outside of Sabang and I would recommend the Astoria Palawan.
High End Options in Sabang
Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort Four star, 8,700-32,500 Pesos/night
Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa Four star, luxury resort, 6,500-11,000 Pesos/night
*Rates are as published on their websites, discounted prices can be found through booking sites and during hotel promotions.
Budget Options in Sabang
Dayunan Tourist Inn Dayunan Tourist Inn – 2 star, basic, clean and comfortable room, no electricity 6am – 6pm, 1,800–2,500 Pesos/night
*There are many other budget options but none that I would recommend to travel with children.
Where to eat in Sabang
The Daluyon and Sheridan resorts have their own restaurants but we loved the casual beach restaurants. The best ones were past the Sheridan when walking from town. Also, the town square (adjacent to the pier) is lined with fresh fruit and smoothie stands. As you walk towards the falls from the square you will see a crepe stand on the left that was a fan favourite for our whole family. Other favourites include the Taro Resto Bar (the garlic butter shrimp and the grilled chicken are tops), the King’s Arms (a Filipino Mediterranean fusion restaurant), Touska Resto Bar (simple dishes but great for lunch). Touska have many tables on the beach, a hammock and a few swings so this is a good spot to hang out and watch the kids play on the beach.
When to visit Sabang
For cooler and drier weather plan your trip to Palawan between November and February. March to early May is the best time for sea travel. The less desirable wet, monsoon season is June to October.
How to get to Sabang
Fly to the Puerto Princesa International Airport; when flying from outside of the Philippines you may need to transfer in Manila. Arrangements can be made with your hotel for transport from the airport. Larger resorts have airport shuttles included in your stay, but for a private shuttle expect to pay extra.
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