Puerto Princesa City: A Tropical Paradise
Puerto Princesa Underground River
Puerto Princesa City is a tropical paradise with a bustling urban center perfect for business with leisure trips. Lush rainforests and white sand beaches are simply hours away from the city proper, where a banking and commercial boom has made life easier for workaholics who can never run away from the office.
Puerto Princesa, which forms part of the Philippine’s last frontier, is a city rich in natural resources. It is the country’s largest city with a total land area of 253,982 hectares. A chain of mountain ranges runs through the entire length of the city, dividing it into two distinct areas – the East and the West Coast. The eastern side, which is facing the Sulu Sea, is characterized by thin strand lines bordered by swamplands, following a series of flat plains to hilly terrain. The West Coast has fewer plains with mountain ranges close to the China Sea, thus giving the city a unique yet fragile ecology.
Puerto Princesa is a city located on the western provincial island of Palawan, one of 80 provinces which make up the Philippines. Though the provincial seat of government for Palawan, the city itself is one of 38 independent cities within the Philippines not controlled by the province in which it is geographically located and is therefore an independent area located within Palawan.
As of 2007, Puerto Princesa had a population of 210,508 people, making it the most sparsely populated city in the Philippines. In terms of land area, the city is the second largest geographically after Davao City with an area of 919 mi² (2,381 km²). Puerto Princesa is the location of the Philippines's Western Command headquarters.
Folk etymology attributes the name "Puerto Princesa" to a princess-like maiden who in the early days is said to have roamed around the place on certain nights of the year. On the other hand, practical people attribute the name to the geographical advantages of the place as a seaport – naturally protected the whole year round and endowed with a depth that can accommodate any size of shipping – a royal haven for vessels or a virtual princess of ports as thus indicated by Spanish colonizers on the country’s map.
Historically, the place was named after Princess Asunción, born in 1864 to Queen Isabella II and her consort, Francisco de Cádiz. When the princess suffered an untimely death, the Queen changed the name to Puerto de la Princesa. Eventually, the name was reduced to Puerto Princesa as it is known today.
Spanish colonizers founded the settlement on 4 March 1872 in the course of their exploration of the province. As they scanned the Palawan shoreline for a capital site, they came upon a hill with steep declivity. Rowing to shore, they surveyed the hill and discovered an extensive plateau which they decided as ideal for settlement.
Soon after, Fr. Antonio Muro levelled a portion of the hill to make way for a chapel. (That section is now occupied by the Catholic Cathedral, the P.C. Barracks and the Rizal Park. The Old Municipal Building used to be there, as well as an Elementary School). The first mass celebrated in Puerto Princesa took place at a site where a marker now stands.
In May 1872, the Port of Puerto Princesa became the center of Spanish naval operations in the area because the bay met all the Navy’s requirements. Royal decrees later provided incentives to settlers, and by 1883 the settlement had flourished into a town of twelve roads, a hospital and a well-built port.
In 1894, Puerto Princesa was recognized by government authorities as one of the most beautiful towns in the country by virtue of the orderly distribution of streets, buildings and houses as well as the cleanliness of the community.
In 1911, the new American administration made Puerto Princesa the seat of the Palawan Provincial Government with Major John Brown as Lieutenant Governor.
In 1951, the barrios of Tinitian, Caramay, Rizal, Del Pilar, Malcampo, Tumarbong, Taradungan, Ilian, and Capayas were separated to form the town of Roxas.
In 1955, the sitios of Materingen, Tandayag, Nasedoc, and Panlawagan were separated from the barrio of Maroyogon and elevated into a barrio.
In 1956, the sitios of Calagbenguen, Tarabanan, Bendoyan, Talabigan, Tagbuan, and Langogan were constituted into the barrio of Concepcion.
In 1957, the barrio of Tapul was renamed to Salvacion.
The town was converted into a city on 1 January 1970 under R.A. 5906 as amended by P.D. 437, through the effort of then Congressman Ramon V. Mitra, Jr. Feliberto R. Oliveros, Jr. became the first City Mayor.
Since its foundation, Puerto Princesa has been the nerve center of activities in Palawan. Aside from being the seat of public administration, it is the heart of trade, commerce, service, and industry in the province.
Today, under the leadership of Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn, the city has gained the distinction of being a model city for its cleanliness, environmental protection and conservation, and local governance in general.
And so, with a responsive leadership and an inspired citizenry, the tradition of Puerto Princesa being a beautiful and clean city lives on.
- Imaculate Conception Cathedral
On March 10, 1972, six days after the Spanish expedition arrived in Puerto Princesa, the first mass was celebrated by Rev. Fr. Exequiel Moreno in the same place where the cathedral now stands. He later erected the parish under the patronage of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
It took almost a century though before the present cathedral was built, in 1961, under then Bishop Most Rev. Gregorio Espiga. The interesting angular structure departs from the conventional religious architecture of most churches in the country.
- Princess Eulalia Park
It features the statue of a princess whom the park was named and a memorial marker as a perennial remembrance of the founders of Puerto Princesa. It is the site where the decree of the foundation of Puerto Princesa was proclaimed by Captain Don Jose Sostao, head of the Spanish expedition, on March 4, 1872 amid salvos of gunfire.
Mendoza Park was named after Dr. Higinio Mendoza, the war hero of Palawan. His resistance to the Japanese control to led to his execution on January 25, 1944 at Canigaran Beach. His remains, together with several unknown soldiers, were interred into the memorial constructed at the far end of the park.
- Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm
This unique "prison without bars" was established by the Americans in 1904. The inmates tend vast farms instead of idly spending time behind the bars. The more enterprising earn by making handicrafts and other productive activities during thier spare time. iwahig has since become synonymous to finely handicrafted bags and other souvenir items.
A National Historical Site, Plaza Cuartel is a restored ruin of an old garrison where, in the evening of December 14, 1944, Japanese soldiers burned around 150 American prisoners of war in a tunnel found beneath the park's portals, which now stands as a grim reminder of World War II atrocities. The remains of those who died where buried at St. Louis Country, Jefferson Barracks, National Cemetery, Missouri, U.S.A in 1952. Only 11 prisoners survived to tell the story.
- Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
Its main attraction is an 8.2 kilometer Underground River that winds through a spectacular cave before emptying into the South China Sea.
At the mouth of the cave, a clear lagoon is framed by ancient trees growing right to the water’s edge. Monkeys, large monitor lizards, and squirrels find their niche on the beach near the cave.
Visitors can also enjoy bird watching, mountain trekking, and exploring the deeper part of the forest .
The park was declared a premier ecotourism destination and has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage lists for its outstanding universal value and ecological significance as a natural site of intense beauty.
- Puerto Princesa Bay
Located mideast of the city. Tricycles within the city proper can take visitors to the port of Puerto Princesa where one can have leisurely walks at sunrise and catch a glorious view of the bay, or when going to other destinations within the bay area.
The area is a major entry point by water access to the City of Puerto Princesa. It offers first impressions to the traveler. The site is ideal for bay and mangrove cruises. Bayside resorts provide accommodation and dining facilities with a panoramic view of the bay. Others also offer water-based sports activities.
The annual celebration of Layagan, a boat sailing contest and festival that commence from San Rafael off Honda Bay culminates at the bay area. Puerto Princesa Bay is a major port of call for smaller ships and boats going to Sulu Sea destinations such as the Cuyo islands and Tubbataha Reef, a diver’s paradise.
- Puerto Princesa Ulugan Bay
Ulugan is a deep channel on the northwestern coast of Puerto Princesa. Tres Marias, a cluster of three islets, stand guard at the mouth of the bay. Inside the bay is Rita Island, another popular dive spot. Mangrove forests abound in river deltas, while dense vegetation packs gently rolling hills in the distance.
- Cleopatra's Needle
About 1,600 meters high, it provides a panoramic view of Puerto Princesa City. A very challenging climb for mountaineers.
On the way up, trekkers will find rivers and cascading streams, quiet fields, and lush forests.
Just a few minutes north of the city proper, hop onto a boat and go island hopping at Honda Bay located in the mid-eastern coast of the city. Take your pick from dozens of white sand beaches.
Dive sites abound here, as the entire area is studded with patches of coral and sand. Submerged reefs may be found close to the surface down to 24 meters. Small reef and aquarium fish can also be found here. Among the well-known dive sites here are Pandan Island which has good reefs near small drop-offs, Arreceffi Island and Panglima Reef where coral boulders and gray reef sharks are found.
Each island at Honda Bay offers different thrills. Snake Island has a sandbar that slithers on the surface of the sea, much like the critter that bears its name. It is best for snorkeling, swimming or simply basking in the sand. It can be reached in an hour by pumpboat. Bat Island, only 20 minutes away from St. Lourdes wharf, is literally teeming with bats which make their way out at sundown to look for food in the mainland.
- Ulugan Bay
Ulugan is a deep channel on the northwestern coast of Puerto Princesa. Tres Marias, a cluster of three islets, stand guard at the mouth of the bay. Inside the bay is Rita Island, another popular dive spot. Mangrove forests abound in river deltas, while dense vegetation packs gently rolling hills in the distance. Modest lodging is available at the nearby village of Macarascas.
- White Sand Beaches
Pristine, powdery white sand beaches are found in almost all islands and islets in the province. Strands of white sand beaches hugh the coves and bays of Palawan's coastline, providing a scenic contrast to the green canopies and the emerald or blue waters.
- Iwahig Penal Colony
Established by the Americans in 1904 to supply food to other prisons all over the country. Iwahig has since become synonymous to finely handcrafted bags and other souvenir items. In the prison without walls, inmates tend vast farms instead of idly spending time behind bars.
- Immaculate Conception Cathedral
In 1872, a Spanish expedition proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of Mary as the patroness of Puerto Princesa. That same year, the first mass was celebrated here. However it took almost a century before the cathedral on Rizal Avenue, going to the pier, was built in 1961 under then Bishop Most Rev. Gregorio Espiga. The angular structure departs from most churches in other parts of the Philippines, providing visitors with an interesting glimpse of unconventional religious structure.
- Limestone and Marble Cliffs/Karst Mountains
These geologically significant landscapes will delight mountaineers, rock climbers and nature enthusiasts. Trained guides must be available when exploring these sites. St. Paul Park rangers can likewise assist adventurous travelers.
It's located at Baranggay Cabayugan and Baranggay Tagabinet.Take a jeepney bound for Sabang. Or take a vehicle on hire basis for 2-3 hours.
- Vietnamese Village
Provides a glimpse of Vietnamese culture and a people’s struggle for freedom. Home to the “Boat People” who first came here in 1979, these Vietnamese asylum seekers live normal lives and has since brought to Puerto Princesa the flavor of Vietnamese cuisine. Some enterprising Vietnamese are also engaged in silver jewelry making. Take a tricycle or jeepney bound for Sta. Lourdes for about 30 minutes.
- Plaza Cuartel
Taft Street. Plaza Cuartel is the restored ruins of an old garrison where Japanese soldiers burned 143 American prisoners of war inside a tunnel and stands as a grim reminder of World War II atrocities. Only ten prisoners survived to tell the story about what happened inside that tunnel.
Palawan Museum. The Museum is the repository of Palawan relics and artifacts including those from Tabon Cave, where remains of first Filipino were found. The structure that now houses the museum used to be the seat of the City Government of Puerto Princesa. You may also visit the Palawan State University Museum.
Salakot Waterfalls. A popular tourist spot located midway to Napsan about 50 meters from the road. Three layers of water falls plunge into the deep pools perfect for an afternoon bath after a hot ride in the sun. Rare species of butterflies may be found here. Picnic huts and two sleeping cottages are available for overnight stay.
Know more about Palawan's rich and abundant plant species. Once a part of the province's vegetation, now endangered or facing extinction due to kaingin (slash and burn farming) and illegal logging.
Learn about the endemic species of wildlife in the province of Palawan found nowhere else in the world. Most of these animals are endangered or faced extinction due to hunting, trading and habitat destruction.
Parks and Amusement
- Mendoza Park
Rizal Avenue. Named after Dr. Higinio Mendoza, war hero of Palawan. Doctor Mendoza's resistance to Japanese control led to his execution at Canigaran on January 24, 1944. His remains and those of several unknown soldiers were interred at the memorial found on one side of the park. The park is shaded by age-old acacia trees and surrounded with ornamental plants. On the east side of the park is an amphitheater where countless presentations are year-long.
- Capitol Park Square
At Capitol Complex, Rizal Avenue. The place offers open air restaurants, food kiosks, gardens, fountains and playgrounds.
- Coliseum Park
San Pedro, National Highway. At Puerto Princesa City’s convention and exhibition center. This park has musically dancing fountains and gardens.
Sta. Monica Heights. Wonderland-like Baker's Hill sells specialized baked goodies. The place offers children's park and picnic areas in a cool and breezy environment.
- City Baywalk
The new park has generous space for strolling and biking. The beautiful sprawl of the new city Baywalk is located just beside the port area. There are seahorse-shaped waiting sheds. The bay side is a safe and refreshing place to unwind and the still-blue waters that lap against the walls sparkle. You can sit back, enjoy the mild sun and feel the fresh sea breeze.
List of Hotels in Puerto Princesa City
- Asturias Hotel - Km. 3 National Highway, Tiniguiban, Puerto Princesa City
- Hotel Centro - San Pedro, National Highway, Puerto Princesa City
- Hotel Fleuris - Lacao Street, Puerto Princesa City
- La Chari'ca Inn - 126 Abad Santos, Puerto Princesa City
- Legend Hotel - Malvar Street, Puerto Princesa City
- Microtel Inn & Suites (Palawan) - San Manuel, Puerto Princesa City
- Dolce Vita Hotel - Romasanta Wescom Road, San Pedro, Puerto Princesa City
- Moana Hotel - Rizal Avenue, Puerto Princesa City
- Pads by Legend Hotels - Malvar Street, Puerto Princesa City
- Palawan Village Hotel - Rizal Avenue, Puerto Princesa City
- Rengel Hotel - Valencia Street, Puerto Princesa City
- Royal Oberoi - South National Highway, Esteban Road, Santa Monica, Puerto Princesa City
- White View Paradise Hotel - Manalo Extension, Puerto Princesa City
Puerto Princesa is slightly more than an hour away by plane from Manila. Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines, Zest Air all have daily flights from Manila to Puerto Princesa. Air Philippines and Cebu Pacific also operate flights to and from Puerto Princesa to other major cities such as Davao and Cebu City. SEAIR offers flights from Busuanga Tu/F/Su and El Nido on Tu/F. Starting from this year 2012, there are now daily connecting/return budget flights by Philippines AirAsia from Clark/Angeles City in Luzon direct to Puerto Princesa.
The airport is practically in the city center so you can ignore the overpriced tricycles waiting in front of the arrival and catch a tricycle on the main road for a fare of 7-10 pesos per passenger.
The airport is small and can be closed at certain points in the day (e.g. between 2pm and 3pm) and there are only 2 cafes and some local eateries outside the airport, therefore don't plan to kill any time here.
SuperFerry and Negros Navigation both have a weekly ferry to Puerto Princesa from Manila. The ferry trip is about 22 hours long.
Milagrosa Shipping has a weekly ferry that sails between Puerto Princesa - Cuyo Islands - Iloilo. It departs Iloilo at 7pm on Thursday, arrives at the Cuyo Islands at 8am Friday, departs Cuyo Islands 3pm Friday and arrives in Puerto Princesa at 8am on Saturday.
MultiCab and tricycles are the most common means to get around Puerto Princesa. As in Manila, jeepneys usually have standard routes which they ply. Tricycles on the other hand are fairly limited to certain areas and would not be able to go very long distances. Standard tricycle fare around the city is 7-8 pesos per person.
The bus terminal is located a few Km outside the city center. A tricycle from the station to the town center should cost around 50P
For touring, it would possibly be a good idea to arrange special transport whether it be a jeepney or, for more comfort, air-conditioned vans or AUVs. This way, you will not be subject to the hassles of public transport availability.