Traveling With a Toddler: A Trip Back to Puerto Princesa

The last thing I’d expect to see while getting a passport renewed is a view of a vast ocean replete with flourishing mangroves. But that is essentially what happened.

When we checked Cebu’s online passport appointment, we realized that the next schedule was next year, so we decided to look into other options. There were many open slots in Manila and other big cities in the Philippines, but there were also many open slots in Puerto Princesa. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this chance to plan a last-minute trip while Neil renews his passport.

Fortunately, Neil agreed, and we turned a routine passport renewal into a fun weekend getaway. Since he rarely does anything on the spur of the moment, I took this opportunity to organize a trip that even a toddler can enjoy.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Back in 2013, we were a young, daring couple who wanted to see everything Puerto Princesa had to offer.

While staying at Go Hotel (across Robinsons Mall), we met a couple with three children who advised us not to have a child very soon, or we would miss out on adventures. They couldn’t go to El Nido after their trip to Puerto Princesa due to the cost and difficulty of traveling with three children.

As you can see, we listened to their advice and had Cyd in 2019. Fast forward to our trip to Puerto Princesa, I was looking forward to seeing the improvements in the city and showing Cyd around.

Now, let me fill you in on what happened.

Cebu to Puerto Princesa Flight

We took a Cebu Pacific flight to Puerto Princesa from Cebu. There’s one flight daily that leaves at 4:25 p.m. During our trip, we boarded one of the airline’s huge airbuses, which we liked because we could be seated in the same row. At 5:40 p.m., we touched down at Puerto Princesa International Airport, and I was taken aback by the airport’s size – it improved a lot!

The sky was overcast and dark. Gladly, the airport was less busier than the ones in Cebu and Manila, and taxis were easy to come by. When I told the driver we were going to Microtel, he charged us the standard rate of P500.

Microtel Wyndham Puerto Princesa

Microtel Wyndham Puerto Princesa with a toddler
Cyd enjoying the sand and was caught by surprise

Neil and I stayed at the Microtel Wyndham in Quezon City three times, and we believed it offered good food and accommodation for a three-star hotel. That’s why, when I found a Microtel Wyndham in Puerto Princesa on Booking.com, I quickly checked its location and decided to book us there.

I also noticed that the hotel had a nice pool and a stunning seaside view. Because I was unsure about the weather, I decided it would be ideal if the hotel had amenities that would keep Cyd happy.

They used to have an outdoor play area but Odette crossed Sulu Sea and made a landfall here a year ago.

On our third day at Microtel Puerto Princesa, the sky cleared up, inviting us to explore.

Note: If you’re on a budget, you might want to stay close to the city center and book a room that is walking distance from Robinsons.

Robinsons Mall – DFA

Here comes the train!

Friday came, and Neil went about this business of renewing his passport while I entertained Cyd with the train and small arcade in Robinsons Mall. It had surely changed so much. When we were here in 2013, there were just a few stores available, and I don’t remember if there were arcades then. The food court had fewer stalls, too. We ate at Max’s because it has soup dishes that we knew Cyd would eat. Neil completed the renewal processing within an hour, leaving our afternoon free for a quick tour.

Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center or Crocodile Farm

Family photo with the juvenile croc – because Cyd needed company 🤣

Since dinosaurs died out about 65 million years ago, we thought Cyd would be just as interested in crocodiles. They shared heritage and both appeared ferocious. The Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center seemed nearby on Google Maps, so we went there next. I contacted the taxi driver who had driven us to our hotel and arranged a trip from Robinsons to PWRC and then back to Microtel (cost: P1800).

When we arrived at the site, we were directed to wait inside a small museum, where we learned about two Philippine crocodile species (saltwater and freshwater), as well as other reptiles. We paid 80 pesos in entrance fees (P40/adult) and joined the 15-minute fun and interesting tour This tour runs from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm daily. Along the way, we also saw the nursery, where crocodile eggs hatch!

Because it was pouring, we couldn’t walk around the 4-hectare Nature Park, which is home to rescued indigenous species, natural greenery, and a large diversity of rare birds. Maybe we’ll meet them next time. We did, however, get a picture with their juvenile croc. 

Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park

From Sabang Beach, you take a boat going to the site for the Underground River tour.

As morning approached, clouds covered the sky. Just as I was giving up hope that the weather would improve, the front desk agent confirmed our tour for the day. At about 8 AM, we were on our way to Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park – a UNESCO Heritage site.

Neil was concerned. He thought the 30-minute tour of the underground river would be too much for Cyd. He was anxious that Cyd might either become frightened or interrupt the tour by standing on the boat. The darkness might also scare him. So Neil briefed him not once, but twice, on what to expect and what not to do while inside the cave.

The mouth of Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park

Turns out Cyd had a good time on the tour. Yes, he asked a lot of questions, particularly about when we would be getting out of the cave and where the exit was, but by the end of the tour, he was beaming so brightly that I knew he had a good time.

Ugong Rock Adventure

There are no gloves that fit Cyd – that should have been a warning sign! Haha

Ugong Rock in Puerto Princesa is a government-supported, community-maintained sustainable tourist facility. Gina Lopez of the ABS-CBN Foundation Inc. signed a memorandum of agreement with the local government in 2008 to launch the “BayaniJuan” advocacy to assist the needy. That was the selling point of our tour guide. The Underground River tour ended early, so we said “yes.”

I worried about Cyd this time. I wasn’t sure Cyd would like spelunking because caves are slippery and muddy. There was a video displaying the cave’s interior, and I almost changed my mind at the last minute after seeing it. The guide had assured us that Cyd would have no trouble at all with the climb, so we decided to give it a go.

For some reason, I found the cave’s intricate passageways exciting. My palms got sweaty as I struggled to pull myself up and fretted over how Cyd would handle the situation. The muck was getting to him, but the flashlight would keep his mind off it. At one point, our guide hauled Cyd up as I told my son to do the same things firemen do, as we were required to wear a harness while climbing.

And after what felt like 20 minutes, we made it to the peak!

Ugong Rock for family
What fun! Thanks to our guides, we survived the climb with a toddler in tow!

My fear was going down on a zipline. Not for me. I tried it once, but the thrill of zipping never appealed to me. Because Cyd was just as terrified, I felt I’d found a way out of the zipline challenge. Well,  I didn’t. Neil wasn’t about to let me get away with it.

So I went ziplining above the trees and across the fields. Strangely, I was rather happy about it.

Neil wanted to take Cyd ziplining, but he couldn’t persuade him to come along. He didn’t get his nap and was exhausted, so we knew he couldn’t take much more. The staff told me they had gone down with the guide, so I met them at the reception.

We returned to Microtel at about 4 o’clock. My clothes and flip-flops were filthy, yet my mind was racing with ecstatic weariness. Cyd fell asleep in the van and remained asleep until we arrived at our hotel. After changing his soiled clothes, Neil jumped right into bed, and I could hear him snoring not long after.

Parting Thoughts

Seeing Puerto Princesa through Cyd’s eyes was even more special than I could’ve imagined. If you’re ever feeling impulsive and want to renew a passport on an island for a last-minute getaway, make sure to consider the cost of travel and whether or not your toddler will be able to sit still on a long car ride. And if you happen to run into us on your travels, don’t hesitate to say hi! We love meeting new friends (and showing them our pictures).

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