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Philippines Caving / Potholing / Spelunking

Caving / Potholing / Spelunking Locations Philippines

 

Caving in the Philippines as a sport activity is relatively new but it is growing in popularity and branching into three different tracks: easy caving (spelunking) for the mildly curious; serious caving/potholing for the subterranean enthusiast; and, academic cave exploration with the intent of recording and preserving.


The Philippines is not well known for caving as a sport activity and yet somewhere between 70,000 and 40,000 years ago, caves were actually found to be the best places to live (e.g. Tabon Caves, Palawan). Most of the islands of the Philippines have extensive limestone or sandstone escarpments and ridges and, in the distant past, when the country was mostly completely forested, the slow trickle of water from rainforest sponge above allowed vast cave systems to be created. Caves may be just a few score meters in length while others measure their length in kilometres, and there are a few that have (as yet) no defined end (Bindoy, Negros Oriental); most caves contain stunning limestone structures.

During World War II, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, caves were initially a refuge for rebel forces and later, during the Allied liberation of the Philippines, for Japanese soldiers who became detached from their retreating units or who deliberately stayed to offer resistance. One cave system, in Zig-zag Pass, East of Subic Bay, was very effectively used by a few-score Japanese soldiers to hold back the advancing liberation forces for more than two weeks.

Most Philippine caves are (or were once) wet caves. Many still have rivers, lakes and waterfalls inside (Samar and Davao Region). Fruit bats and insect bats have been abundant in Philippine cave systems, as have swifts. Other critters such as spiders, snakes and fish can be frequently found – some, completely unique in Nature.

Almost all cave systems that are accessible to caving enthusiasts require the cavers to register with the local village or town office and to pay a modest cave entry permit fee – typically less than US$5 per person. Cave guides are usually required and expect to be reimbursed for their time at the rate of between US$10 and US$20 per guide, depending on the length of time engaged.

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The Best Caving In The Philippines

An impossible question to answer is: where is the best caving in the Philippines? It depends on what level of experience you have and what your interest is. Here are a few suggestions but in giving these I am not discounting the scores of other first class caving areas around the Philippines.

Davao Del Norte

Some of the best wet caves are found in Davao Del Norte province, between New Corella and Kapalong. Most of the caves along this long limestone escarpment, are wet caves, with a level of difficulty of between 2 and 4. The Canyons cave system must be a highlight of any caving adventure in Davao Region, where, to reach the waterfall, you have to swim the 100 metres or so across the underground lake.


Samar

Other outstanding wet caves are found in southwest portions of Samar. Here you will also find vast galleries eroded smooth by the underground river in full spate. In the North of the Philippines, within the vast expanse of the Cordillera mountain range has many caves systems for the explorer and academic caver. Spanning the East side of North Luzon, along the Sierra Madre mountain range there also many cave systems, mostly unexplored: most interesting are along the Cagayan River, South of Penablanca.

Having said all that, there are cave systems in almost every mountainous location the Philippines, mostly unexplored by serious cavers.

Future Of Caving In The Philippines

Agricultural progress – replacing the overlying rainforest cover with farmed food crops - has diminished the continuity of water flow in many caves systems. Alongside the change of use of the overlying land has been the extraction of guano (for fertilizer) and the theft of swift nests (for sale to China). Both intrusions disturb the bats and swifts, which leave the caves and find new homes, less accessible to the guano extractors but also, frequently, farther from their food sources.

Some account of these negative forces is taken in areas where caving is proving a popular tourism enterprise for a community. The more visitors who come to enjoy exploration caving around the Philippines (especially cavers / potholers from Europe and North America), the more communities will appreciate the tourism enterprise potential of their caves and the more pressure will be applied on the community leaders to curb the detrimental activities.

Philippine Caving Myths

Once was that caving in the Philippines was only undertaken by treasure hunters. The treasure hunters were determined to find the fabled “Yamashitas Gold”. As the story goes: when General Yamashita’s forces were being pushed out of the Philippines towards the end of World War II, they fully expected to return and so, to make it easier for them to escape the advancing enemy, they secreted the gold, silver and jewels (looted during their Asian campaign) in various caves around the country.

Some treasure was extracted from caves above Penablanca, Cagayan, but probably a hundred times more than the value of the fabled Yamashita's Gold has been extracted from visitors to the Philippines, enticed by the prospect of a fast return on investment through funding a local cave exploration. If someone tells you of a sure-bet that there is Yamashita's Gold in a particular cave that only needs a small investment from you to extract it then best to forget it.

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Renting Caving Equipment In the Philippines

Renting caving equipment in the Philippines is possible at all organized caving locations. Skull caps and lamps, and rappelling gear where necessary, are all typically included in the caving permit fee, paid to the local municipality or village where the caves guides are engaged.

Food and water is typically available, provided by the local community, and you are encouraged to avail of this service so that the community realizes the value of caving as a tourist attraction that benefits the whole community. The benefit to you is that you will experience some of the indigenous culture and local food, made fresh from local produce. However, there is no restriction on bringing your own food and water if you prefer.

You will be required to provide your own footwear and clothing that you do not mind getting dirty and or wet while caving.

 

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