After concluding our Puerto Princesa Underground River tour with a sumptuous lunch, we headed to Barangay Tagabenit to try out another one of Puerto Princesa’s Ugong Rock Adventures. This was not included in our tour package, but we decided to visit Ugong Rock since we felt we need a dose of adrenaline. But before we reached the destination, we stopped by this magnificent, colossal karst mountain the locals call Elephant Cave.
Elephant Cave and Karst Mountain
See how immense that mountain is? That’s somewhat like an entire mountain range, cliff, and rock face made of limestone! The photo below feature just a tiny portion, perhaps 1/8th, of the entire karst formation.
Elephant Cave Karst mountain’s immensity, ideal location (just beside the main road, actually), and unspoiled limestone, make it an ideal candidate as the Philippine’s biggest, most extensive, and best rock climbing site. Elephant Cave has so many excellent rock faces that are ideal for bolting; we think it can easily rival the limestone formations in Krabi or Tonsai, Thailand.
The only problem is that—being so far away from civilization and being in a place where modern conveniences are not readily available—it is, for the moment, impractical to come here solely for rock climbing. But who knows? An influential person from Palawan might read this blog post and pitch in the idea to the LGU.
The limestone wall serves as a shield for these huts. The cave itself is nestled within the rock. Our guide, Jeron, said that as of the moment, Elephant Cave is still being mapped out and explored. Thus, tourist entry is not possible yet.
But just think: probably in the future, there would be three adventures—caving, trekking, and rock climbing—in this area. Extreme adventurers would have a heyday!
Fronting the karst formation are immense rice fields. Now that is a sweeping, serene, pastoral panorama that we like to see whenever we wake up in the morning.
A gigantic limestone monolith stands guard over the rice fields. We can envision a nice viewing terrace on top, or perhaps, a zip line going down. The possibilities of extreme adventure are endless here.
We thought that we’ve seen the largest and most extensive limestone formation in the country. But then, we saw this: an entire side of Mt. Cleopatra that is essentially a gargantuan rock face! Combined with the Elephant Karst Rock, Palawan definitely has a major rock climbing site that spans an entire barangay or municipality!
There are only a handful of places in the world where you can engage in a whole set of extreme adventures in one setting. From these places, only a few are conducive for people who wish to experience how it is to feel the adrenaline rush in extreme adventures for the first time. Ugong Rock in Barangay Tagabenit, Puerto Princesa, Palawan is one such place. And—you guessed it—we visited it during our anniversary.
Ugong Rock is a 23-million-year old, 75-foot karst limestone that stands like an immortal guardian of rice fields. Upon undertaking the adventure, one can experience more than an hour of trekking, caving, and scrambling. At the summit of Ugong rock, one is treated to an all-around view of mountains, karst formation, and green rice fields. Finally, to get down, one takes a zip line, reputed to be the fastest in the country.
The reception area was our first stop where visitors pay for the adventures and briefed on the history of Ugong Rock and precautions so the activities can be undertaken safely.
Ugong Rock Adventures is actually a community-based sustainable tourism project. It is supported by the Puerto Princesa local government, the Department of Tourism, the Bantay Kalikasan Foundation, and ABS-CBN. With this project, local farmers now have the means to generate income for the community via a sustainable, Eco-friendly utilization of natural resources. The guides here are trained local farmers.
After paying our dues, the farmer guides suited us up with safety helmets and gloves. Yes, gloves; the rocks are pretty sharp, and we want to protect our pinkies. Knowing that we were going caving, we carried our own headlamps.
The adventure starts with a short trek towards the mouth at the base of the Ugong Rock limestone formation. While we trekked, the skies opened up a little, and rain started to fall.
In less than 10 minutes, we were at the cave’s entrance where overhanging rocks provide a kind of roof to protect us from the rain.
Ugong Rock is basically a huge moss-covered limestone formation. It’s very otherworldly, and entering the cave feels as if entering the haunted Paths of the Dead, the forbidden mountain passage where Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli traveled to ask the assistance of the Army of the Dead.
Upon entering the cave, we were immediately treated to Mother Nature’s proud exhibit of beautiful rock formations carved for thousands or millions of years with her own gentle but persistent hands.
Relatively young deposits of calcium carbonate can be found in many areas. In time, they will harden as drapery-style flowstones.
Going through Ugong Rock’s Cave felt like going through a man-made tunnel; it just involved an easy walk. However, the rock formations are really naturally sculpted by nature.
The roof of the cave, which is several storeys high, is home to bats, swiftlets, and other cave-dwelling animals.
Ugong Rock does not feature a continuous cave. You need to trek for a little while at the rock’s base to get to another cave that leads to the karst formation’s summit.
More moss covered limestone formations dot the outside of the cave. Be careful, the moss makes them quite slippery.
Oh, yes, you need to bend, crawl, and do a little bit of yoga to fit into small places like this.
Locals have placed wooden stairs in some parts of Ugong Rock to assist tourists. While the rocks can definitely be climbed without aid, it is always better to be on the side of safety.
A bamboo bridge is constructed to cross a chasm. The squeaky, creaky sound may be unnerving, but don’t worry. That bridge is very strong.
From the bridge, we saw a beautiful view of the forest. Nature never ceases to amaze us.
Look at those gorgeous, unspoiled rock formations inside the cave. The centerpiece is that stalagmite pointing directly at a stalactite. Thousands of years from now, that formation will become a column. The nice thing about these rock formation is that they sparkle when you shine a light on it thanks to glass-like quartz crystals.
Those are our cool, knowledgeable guides. During off-peak season, they resume their work in the nearby fields as farmers.
Midway to Ugong Rock is a stop where we were fitted with a harness. That’s because to go up, we need to climb up 12 feet of near vertical rock. Going through this section of the cave requires a little bit of technical climbing.
Fixed ropes are rigged to assist climbers up the steep slope. Anyone who tried rock climbing or scrambling can just clamber up without the ropes; in fact, it was easier for me to scale the vertical tunnel without the assistance of ropes. However, the ropes are there for safety, so use them.
After the short climb, we reached a small “room” where we rested for a little while.
Ten minutes later, we continued on our way up another wall. Fixed ropes made the ascent easier and safer.
After almost an hour in the belly of Ugong Rock, we finally came out into the light.
But that also meant we had to crawl on our hands and knees so we can proceed up . . .
. . . and squeeze past passages that were barely wide enough to let a single human being go through.
Finally, we saw a set of wooden stairs, which directly leads to the zip line starting point at Ugong Rock’s peak.
Going up! The rain made the steps quite slippery, so we had to be careful not to slip.
To give you a sense of scale, check out Sweetie at the lower right of the photo. Yes, that’s how vertical the stairs are, and that’s how immense that rock outcropping is.
Finally, after an hour of walking, scrambling, spelunking, and climbing, we reached the top of Ugong Rock. This is the start of the zip line that will take us back to our starting point. We can always trek back and climb down, but zipping down is much quicker and more exciting! Here’s a trivia: the Ugong Rock zip line is the first zip line in Palawan.
While waiting for our turn, we looked around and admired the beautiful vista. Ugong Rock provides a fantastic vantage point that overlooks the community below and the surrounding karst topography.
It was Sweetie’s turn to get ready for the zip. Check out that first-class safety equipment! They have Petzl and Black Diamond harnesses and helmets. Wow! We don’t even have rock climbing helmets in our rock climbing equipment cache!
Ugong Rock’s zip line has a different design than most zip lines we know. Thus, it’s important to read the instructions for safety. The outfitters, who are also farmers, also told us what to do as we zip towards the end of the line.
Sweetie was all set and pretty excited to try the fastest zip line in the country. She will have to hold her guts for 21 seconds for the 350-meter ride.
And off she went . . . screaming her heart out. I thought that I can hold my scream, but I wasn’t able to. You know why? Well, I’ll tell you in the last photo, which will show you a better vantage of Ugong Rock’s zip line. After trying it, Sweetie and I have to say . . . it is the fastest zip line we’ve ever experienced.
Can you spot Sweetie? She’s just a tiny speck of orange. The zip line crosses a large rice paddy.
That’s Ugong Rock, that huge limestone outcropping covered with vegetation. You can see the zip line’s starting point at the summit. Now focus on the zip line’s cables. You would notice that from the starting point, the cables drop steeply—almost vertical, in fact—before they come up to a gentler angle. That means, you’re actually falling from Ugong Rock before the zip rights itself up to a more manageable slide! Now, you tell us: who wouldn’t scream when he or she falls down a cliff?
Our Ugong Rock experience was definitely refreshing. The entire adventure, from trekking to zip lining, was pretty basic; however, after a half-day city tour and a half-day river cruise that involved doing nothing but just sitting there, we were very glad and relieved that we were able to actually do something that quenched our thirst for adrenaline
Ugong Rock Adventures is managed by the Tagabinet Community Tourist Association, which is an advocate for community based sustainable tourism.
1. Here are the rates for Ugong Rock Adventures. All rates are per person and are subject to change without prior notice:
- P200 – caving
- + P250 – going down via zip line
- + P200 – going down via rappelling
- P200 – rock climbing (although I haven’t seen any bolts, chocks, draws, or other rock climbing gear in sight)
Do not haggle. Remember that this is a community project.
2. Ugong Rock opens at 8 AM and closes at 5 PM daily, including Sundays and holidays.
3. For more information and for reservations, you can contact Jet or Marivel at these phone numbers:
Updated contact detail:
Name: Marivel Orcajada – 09106287980
4. As mentioned earlier, we took a packaged tour, so the transportation from Sabang Port to Ugong Rock was free. However, check out the details below if you intend to commute your way to Ugong Rock.
- From San Jose Terminal in Puerto Princesa city proper, take a jeep, bus, or van going to Sabang. Inform the driver to drop you off Ugong Rock. Ugong Rock can easily be reached by a short dirt road that connects to the main highway. The dirt road has a sign of Ugong Rock, which is hard to miss. Van fare is around P 130, while jeepney fare is around P 100. Travel time from the city to Ugong Rock is around 1 hour and 30 minutes
- From Sabang Port (after your PPUR cruise), ride a tricycle to Ugong Rock. Since there is no fixed fare or official route, you need to negotiate a price. Travel time from Sabang Port to Ugong Rock is around half an hour.
4. To get back to Puerto Princesa, hike back to the National Road and wait for a jeepney that goes back to San Jose Terminal. We do not have any information about the fare, but we reckon it should be around P100 or less.
5. If you are suffering from a cardio-respiratory ailment, it is best to have your blood pressure taken at the reception area before climbing Ugong Rock. This is to guarantee that you are adequately fit before you can climb.
6. After paying, you will be fitted with safety gear. Don’t worry, they practice good hygiene and they thoroughly clean the equipment after every use.
7. Since the guides are only issued a flashlight, it is recommended that you bring along your own headlamp or flashlight.
8. Pack light but bring the following
- water (at a liter)
- trekking attire
- rubber shoes or trekking sandals
- umbrella, hat, or sarong
- headlamp (highly recommended)
- rain gear (in case of bad weather)
- extra money for emergencies