Belize is famous for it’s underground rivers, the most amazing example of which is probably The Caves Branch River. We include a floating river tour of The Caves Branch River in our Belize Adventure Week package.

But apparently, Belize is not the only place with such amazing natural wonders — witness Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Philippines:

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is located about 50 kilometres (30 mi) north of the city centre of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines. The river is also called Puerto Princesa Underground River. The national park is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range on the northern coast of the island. It is bordered by St. Paul Bay to the north and the Babuyan River to the east. The City Government of Puerto Princesa has managed the National Park since 1992. The park is also known as St. Paul’s Subterranean River National Park, or St. Paul Underground River. The entrance to the Subterranean River is a short hike from the town of Sabang.

In 2010, a group of environmentalists and geologists discovered that the underground river has a second floor, which means that there are small waterfalls inside the cave. They also found a huge cave dome, measuring 300 meters above the underground river, incredible rock formations, large bats, a deep water hole in the river, more river channels, another deep cave, marine creatures, and more. Deeper areas of the underground river are almost impossible to explore due to oxygen deprivation.

On November 11, 2011, Puerto Princesa Underground River was provisionally chosen as one of The New 7 Wonders of Nature. This selection was officially confirmed on January 28, 2012.

Puerto Princesa Underground River was entered as the Philippine entry – and topped the first round of voting – in the New7Wonders of Nature competition, and on July 28, 2011, after the second round of voting, it was declared 1 of 28 finalists. Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn extended his gratitude to all those who supported and voted for the PPUR. On November 11, 2011 it was provisionally chosen as one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature”, together with the Amazonia,Halong Bay, Iguazu Falls, Jeju Island, Komodo Island, and Table Mountain.

On January 28, 2012, Malacañang expressed elation on Saturday over the official inclusion of the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR) in the world’s New Seven Wonders of Nature.

“Confirmation that the Puerto Princesa Underground River is one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature is welcome news indeed. Throughout the competition, Filipinos from all walks of life have given time, energy, and resources to this campaign,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.

When we first thought about venturing down the Caves Branch River, Belize, in the mid 1980’s. We had some basic information about the run from a friend in Moab who had actually been on the first exploratory trip through the caves a few years before. That group of cavers had explored the river cave system from the bottom end up before taking their first trip downstream on inner tubes. So, we knew that the caves were navigable with the exception of one cave that ‘sumped’ underground, but which had a portage route around it to another entrance below. (Click on any image to see the full size.)

The Caves Branch River passes through four caves as it runs through the limestone foothills of the Maya Mountains. The caves also have numerous ‘windows’, or openings, to the outside as the river runs though the caves, allowing various access points along its course. But, the surrounding terrain is thick jungle with no roads or trails, so it is a real adventure to run this stretch of the river.

We were running various rivers with a group of river guides when we decided to run the Caves Branch, and although we knew where the put in and take out were located, and that there was a portage around a cave somewhere, we didn’t know which cave had the portage. We planned on asking a local expert, Ian Anderson, at the put in where his jungle lodge was located. Unfortunately he was not there when we arrived, so we launched anyway.

After paddling a few miles we arrived at the entrance to the first cave. It was a bit nerve wracking because we knew one of the caves did not go through, but since we were all strong paddlers in kayaks we thought we could handle it. The first cave had very fast current and the river was wall to wall. But we were able to see light downstream from the first window so we knew it was a ‘go’. We continued on, and again we could discern light downstream so we were able to relax in knowing it went through. After exiting the first cave, we started down the second. However, we could not see light as we descended into the darkness, and about 200 yards in we came upon the sump. Fortunately it was quiet current at the sump so we were not swept into it. Now we had to back track back out of the cave, which proved quite difficult since there was a small rapid. A couple of our stronger kayakers were able to eddy hop back up however, and then they lowered throw roped back down to the others could haul themselves back up and out of the cave. We were all quite nervous and were thinking about what would have happened to us had we not been able to get back up that current!

Now we were faced with a portage, but there were no paths and we were in the middle of thick rainforest and had no real idea of where the river went from there. So we sent out scouts in several directions. Fortunately, one person did find an overflow channel that he knew must lead back to the river eventually, and it did. He returned after a half hour and we were then able to portage and get back on the river through a cave window.

As we proceeded, we were all extremely apprehensive because we did not know if there was another sump, and we were not seeing any further light down the cave. But, the current was much slower and we knew we could paddle back upstream if we found another sump.

The next anxious moment occurred when we heard a roaring sound approaching, which sounded like a large rapid. As we cautiously proceeded, we eventually came to a side stream that joined the main river, and the sound of its small waterfalls had only been amplified by the cave. The main river continued on as slow water, and we were much relieved when we finally emerged from the last cave.

After scouting the river successfully, we began to run the Caves Branch in kayaks and rafts as part of Slickrock’s Belize Adventure Week trip, and it is still the highlight of the trip today!