Weekend warriors, here’s another affordable getaway for your end-of-week escapades: Tabon Cave Complex at Quezon, Palawan. We’ve all heard about this archaeological site managed by the National Museum during our grade school days, and I clearly remember how my heart swelled with pride knowing that it’s located in our province. However, aside from being dubbed as ‘Philippine’s Cradle of Human Civilization’ and declared as a National Cultural Treasure where the remains of Tabon Man and the famed Manunggul Jar were unearthed, the Tabon Cave Complex, believe it or not, is also a trekker’s dream destination and a beach bum’s perfect definition of, well, perfection.
Caves and beaches
Three main activities await you at Tabon: spelunking (or cave exploration), trekking, and swimming. Located at the municipal town of Quezon, this famous cave complex will take you through both land and sea travel, with the trip ending in a picturesque white-sand island where the massive karst formation that houses the caves sits waiting for your exploration.
The boat ride from the wharf to the cave complex will take 30 to 45 minutes. Green-blue waters at Lipuun Point, and a picturesque wooden dock, will greet you as you approach the entrance. There are 215 caves (yes, that many) and you can visit at least seven of them in two hours or more, depending on how long you want to stay inside each cave. It is advisable to go with the guides that you can hire from the entrance to hear the unique stories each stop has to offer.
The trail consists of a combination of semi-paved pathways, bare ground and concrete stairs, and several points of the hike will give you a breathtaking view of the sea. Every now and then you pass by a ravine where trees of different species, presumably native to the complex, merge and unmerge abundantly.
Dr. Robert Fox’s study table and other artifacts
The papag used by the famous Dr. Robert Fox’s team is still at the Tabon cave, together with the markings once placed by archaeologists who studied the area. Along the hike, you will pass by the Manunggul Cave where the Manunggul Jar was discovered atop a cliff. Make sure to enter the Igang cave too, the one famous for its cold, guano-smelling air – you’ll know it when you get there.
The largest cave, Sarang, will offer you this astonishing sight of late morning sun-rays peeking through a hole in the ceiling – this is my favorite. After Sarang, there’s Tadyaw cave where you can see a collection of primary burial jars (used to store the flesh of the dead) and small relics of secondary burial jars (used for storing the bones). Pass by Dicalan Cave before the trek down where you might see some long tailed Macaques and monitor lizards roaming around the jungle.
White-sand beach to cap off the cave tour
After spelunking, you can ask your boatman to take you to the long stretch of stunning white sandbar connected to Tataran Island, which is perfect for swimming, sun-bathing and of course, tons of selfies and groufies.
If you actually have enough time, you can first visit Mansirik Island before heading to Tabon Cave Complex. It might take four hours to and from the Island, and we haven’t tried this trip but you can ask the locals about it.
All in all, if you visit in fours, you will only spend P800 to P1,000 for this Quezon day trip. Reminder: Bes, please, leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures, you know the drill.
How to get there
Before everything else, make sure to check the weather. From Puerto Princesa, the municipality of Quezon can be reached in 2 hours and 30 minutes via van, that leaves every hour as early as 4:00 a.m. from San Jose Terminal (one way is P200). Upon arrival, you can take your breakfast at carinderias around the unloading area and then take a tricycle for P10, or walk if you have enough time, to the National Museum’s Quezon Branch located at Tawa-tawa where you will personally secure a permit to enter the cave for P20. Upon securing the permit, take another tricycle (for another P10) to the wharf where you can board the boat that you can use for a day (P1,400/6 pax). The last trip of Charing van from Quezon to Puerto Princesa leaves at 4:00 p.m.
What to wear and what to bring
It is best to wear slippers or hiking sandals and light easy dry comfortable clothing suitable for both trekking and swimming. It is also advisable to bring extra clothes, a liter of water, flashlight – if you don’t want to drain your phone’s battery while gazing into dark mysterious nooks and crevices inside the caves, snacks and of course, fully charged cameras!
About the Author: Karen Madarcos is a weekend warrior from Puerto Princesa. If you can’t find her in her daily walks around Sta. Monica, she’s either chasing a waterfall, floating in a nearby beach, getting lost in an unpaved trek, eating, getting bruises from hiking, blogging about all of these, reading her book of the week or most likely, working in a Research and Development Consortium to save for her upcoming weekends. Follow her instagram account at @shinakaren and see her website at wanderingkaren.com.
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