PUERTO PRINCESA, Palawan - Puerto Princesa is just an hour's flight away from Manila, and with 21 daily flights, there's no excuse why Filipinos shouldn't head to the so-called City in a Forest.
With the underground river now officially one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature, tourists have been flocking to Puerto Princesa this summer.
The Puerto Princesa Underground River is undeniably one of the main attractions of the city, but its popularity means that it's getting harder to get a slot on the tour. Only a certain number of boats are allowed to enter the underground river at a time, so slots are limited.
But there's more to Puerto Princesa than just the underground river. A great way to spend the day is to go island-hopping at Honda Bay in the mideastern coast of the city.
Before hopping on the banca, make sure to bring or rent snorkel gear because there's a lot of opportunities to go snorkeling. If you want to take pictures while snorkeling, you can even rent underwater camera cases.
The first stop on the tour is Pambato Reef, a coral reef which has been called a "mini-Tubbataha."
You can't miss Pambato Reef because the floating platform has a roof shaped like a hawksbill turtle. Here, you can put on your goggles, hop in the water (with your lifevest, of course) and be amazed by the beautiful corals and different kinds of fish swimming around. It was particularly memorable to see bright blue corals that seemed to glow in the water.
Next stop was Isla Pandan, where pandan leaves abound, hence the name. Cottages and tables are available, as well as shower rooms and restaurants.
Spelunking and firefliesWith the hot sun beating down, the crystal-clear water looked quite inviting. Dozens of people, clad in bright orange life vests, could be spotted snorkeling in the deep waters, just a few meters away from the shore. Here you can see more schools of brightly colored fish, and even some squid, if you're lucky.
Relaxing at the beach can be a fine way to spend a day in Puerto Princesa, but the city offers various attractions for eco-adventurers.
If you like spelunking, there are tours to Ugong Rock, a limestone rock formation located about an hour from the city. After reaching the top, you can take a 330-meter zipline to go down in just 21 seconds.
For more thrills, you can try the longest zipline in Asia at the Irawan Eco Park. The zipline, which is 1.3 kilometers long, takes you above the forest canopy and offers great views of the forest.
There are also dolphin-watching tours in Puerto Princesa Bay, and firefly-watching tours at night in Iwahig Bay.
A quick tour around the city and you'll soon notice just how clean it is. Our tour guide reminded us that littering is strictly prohibited in the city. First offense is a P300 fine, and if you're caught a third time, you would have to pay P1,000 and face two months' imprisonment - not exactly the kind of Puerto Princesa vacation anyone would want.
The Immaculate Conception Cathedral is the city's main church, and its surroundings are buzzing with activity. A statue of Jose Rizal in an overcoat stands in front of a blue-painted cathedral.
Across the street is Plaza Cuartel, a small park with flowers and shady trees. There's a grim history behind Plaza Cuartel. A bronze marker in the park lists the names of 11 American prisoners of war that escaped a brutal massacre by the Japanese soldiers in the dungeon during World War II. The Japanese soldiers apparently put some 150 POWs in a dungeon and set it on fire, but the survivors managed to escape by swimming out to sea to Iwahig.
No trip would be complete without some souvenir shopping. Everyone recommends Tiangge Tiangge for souvenirs, especially pearls. The price of the pearls depends on the quality -- tiny pearls are P10 and South Sea pearls start at P3,000.