Sabang is a small village in Palawan, Philippines. It is used as an entry point to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River. There's not much in the village except services for those going to visit the river, but there is a beach and a chilled out atmosphere.
From Puerto Princesa, take a trike or jump in a minibus going to the "New Market" jeepney Terminal in San Jose. It takes about 10 minutes. Trike fare is about P80 and the minibus about P12. Four trips from the San Jose Terminal to Sabang run daily between 7AM and 2PM. The bus/jeepneys both cost 150pesos and the trip takes about 3 hours.
On a tour
Any tour agent in Puerto Princesa will sell you a day trip package for 1200-1500pesos where you are transported to Sabang in a minivan and includes a tour to the Underground River and lunch buffet at a beach resort.
All boats into and out of Sabang are subject to weather conditions. Only a few charter boats are fully registered and insured to transport passengers for tourism between Port Barton, El Nido and Sabang. Some of the boats making these voyages are in poor condition, have small engines, bamboo balancers, and are not properly registered.
The price and frequency of boats from Port Barton and El Nido are dependent on demand - there may not be not any other customers and therefore no boat the day you want it unless you pay for the entire cost of the trip.
Motorbikes can be hired in Puerto from one of the many shops on Rizal Avenue close to the intersection with North Road. Price depends on number of days and bikes hired, age and type of bikes, and your negotiating skills, but aim to pay 350peso or less for older semiautos. The ride to Sabang is 73km, all on paved roads, and quite scenic. There are a couple of lookouts along the way, as well as some caves. Check the weather before leaving Puerto.
Sabang is very small so everything in the village is within walking distance. To get to the underground river you need to hire a boat from the pier, or walk along the jungle trail/monkey trail (about 5km and 1-2 hours). Don't forget to pick up your permit to the underground river from P.P. before arriving in Sabang.
Far and away the main attraction in Sabang is it's Subterranean River, one of the Seven New Wonders of the Natural World. There is a P250 entry permit which must be obtained prior to visiting the underground river, and a P40 environmental fee payable at the office by Sabang pier.
If you decide to go solo, you can buy your permit for the Subtetranean River in the office in City Coliseum in Puerto Princesa (a 20peso trike ride from outside the airport). There is a limited quota permits issued each day and the booking office is more interested in selling tickets to tour agencies, so make your reservation at least 2-3 days in advance during holiday seasons.
Contrary to what you might read elsewhere, it IS possible to get a permit for the next day in Sabang itself from the office by the pier (February 2014), at least during the week, provided you arrive in Sabang in the morning/early afternoon. It was also possible in February 2014 to obtain a same day permit at the Sabang office by arriving first thing in the morning (at least if you are Filipino). To guarantee your permit, however, it is strongly recommended that you visit the office in Puerto.
There are two ways to get to the entrance of the river from Sabang. The first is to take one of the roughly 45 registered small and very noisy 8-seater bangka boats from Sabang Pier. You will be given an allotted boat time on your permit, but to avoid waiting for hours talk to other people at the pier and offer to join their (earlier) boat. Boats cost 100pesos/person when full. The boat trip is subject to weather conditions, and may be quite rough.
The alternative way to get to the start of the Subterranean River (and way to avoid paying/waiting for a boat) is an approximately 5km walk through the jungle, which takes 1-2 hours. You can walk up to central station without a permit, but no further. Expect to see lots of monkeys and maybe some monitor lizards and other wildlife. If you are not in a rush you can also take this route back to Sabang after seeing the cave.
When you get to the cave entrance, you have to wait for another boat to take you down the underground river (included in the permit price). Be sure to register and obtain your "boat number" the moment you arrive there. The whole process is much tailored to groups arriving on package tours, i.e. nobody will call you when your boat number is about to depart, so be active and ask local staff about the current number every 10 minutes or so.
A cruise along a nearby river surrounded by mangroves.
Boats can be hired for an hourly rate to take you on a tour around the bay.
There are several caves nearby, including Elephant Cave and Lion Cave. Organise a local guide and van from a tour agent near the pier. If you have your own transport you will see the caves signposted on your way into Sabang. They are free to enter.
Locals are crazy about basketball, they play every day. Walk on the trail on the right side of the pier, you will find them playing. They welcome everyone.
There are a number of restaurants close to the beach and pier serving a mix of Asian and western dishes.
There are some local streetfood stalls where you can get meals such as beef noodle soup for 40pesos.
There is a local bakery 100m or so back from the beach on the main street selling very cheap and tasty desserts.
There are a number of bars including a few with pool tables. Be sure to check the temperature of the beer when buying from local shops as electricity is only available in the evening. There is a water refilling station to the left of the pier when facing the ocean. P5/2litre.
If you are heading to El Nido, you can catch a A/C minivan in Sabang near the pier for P800. First trip is 7am, then there are no vans until the middle of the day. Last van leaves at 4:30pm.
There are also several minivans daily to Puerto.
By Jeepney/Minivan and Bus
An alternative method of getting to El Nido, Port Barton or any other point north, is to catch a jeepney or minivan as far as the highway at Salvation (37km), then flag down a passing bus.
In good weather it is possible to catch a boat to Port Barton or even all the way to El Nido.
The voyage from Sabang to El Nido is very long and remote, and the weather often changes quickly in the afternoon, so consider a stopover for a night or two in Port Barton. The views from the boat are spectacular, but the journey itself could certainly not be described as "comfortable".
The boats only leave if there are enough customers, or if the customers have deep enough pockets, they don't rum to a set schedule. They will always depart early in the morning if they are running. Inquire at one of the tour agents near the pier and be prepared to bargain.