I've been wanting to visit this site from the time I read about it and saw it in Nat Geo. I searched the net and asked friends who have visited it and asked for some tips, but a lot has changed since they visited and the websites that offered tips were outdated that I almost missed out on it. Apparently, there is an influx of tourists (local and foreign) that the tourism department require a permit to visit the caves. To prevent tour offices from abusing the demand, each visitor is required to submit an ID/passport and date of visit and allow ample time for processing; and for those applying themselves, the process is quite tedious (done in the city proper). I talked to some visitors from Canada and they were coordinating with the tour office since early December for their family to get accommodated in January. My heart sunk when I got to the hotel and was informed that the tours were full for the duration of my 4-day stay. Luckily, the hotel staff tried their very best to help us get squeezed in with some of the hotel guests tours. We went on our last day at 8am, which was a good time to go. It was almost one of the first tours of the day and the port where we boarded was still empty. We presented our passports upon reservation 2 days prior and right before boarding to secure the permit. We boarded a 'banca' which can accommodate 6 passengers with 2 boatmen (approx. 20 mins. ride) and landed on a beach where we walked about 500m to where we boarded a paddle boat donned with lifevests and hard hats. A single boatman/guide explains the rules and gives insights to the tour. The person infront is in charge of a flashlight that he has to direct to a spot as directed by the boatman. The rock formations were amazing, stalactites and stalagmites shaped like images and things formed through thousands of years by nature. There was a spot they called the 'cathedral' because of the high ceiling and unusual rock pillars and rocks that looked like melting candles. After about 20 mins through we turned around. The boatman said that if we wanted to go further in, we would need a special permit to traverse the whole river which would take 4-5 hours. It was a very nice experience but we were left wanting for more. Before you could process the experience and marvel at the natural art, you were on your way out of the cave. I guess there is a fine line between commercializing this natural treasure and sharing the sight to as many revelers as possible. I wish they can find the balance. For now and probably for many years to come, we have to contend ourselves to seeing just a glimpse of it.
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