Donsol was once a sleepy seaside village until the discovery of Butandin (AKA the Whale Shark) by a group of SCUBA divers in 1998 started making waves. Now from the months of November to May Filipinos and foreigners alike flock to this site to experience these gentle giants. One of the beauties of this experience is that you don't even need a dive tank. These whale sharks conveniently enjoy cruising around the surface and with a simple mask and snorkel you too can swim along beside.
The first time you are thrown out of the boat and approach the creature the sheer size is guaranteed to stop you in your tracks. But by the time you've had your third or fourth sighting, you will have perfected the best way to swim beside the giant and marvel. Sadly it's impossible to keep up with them forever though! The operation is really impressive with all the local banca boat drivers involved, who pride themselves on their keen eye for whale spotting. You instantly get the impression that the discovery has changed the area for the better with many locals employed in the tourism industry, as well as the realisation that their whale sharks need to be protected, not destroyed.
Where to stay
A range of accommodation is scattered along the coastal strip.
Vitton Beach Resort is one of the closest to the action, located right next to the visitors centre. In peak season it is worth noting that accommodation fills up fast, so book ahead! If you want something cheap and cheerful there are a few homestays available, just have a thorough search around on the net before you go. You will inevitably have to travel a bit further to get to the visitors’ center if you choose this option.
Woodland Beach Resort is another good option, right on the ocean and a five-minute walk down the street to the whale shark interaction center. There's a pool, lounge chairs, a restaurant/ bar and budget friendly 5 hours of happy hour drink specialities per day! What more could you ask for? The staff are also super friendly and the there are plenty of other backpackers/travelers to see the sights and hang out with. The “backpacker” dorm room costs 500 php/ bed per night. There are 3 beds to a room and each room has a bathroom.
Giddys is another popular choice located in Donsol town, however again you will have to travel slightly further to get from here to the whale shark interaction center.
Things to do
- Whale sharks: What else are you here for? This is the absolute must do in Donsol! As whale sharks are wild animals, viewings of them are never guaranteed, but Donsol is as guaranteed as you are ever going to get! Arrive at the whale shark interaction center between 7 am and 2 pm (we would highly advise against going before 9 am to avoid the crowds. When you arrive you will get into a boat, each boat can hold 6 people and costs 3,500php. (Obviously, if you prefer to go with fewer people, you can, it will just cost you more). The boat trip lasts around three hours which is the perfect amount of time, especially if you get to see a couple right in the beginning. You can jump in and swim with the gentle giants whenever you like.
Firefly Tour: Take a trike to 'the bridge' for a firefly tour (trike 15 php per person, tour 250php per person). You get an hour long river tour with a guide and you will see glowing trees full of fireflies! The tours start at 5pm and finish at 9 pm, and we recommend to go when it’s fully dark so you can see all the fireflies in all their glory!
- Scuba Dive: As is common in the Philippines, there are some great dive sites around. It's not a bad place to relax on the beach for a while either!
- Barracuda: Grab yourself some really tasty fish and pasta from Barracuda owned by a fantastic Filipino lady who has spent time as a chef overseas. She'll bring prawns and fish to your table so you can choose whatever takes your fancy. This place also has some of the cheaper rooms (with shared bathrooms) along the Donsol strip and is only a short walk from the whale shark area.
- Hang out with other backpackers! After an adventurous day, grab a beer and head to the beach to discuss your travel stories of the day!
- By Road: From Legazpi take a private van to Donsol which takes about one and a half hours and will cost you around 1500 php or you can take a trike to the bus terminal (50 php) and get a seat in a shared van for 75 php.The shared van (a UV express) will leave when the van is full so you may have to wait up to an hour. Vans will await you at the airport, or for a less touristy price try the van terminal in Legazpi town. Or if you're a fan of the lengthier South East Asian bus trip, get a bus all the way from Manila.
- Fly: You can fly from Manila (and other locations) into the Legazpi airport.
(see Boracay section for information on Philippines Airlines)
Where to go next?
- Naga/Bagasbas: (2 hours from Legaspi) for some surf and beach time.
- Cam Sur wakeboard park: Only 5 minutes from Naga airport, Camarines Sur is actually the number one tourist destination in the Philippines, despite the fact that Boracay gets more foreign tourists. The area has made a real effort to support the development and the results really show!
- Caramoan: The set of US hit show 'Survivor', the Caramoan Islands are making their way onto the backpacker map and epitomise the idea of island hopping.
Article updated in 2015 by Jennifer Poole of No Address Nomad.