On the last week of November, I had the brilliant idea of going out of town for a post-Christmas island getaway. While we had a fabulous time in the United Kingdom last summer, we missed the feel of the sand between our toes. We felt the call of the ocean. Not surprisingly, Ariel bit the bullet and agreed to my proposal. Our destination: Puerto Princesa.

Ariel had been to Puerto Princesa on a business trip once before. At that time, Puerto Princesa wasn’t in the map of mainstream tourism. Hence, Ariel did his job and flew home without exploring the island. I, on the other hand, had never set foot in Puerto Princesa. I’ve been to El Nido and Coron, both with Ariel, but never in the capital city of Palawan. So we thought it was the perfect opportunity to discover the city and surrounding areas. We decided to spend one night in the city and 2 nights in Sabang, home of the famed St. Paul Subterranean River, a.k.a. the Underground River. Within a few days, I managed to book our flight and hotel accommodations. We normally plan our trips way ahead of time. Not only does it give me ample time to prepare a very detailed itinerary, it is also way cheaper as air fares normally shoot up nearer the flight date. Our trip was set for December 26-29. I thought it will give me ample time to prepare for the New Year celebrations. It totally slipped my mind that Christmas might be very busy and that we might need the 26th to rest.

True enough, the days leading to Christmas had been very stressful. I worked until the 23rd, and had only one day to do the grocery shopping and frantically prepare for our Noche Buena and Christmas Day. As part of the tradition, my family and Ariel’s family joined us for dinner and Noche Buena. On Christmas Day, Ariel and I went to church in the morning and came back just before noon. I scrambled to prepare a quick lunch for us and my family plus my aunt (mom’s sister), uncle, and my cousins with their families – again, an annual tradition since I was a baby. We all decided it was going to be a simple fare, because all of us will be coming from church. After lunch, we had to prepare for the big feast. This is when we ladies got busy in the kitchen to prepare food for our (early) dinner.

By the time Ariel and I retired to our room, with all our guests gone, it was late at night, we were exhausted, and still had to pack for our trip. This was when we realized booking a trip on the 26th wasn’t such a great idea. It was past midnight when we hit the sack, and had to wake up before sunrise to catch our early morning flight.

Day 1: December 26, 2011

Thankfully, we made it to our flight. We were met by the hotel driver and was ushered into the van that drove us to our hotel in Puerto Princesa. For this leg of our trip, we chose Microtel Inn and Resort. It was about 20 minutes away from the airport, and about 10 minutes away from the city proper. While it was a bit of a drive away from the heart of the city, it is nicely located on a beachfront property.

Microtel Inn and Resort – the beach side of the hotel

The beach behind the hotel – it was low tide
More beach shots from Microtel
A hammock by the beach

Ariel and I slept in our hotel room the rest of the morning. We had to prepare for the city tour in the afternoon. We got up shortly before noon and had lunch at the hotel restaurant. They were way too slow! Fortunately, our 1pm city tour was moved to 1:30 buying us more time to have lunch and freshen up a bit.

The city tour was just ok, nothing spectacular, nothing we have not seen before. Our first stop was at the bay area where the giant Christmas Tree was. There was a low pressure area that time, so the cloud cover was thick, and the wind a bit fierce. We enjoyed the view and took some photos. However, like I said, it wasn’t extra ordinary.

Ariel and the giant tree
Me and the giant tree
The bay walk
A bunch of kids playing by the bay
A fishing boat

At the pier

Life-sized nativity scene

Next up, we visited the local parish. We took a few photos of the church. There was even a wedding, though it had not started yet during the time that we were there. Again, nothing remarkable about the church. It wasn’t that old to be of real historical and architectural significance.

We chanced upon a wedding, though at this time, the wedding party had not yet arrived

The young members of the bridal party
Nativity scene in the church

Our next stop was the local souvenir shops. I scored a hand-woven bag! It was the highlight of our tour.

Checking out the pasalubong items

Then we proceeded to the Crocodile Farm. It is the only crocodile farm in the country that is managed by the government. All other crocodile farms are privately owned. While that is interesting to know, again, there is nothing remarkable about it. The croc nursery was interesting though. If you’re into that sort of thing, or if you have not visited other crocodile farms before, then this may be worth your while. In our case, we’ve seen a lot of similar farms already so this is not a new experience. We also checked the wildlife reserve though we didn’t fully explore since we had a schedule to follow. We saw some bearcats and an eagle. That’s about it. I don’t know what else are inside, though it might have been an interesting walk through a lush “forest”.

We also made a quick stop at Baker’s Hill. It is a “pasalubong center” with quirky statues and installations within the compound. We bought a few packs of kasuy products and took a few bad photos before moving on.

Our final stop was at a weaving showroom. We saw the weavers at work, and also checked out the store. The items were expensive though, and didn’t really appeal to us so we just took a quick peek before settling back inside the van to wait for our other tour companions.

Like I said, the city tour was just ok. I would have wanted to see places of historical or cultural significance, places that showcase what is unique to the city – like the old church in Bohol, or the Sunken Cemetery in Camiguin. I guess the appeal of Puerto Princesa is really in the surrounding islands like Honda Bay. Will I recommend the city tour? Probably not, unless all of those things I listed above are new to you.

We asked the van driver to drop us off to a good dining destination. We were given two options – the more popular Ka Lui’s, or Kinabuchs. Ka Lui’s required prior reservation and unfortunately, it was already full when our tour guide called. So we went to Kinabuchs instead. We heard that Kinabuchs gets really full, too, but we were early. In fact, we were too early (it wasn’t even 5:30 yet) that we had to wait for them to officially open at 6pm. Kinabuchs serves Filipino dishes similar to Gerry’s Grill though they offer local delicacies like crocodile meat and tamilok or wood worm. We weren’t feeling adventurous at that time so we opted for safe choices and went for seafood. No photos though. I guess we were just tired, not just from the City Tour, but from the days that lead to Christmas. Anyway, if you want to explore other eating places, here are two posts I found helpful on the net – Calvin’s Hub and  Travel Philippines.

Because Microtel is not in the city proper, they offer free drop off and pick up services around the city at certain times of the day. So we called them and asked to be picked up from Kinabuchs at 7pm. Yup, it was still early, but Ariel and I really needed to rest so we decided to head back and get some sleep.

Day 2: December 27, 2012

We woke up with much excitement as we were transfering to Sabang which was about 2-hours by land from the city proper. Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort arranged a van for us so we just waited for our ride after breakfast. While waiting, we went around the hotel to take more photos.

Kayaks
A friendly pooch

This was in front of the pool which I failed to take photos of

We arrived just before noon and was easily smitten by the charming resort. As the home page of their website declares, it was “Paradise Found”. Daluyon is a “Green Resort” and is a member of the Zero Carbon Resorts Project. For instance, they have motion sensors in the public toilets to minimize energy consumption from the lighting. They also utilize solar panels for the water heater. The rooms are surrounded by huge windows to minimize the need for electicity powered lights. If you prefer the room to be darker, all you need to do is close the window shutters. Ventilation was also great. During our visit, it was cool enough that we didn’t really need to use the air-conditioning.  Click HERE to know more about their green efforts.

The villas
An old wagon
One of the huts around the resort
One of the resort-owned boats

Anyway, we immediately fell in love with the resort. For an island getaway, Ariel and I really prefer cottage/villa over hotel-type accommodations. It just feels more quiet and private. Daluyon villas consist of two rooms, one on the upper level and one on the ground level, with separate access points. We got the second level room which afforded us a good view of the beach through the window and the spacious veranda. Our Superior  Villa was roomy with ample space for the king-sized bed that sits in the middle of the room and an additional single bed should we require one. It can accommodate up to 3 people so a small family of three can fit right in. The toilet and shower was adequate – not really luxurious, but just right for our needs. A dental kit was provided as well as body lotion, soap and shampoo. They have a soap and shampoo dispenser minimizing the use of packaging material – another one of their environment-friendly initiatives. They also practice garbage segregation with bins for biodegradable and recyclable items. Two sets of towels were provided – plain white bath towels for use in the cottage, and huge striped towels for use at the beach and pool areas. Slippers made from woven coconut leaves were also provided. There was a satellite TV and a DVD player in the room. Complimentary coffee and bottled water were also provided. The only thing I would add is an enclosed closet. They currently have open closet with shelving and a hanging rod. Not really a deal breaker, but the neat freak in me prefers to stash our stuff inside a cabinet. From the description, you would note that this isn’t really a luxury resort, but it’s also far from mainstream accommodation, and the service was top notch.

Our superior villa
The stairs leading up to our room

We had lunch at the Pawikan Restaurant within the resort. The food was pretty good, though the menu wasn’t extensive. I would have wanted more traditional Filipino dishes in the menu, and more family-sized dishes on top of individual plate items on the menu. After lunch, we rented bikes to go around the area. It was difficult to navigate the narrow sandy road and I found myself struggling to keep my balance as the tires of my bike burrow through the sand. Daluyon is in the far end of the shoreline, near the Underground River Park vicinity. It made the location very quiet and uncrowded – perfect for someone like me whose idea of a vacation is an escape from the crowd and noise of the city (If you like the Boracay party or night scene, this may not be for you). We first explored the area near the river which is just a stone’s throw away from Daluyon. Then we headed back the other way to explore the pier, and the busier side of the shoreline. There wasn’t much to see actually. Just the usual coconut and cottage-lined beach, with a sprinkling of sari-sari stores and souvenir shops. The rest of the main road is lined with humble residential structures.

A quick stop at the pier

Stopping to check out the beach

Cruising through the dirt road

I love a good beach, and Sabang doesn’t disappoint. Sure, the sand isn’t as white and as fine as in Boracay, but it still felt like walking on a carpeted floor. The sand has a golden glow, specially in the early hours of the morning and in the afternoon just before the sun sets. The water was warm and crystal clear. The beach is ideal even for families with small kids as the water isn’t very deep. One has to walk a long way from the shore before it even gets waist deep. At this time of the year, there were big waves, but the water was shallow and it made for a good opportunity to try body boarding. Daluyon’s beach front is very quiet, with hardly anyone swimming at the beach. Ariel and I enjoyed having the beach to ourselves, and took the opportunity to learn how to use the body boards provided by the resort for free.

After a while, Ariel and I moved to the pool area for a light merienda and some drinks. The pool was surrounded by trees and small huts with foam mattresses, inviting me to curl up with a good book.  The water was very warm and soothing. From the pool, you can see the lush mountains on one side, and the beach on the other. We were right in the heart of nature.

Day 3: December 28, 2012

We started the day early and was greeted in the restaurant by a mouthwatering spread.

The buffet
Juice station

After having our fill, we proceeded to the boat station for our Underground River Tour. We had to wait quite a bit for our guide to take care of our registration and we took photos to pass time.

Soon it was time to board the boat that will take us to the underground river entrance. It took about 20 minutes to get to the premises of the St. Paul Subterranean River National Park.

The pump boat that took us to the Underground River Park

Soon, we found ourselves getting off the boat and walking into the lush greenery surrounding the Subterranean River.

A welcome billboard from the mayor

We had reptilian encounters within the park premises. So cool to see them crawling around.

Then it was time to get in the boat for the much anticipated Underground River tour. We joined a group of tourists from Europe. We were the only Pinoys in our boat. Our unfortunate guide was forced to say his spiel in English. While he was able to do his commentary in English, he had a difficult time answering questions. He obviously memorized the commentary, but he wasn’t comfortable conversing in English. We gave him a bit of help.

Just before turning around to enter the cave

 It was totally dark inside. Interesting formations were pointed to us by the guide. The passenger seated in front of the boat was given the task of holding the flashlight and pointing it to the right formations, as the guide delivers his commentary.

After the tour

After the Underground River tour, our guide from Daluyon took us to the Zipline jump off point. It was a bit of a trek, but nothing we can’t handle. Once we were all harnessed and ready, I got a good look of the zipline and my knees began to tremble. I was scared! Ariel went first. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did! It was scary at first since it’s a long way from the start to the end of the line, also, it looked like a steep drop, but the descent was very gradual, and the speed quite manageable. I had fun!

Lastly, we went to the river for our Mangrove Forest Tour. It was just a short walk from the Zipline station. We got on a small paddle boat which we shared with two young ladies. Our guide was an old man whose name escaped me. His son assisted him in paddling the boat, but he alone delivered the commentary as our boat quietly glided through the river. We saw crabs, snakes, bees, woodpeckers, monkeys and monitor lizards. The Mangrove Forest is home to many of Puerto Princesa’s wildlife. Such beauty and peace in this place.

Our guide
A huge beehive hung from a tree
We saw a lot of snakes quietly sleeping on the branches
The tall mangroves that line the river

In the boat, at the end of the tour

Finally, it was time to return to the resort and enjoy the beach and the pool, but not before snapping a few more photos.

We left the following day. Our stay was short and sweet. We enjoyed every minute and will definitely return.

Farewell photo in front of our cottage

Written by Alby Laran

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