It is said that the schools of whale sharks that one sees in Donsol are among the largest that one can see anywhere in the world. During the months from November to June, these huge creatures gather in the Donsol Bay to feed on the abundant planktons. Swimming with whale sharks, referred to as ‘butanding’ locally, was described in 2004 by Time magazine as the ‘Best Animal Encounter in Asia’.
Location of Donsol
Donsol is on the southernmost side of Luzon Island, which is the largest island in the Philippines and the economic centre of the country. It is in Sorsogon, the province that forms the tip of the Bicol Peninsula.
Activity options in Donsol
You cannot dive in Donsol Bay. However, there are two nearby places, namely San Miguel Island and Manta Bowl, which are good dive sites where you can see whale sharks along with other sea creatures like manta rays, hammerhead sharks etc.
Snorkelling is allowed in Donsol Bay and local fishermen who work as guides will accompany you in the boat and help you to snorkel with whale sharks. If you are planning to snorkel in peak season, it is better to book a slot for ‘whale shark interaction’ sufficiently in advance.
Another interesting activity in Donsol is ‘firefly watching’ in Donsol River and Ogod River where you can cruise at night and watch fireflies completely lighting up mangroves or coconut trees.
Donsol is a great place for kayaking, trekking, and shrimp catching also. Donsol does not have an ATM and tourists must remember to carry enough cash.
Best time to visit Donsol
March and April are the best months to visit Donsol because these are the months when the rivers have an abundance of whale sharks. Since the waters around are full of planktons during these months, a large number of whale sharks come to feed on them. While March and April are the peak seasons, whale sharks will be there from December to May and sometimes even from November itself and till June.
In the places where diving is allowed, all the year is suitable for diving.
Where to stay in Donsol
In the Donsol town centre, there are resorts, hotels, and reasonably-priced homestays, together with eateries and shops that serve tourists. Besides that, there is a barangay named Dancalan on the western side of the town centre, at about a distance of 2 km. (Donsol is a municipality and barangay is a subdivision of a municipality.) Dancalan has many resorts and dive shops and a Visitor Centre.
The resorts in Dancalan organize whale shark tours and snorkelling trips. While there are choice resorts with many amenities in Dancalan, there are also budget hotels or simple bungalows that serve backpackers and the like.
Dive resorts of Donsol:
- Giddy’s Place PADI Dive Resort provides all amenities like spa, bar, restaurant, and WiFi, and offers diving lessons. It is a 3 star resort that is functional throughout the year.
- Ticao Island Resort is located in Ticao Island at a distance of 1.5 hours drive from Donsol. There are many dive sites around it with an abundance of large fishes and soft corals.
- Donsol Bay Resort provides the visitors a very comfortable stay and arranges guided tours.
- Hotel Venezia in Legaspi City is a boutique hotel with 40 rooms. It is near the Mayon Volcano.
- Elysia Beach Resort is a 3 stars resort with beachfront deluxe rooms. It is a good place for relaxing and going for whale shark encounters.
- The three stars Amore Farm Beach Resort, Vitton Beach Resort, and Woodland Resort are affordable resorts with swimming pool and good food and friendly staff.
- Dancalan Beach Resort is near the Donsol Tourism Centre where tourists have to register for whale shark watching. It is a 2.5 stars resort that has 10 rooms. However, Dancalan resorts are seasonal, being open only from December till May (the whaleshark season).
- AGM Beachfront Resort, a 3 stars resort, is also in Dancalan.
Donsol – Elysia Beach Resort
Situated on the shores of Donsol, this resort provides one of the best places to encounter the largest and most mysterious fish in the world, known to be the Whale Shark. With fully furbished gardens and lawns, the resort is an ideal place to relax. Accommodations are comfortable, clean, naturally-styled, and air-conditioned, with either pool or ocean view. We suggest a quick visit here for an opportunity to witness and interact with Whale Sharks and perhaps hiking to an active volcano, the Mt. Mayon. These activities can be followed by a longer stay at another place, the Ticao Island Resort.
Ticao Island Resort
Unwind to the calmness of the environment on an island surrounded by white sandy beaches, clear blue water and shade from a large number of coconut trees. The resort features 9 beachfront cabanas, constructed using local materials with a veranda, a secluded bathroom and air-conditioning. This resort is the best place to have a getaway from daily hassles. The resort is coupled with charming Filipino hospitality and genuine smiles plus quite a few fine dive sites. You will surely leave with a relaxed and satisfied feeling.
The dive center of the resort has kept a few secrets on its own and provides you with an astounding option for such a small atoll. The house reef is full with corals and vibrant creatures. Just one dive in these reefs can surely make you relaxed and satisfied with the balanced ecosystem and diversity of the marine life. One of the popular spots nearby is the Manta Bowl, a station for feeding and cleaning of Mantas. If that’s not sufficient to suit your taste, the Ticao pass is a place to go where Threshers, Whale Sharks, Tiger Sharks and Hammerheads are commonly found. The house reef is also perfect for snorkelers. SDI and PADI courses are also offered.
How to reach Donsol
The nearest airport is Legaspi Airport and you will have to take a domestic flight from Cebu or Manila to Legaspi. Both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific run flights to Legaspi. From Manila, there are many daily flights to Legaspi while from Cebu there is only one flight a day, for three days a week – on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Many buses ply between Manila and Legaspi every day, including night buses. The distance between the two cities is 500 km and the journey takes nearly 10 hours. There is also a daily bus direct from Manila to Donsol. The distance is 550 km and travel duration is about 12 hours. From Legaspi to Donsol, the driving time is about an hour. Bus companies like Cagsawa and PhilTranco are the recommended ones for travelling these routes.
Getting around in Donsol
Tricycles, which are motorcycles with a sidecar, are a popular mode of transport is Donsol. They function more or less like taxis. Jeepneys, a modified jeep that is another popular public transport all over the Philippines, is available for travelling from Pilar to Legaspi. Buses and vans operating under the name UV express also ply this route (though they are not very frequent).
Scuba Diving in Donsol?
Check out our Donsol dive guide and start planning your next dive trip!