A Beginners Guide to Puerto Princesa
Clean, green, and a place that definitely needs to be seen. I am writing about Puerto Princesa and scratch off that first line. Just clean and green? No, Puerto Princesa is more than just clean and green; in fact it has been internationally acclaimed to be the cleanest and greenest city of the wonderful country that is the Philippines. As of 2010, this city has had about 220,000 people staying in an area of 2,381 square kilometres. That made Puerto Princesa the least densely populated place in the Philippines. Clean, green, and not crowded? There are more reasons that will compel you to leave behind your current residency and come to visit Puerto Princesa.
What’s in a name?
Famously nicknamed as the city in the forest, there are two stories that tell about how Puerto Princesa got its actual name. Both the stories, one historical and the other based on local folklore, are amazing in their own ways. Legend has it that on some nights of the year, a princess used to roam this place, and voila! The name Puerto Princesa got established. History, however, begs to differ. In 1864, Queen Isabella II was blessed with a baby daughter whom she named Princess Asuncion. Unfortunately, the princess didn’t live for long and in her honour, the Queen named this place to be Puerto de la Princesa, which over the years have been shortened to what we know today as – Puerto Princesa.
A date with history
It was the 4th of March in the year 1872, that Spanish colonizers found this settlement and by the May of that year, the port of this city became the hub of Spanish Naval Operations. The beauty of Puerto Princesa was discovered early on. As of 1894, it was labelled by the government authorities to be one of the most beautiful and picturesque towns, what with its orderly streets, general cleanliness, and a well-built port among other things. On the 1st of January, 1970, the town was formally converted to a city. Slowly but steadily, it has become a key part of on-going trade and commerce with widespread developments and fame coming its way.
“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them”, said James Baldwin. And while we have spoken about the people of Puerto Princesa and the stories of their history, if you want to see, observe, and absorb their history, then going to the museum is an absolute must. There is quite a list of museums that you can be visiting. There is the Palawan Special Battalion World War 2 Memorial Museum, which is quite the crowd puller. Not only does it have war relics, including various weapons and modes of transportation, that will take you to a whole different era, but also a very knowledgeable staff who recount the incidents for you with much vigour and love. The project of the museum in itself is a lovely tale and tells of the determination and perseverance of one man – the son of Hegenio Mendoza, who in World War 2 was executed by the soldiers of Japan. Here was his son undertaking this mammoth project of bringing a slice of history to all of us.
Away from the war relics and yet to take a more detailed look into the history of the people of this land, head over to Palawan Museum. Here is where you get to see the rise of Puerto Princesa with its lovely history and the various tribes that have lived and become a part of this city.
Geography and nature
Located in the middle of Palawan Island, Puerto Princesa is surrounded by the Sulu Sea and the South China Sea to its east and west respectively. On its north side is the San Vincente municipality while the Aborlan municipality is bounded on its south. It has a tropical climate and it is usually warm and becomes slightly humid throughout the year. The rainy season is usually from the month of May up to the month of December, while it is usually dry the rest of the months.
With the city being as gorgeously green and postcard perfect as it is, it is not a surprise that tourism plays a big role in its economy. So much so, that Puerto Princesa is proudly known as the Eco-Tourism centre of this beautiful country. With the influx of a large number of tourists, a rapid rise, both in quality and quantity, has been observed in the hospitality sector. There are different hotels, from budget to five star hotels, which cater to the demands and tastes of foreign guests. The rise in the number of tourists has also seen trade development in the form of more malls, restaurants serving local and international cuisine, bars, and of course, shops that sell traditional wares.
Culture and people
Back in 2011, National Geographic mentioned Puerto Princesa in an article titled ‘Are these the seven wonders of Nature?’ Puerto Princesa has been getting considerable attention and there is a rise, not just in tourism, but also in the number of people coming in over here from the various different provinces of the Philippines. What that has done is make Puerto Princesa the boiling pot of melting culture that it has become today.
Originally, the Cuyonons were the true blue inhabitants of Puerto Princesa. Their rich culture, tradition, and folklore was well established as indicated from one of the stories of how this beautiful place got its name. However, with the rise in different indigenous groups coming in, a beautiful cocktail is emerging of various communities bringing in their own distinct flavours, their colourful cultures, their interesting system of beliefs, and their wonderful ways of life. Among these groups are the Palawanos, Bataks, and the Tagbanwas, who are from among the oldest ethnic group in the country, and the Molbogs.
The people are friendly, full of life, and they aim to please. Their easy going and hospitable nature is sure to be a tourist attraction in itself! Gel in and communicate freely with these lovely spirits. Though Tagalog is the language they communicate in predominantly, English is also very commonly spoken. While the majority of people are Roman Catholics, other religions are also practised freely. It is a very tolerant society and there is a lot of respect and care given to local resources.
Ah, where does one begin? There are manifold reasons you need to be visiting Puerto Princesa. But before you travel there in person, let me try taking you there with words.
One of the most famous, if not the most famous, landmarks of this city is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Also popularly known as the Puerto Princesa Underground River, this is now a World Heritage Site of UNESCO. It was in the year 2010, that a bunch of environmentalist, along with some geologists, made the discovery that this underground river has a second floor. What that meant was the discovery of small waterfalls inside the beautiful caves. Fascinating? Well, there is more. Further exploration led to the discovery of a cave dome measuring up to 300 metres in length with intricate rock formations, even more river channels, wonderful marine organisms, and yet another deep cave. Deeper exploration has become difficult due to oxygen deprivation, but who knows what more can be discovered here!
This is not the only site that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, though. There is also the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. It was in 1993 that this natural park was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both these sites are protected carefully and well taken care of by the Philippine government.
Next on our list of places to visit is the famed Ugong Rock. Located close to the Underground River and amidst farmlands and forests, the Ugong Rock consists of a 75 foot limestone formation and among the activities that you can do over here to meet you inner daredevil, is the sport of zip lining. There are three zip lines and they give you the option of either being in the ‘sitting down’ position or in the ‘super man’ position. Proceeds from the profits of your zip line activity are donated to an elementary school, or so the men in charge say. How true is their claim? I will leave that to your imagination.
A good reason to visit Puerto Princesa is obviously to refresh oneself from the daily grind that the modern life has become. This exotic place is a refresh button for the soul. Take Honda bay as an example. You can go for a swim, snorkel to your heart desires, or even go island hopping. How is that for soul therapy? You can also hire pump boats to see Lourdes wharf. These pump boats come in small and large sizes depending on the number of people. The Island hopping tour takes you to a number of exotic islands.
One good reason to visit Puerto Princesa is to see Iwahig Penal colony. To call it a prison would be wrong. Rightfully, it deserves to be called a correctional institute. Truly, though, it is more of a community that is made to farm than a prison. The inmates are often allowed to live with their families, but have to work in the farms to earn a respectable living. They also get together to make handicrafts that are sold to tourists; a true souvenir if you were ever looking for one. The Iwahig prison was famously shown in the award winning documentary, ‘Out of Bounds’ directed by the French duo Pierre Barougier and Alexandre Leborgne.
Connecting to nature and hardly any talk of animals, yet? Well that is going to change with the Palwan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre. Formerly it was known as Crocodile Farming Institute, the name is still stuck with locals who famously know it as ‘Crocodile Farms’. For the daredevil in you, is the opportunity to have a photograph taken with a baby crocodile. There is also a large skeleton of a crocodile that is as famous as anything that Madame Tussauds has to offer. There is more to crocodiles, though, in this farm. It boasts of a mini zoo that is used to house different species of wildlife.
From crocodiles to butterflies, Puerto Princesa gives you yet another reason to visit with its very beautiful Butterfly Garden. There are other crawly friends too in the form of millipedes, scorpions, and beetle bug, and there are also peacocks and snakes. There is also a Palawan tribe village giving you a taste of their authentic lifestyle and you can also buy souvenirs and handicrafts here that are authentic and one of a kind.
Puerto Princesa is truly a place to visit when you want to take a vacation to enlighten all of your senses. The pristine locations are an absolute treat for the eyes. There is just so much to see, do, and learn here. It is highly recommended that you come here with time to spare so you can see and admire things without any rush. That being said, it is still a wonderful place to go even for a short stay. This place has in its vicinity, everything to make your trip here a memorable one and one that is very different from the usual.
Its rich culture and wonderful people are a great source of education too, and there is a lot to learn from them and their lifestyles and way of living. Visit Puerto Princesa for its wonderfully stunning natural resources and beauty, for its lovely and lively atmosphere, for the various museums that are filled with people who are knowledgeable and love their history, for its exotic locations and wildlife, for its flora and fauna, for its people, their culture, their hospitality, and friendliness. Visit Puerto Princesa!