Paglugaban Cave, El Nido

This fantastic and unique underwater cave is located in Northern Palawan, right inside Bacuit Archipelago, probably the most beautiful and idyllic area in the Philippines.
The cave is entered from the sea through a narrow gap just below the waterline, but it is not a sea cave at all! Paglugaban Island consists of limestone and freshwater which has seeped through it over millions of years creating huge chambers and tunnels right inside the island.
Once you have passed through the narrow opening, (which can be pretty rough or even impassable when waves pound against it from the ocean), you swim through a shallow tunnel and slowly leave the daylight zone.


It is quite a way to the permanent line, so you have to lay your own until you reach it. You can ascend already, before the connection point, and enter the Bat Room. Lots of bats fly around here, entering this chamber through the tiny opening just above the entrance. Great spectacle, but a bit smelly!
Descend again and you will have a breathtaking experience of a different kind very soon!
Crystal clear water, huge formations and white sand beneath you and you keep continue into total darkness… Obviously you need powerful lights to illuminate these huge spaces. "Haloclines", create amazing effects of colour and distortion when you pass through them. Freshwater sits on top while the denser saltwater stays on the bottom allowing various marine species to enter the cave and live in eternal darkness. White sponges, small shells, shrimps, lobsters and some smaller fish penetrate surprisingly far inside. Keep following the main line and you will get to the biggest chamber of them all. Again, you can ascend here and admire this beautiful natural wonder few people ever get to see. Gigantic formations all over the place, a vast room above you, probably 40m high and more than 30m water below you create an unforgettable experience.



Two people surely never want to repeat the experience though: In one corner you will see a tiny black cross and a statue of a Madonna. These were put there in memory of a group of seven recreational divers who entered the cave back in the eighties. Five of them never got out and died a gruesome death. Years ago you could still see the booty and a snorkel just about 50m from the exit. Two of the divers got lucky and managed to ascend into this chamber, where they sat for two days in pitch darkness, until they got rescued by ill equipped Philippine Navy divers who risked their own live in the process. This story should serve as a clear reminder that entering a cave like this without the proper training and equipment is a very bad idea! liveaboard philippines Leave the chamber and follow the main line further on. If you keep going you will swim in a great circle and see most of the features this cave has to offer. If you want to explore the very end of the cave, you will have to lay your own gap line at a certain spot to get into the final tunnel.
This is now serious cave diving with some restrictions and only tiny air pockets in some areas.

The bottom composition is fine, bright clay. Stir it up and you're in for a total silt out experience that you won't forget in a hurry, and hopefully find your way out of!

Just before you pass through the tunnel you will see the skeleton of a dolphin. Did he get lost ages ago?

We will never know, but it is a spooky reminder that it is a very unforgiving environment.

Go further still and enter the final room. You will see another big skeleton of a grouper on the bottom there just in front of the "landslide." A huge mound of rocks and sand marks the end of the cave.

What happened here?…..Does the cave go further behind it?

Is it another connection to the sea, which would be likely, because you can see small fish swimming around there in that area again, while there is very little life on the way to this remote part of the cave?

It is a long way back to the exit now, but you will be amazed to see that even after half an hour or more into the dive you still have plenty of gas left in your doubles, because most of the cave is very shallow and the whole dive can be done with never going beyond 12m of depth. In some areas you can hit 30m, though, if you choose to explore the deeper sections.
The main line has a fine layer of silt sitting on top of it, a clear indicator how seldom this cave is dived. The line will lead you to the exit and every cave diver knows this overwhelming feeling when you get back into daylight, back where you really belong….
We have never seen anyone who wasn't simply been blown away by this dive and we are sure we never will!

Leave the chamber and follow the main line further on. If you keep going you will swim in a great circle and see most of the features this cave has to offer. If you want to explore the very end of the cave, you will have to lay your own gap line at a certain spot to get into the final tunnel.
This is now serious cave diving with some restrictions and only tiny air pockets in some areas. The bottom composition is fine, bright clay. Stir it up and you're in for a total silt out experience that you won't forget in a hurry, and hopefully find your way out of!
Just before you pass through the tunnel you will see the skeleton of a dolphin. Did he got lost ages ago? We will never know, but it is a spooky reminder that it is a very unforgiving environment.
Go further still and enter the final room. You will see another big skeleton of a grouper on the bottom there just in front of the "landslide." A huge mound of rocks and sand marks the end of the cave. What happened here?…..Does the cave go further behind it?
Is it another connection to the sea, which would be likely, because you can see small fish swimming around there in that area again, while there is very little life on the way to this remote part of the cave? It is a long way back to the exit now, but you will be amazed to see that even after half an hour or more into the dive you still have plenty of gas left in your doubles, because most of the cave is very shallow and the whole dive can be done with never going beyond 12m of depth. In some areas you can hit 30m, though, if you choose to explore the deeper sections.
The main line has a fine layer of silt sitting on top of it, a clear indicator how seldom this cave is dived. The line will lead you to the exit and every cave diver knows this overwhelming feeling when you get back into daylight, back where you really belong….
We have never seen anyone who wasn't simply been blown away by this dive and we are sure we never will!