Exploring the caves of the Philippines

These caves on the island of Palawan are famous for two reasons. Firstly, there’s the natural beauty. But then there’s also an incredible discovery.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines

The best way to get to Tabon caves is by boat. In fact, it’s really the only way.

I jump on a small wooden fishing vessel and we push off from the dock. In the distance, I can see our destination.

It looks like an island covered in green forests. Deep blue water with just a hint of choppiness lies between us. The sails unfurl and we rush forward.

Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines

I chat with the Filipino captain, who speaks some basic English. In our conversation, I learn that it’s not actually an island we’re heading towards – it’s more of a peninsula.

However, it’s attached to the mainland but by a dense mangrove forest that’s almost impossible to easily pass through. Hence the boat.

Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines
Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines

Here on Palawan – the largest but least developed island province of the Philippines – Tabon Caves is one of the most significant sites. However, visitor numbers are tiny compared with the extremely popular Puerto Princesa Underground River, the highlight of a visit to Palawan.

There are two main reasons why the Tabon Caves are so significant.

It’s partly for their natural aesthetics… and the limestone formations certainly make for some great exploring and some stunning views. But it’s also because of the history.

Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines

Part of the skull of a human was found here in one of the caves and scientists say it is about 22,000 years old. Archaeologists have also found pottery, jewellery and tools that are up to 47,000 years old.

This is the oldest evidence of humans found in the Philippines and suggests people lived here a very long time ago!

Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines

It’s hard not to think about that as I go into the caves, torch in hand, and try to imagine people sleeping and eating here tens of thousands of years ago.

Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines

I climb through a small entrance in a cliff and let my eyes adjust to the cave I’ve just entered. As I look around, I realise that it’s as large as a concert hall – and almost as loud with the screeching of the bats that fly around me.

I wave the torch around, trying to see if the animals are coming close. I don’t think they are but it’s unnerving and I find myself ducking quite often, just in case. I’m sure I also let out a squeal or two.

Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines

There are almost 30 caves that have been properly and explored and mapped but only seven are open to the public.

They’re not all as big as the one with the bats – another one is more like a tunnel and I have to duck down and weave my way through the stalactites and stalagmites until I reach an exit at the other end.

Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines
Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines

It only takes an hour to see them all but that feels like enough because you have to walk up and down steep steps to reach each of them. With the humid air of the Philippines outside, the caves are nice and cool.

Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines
Tabon Caves, Palawan, The Philippines

It’s a nice mixture of nature and history here at the caves and there’s even a bit of adventure thrown into the mix – although it’s nothing too difficult.

It’s another example of the beauty and rich colours here on Palawan that is turning this into a popular destination within the Philippines.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Expedia UK but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

5 thoughts on “Exploring the caves of the Philippines”

  1. The oldest human remains in the Philippines and the whole Pacific is the Callao Man in Callao Cave in Cagayan Valley in Luzon. It is 65,000 years old and discovered only in 2007.

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