Donsol, a small fishing village in the province of Sorsogon, is located southwest of Legazpi and although Oslob is also a popular destination for this activity, Donsol is the "Whale Shark Capital of the World". Another activity this small town offers is night firefly tours which was remarkable!
It was a 6:30am arrival at Don Sol. This very early arrival meant that we were already checked into our bungalow by 7:30am. There are no resorts in the local village so tourists need to stay about 10 minutes tricycle ride away by the beach front. The tricycle driver first took us to Dos Orios, a chilled out open spaced bungalow resort by the beach. We checked out some of the other resorts but decided to return to Dos Orios. There were not that many resorts there, because even though Don Sol is a top attraction for Whale sharks, tourists do not tend to stay more than two nights there. Our stay at this resort was great. It was run by a family which were all very helpful and friendly.
There were a few bungalows with foreigners but it was still very local and quaint. We met a friendly guy called Gerico at one of the dive centres who we chatted to and tried to help us out with further travels. We spent the morning trying to figure out how to get to Boracay. Walking around the area was the best way to see the place. We passed shacks with their surrounding bare gardens and Sari sari shops (small local shops selling practically anything you need) set up at the front of their houses. Rice was laid out on pavements and roads for drying.
They are extremely fond of cock fighting in this country and it was evident as many households had roosters attached to a string in their gardens or some housed many roosters at a time. We spent the rest of the day relaxing at the resort and in the late afternoon before sunset walked through the sand bank shore searching for marine life trapped by the lowering of the tide. Local children searched for Casag (crabs), excited to interact with us and digging holes in the sand to try to get the crabs to fight, whilst chanting away. We saw various different types of casagas and other weird and wonderful creatures. The sun set was breath taking, creating marvellous coloured swirls in the sky.
On the second afternoon we returned to the shores during sunset to join the locals again. A local man caught something small and when I went to investigate it was a small fugita (octopus). He saw our enthusiasm in all the little creatures they were finding and kept showing us what he found. All the children and Max crowded around the octopus to observe.
We saw the smallest puffer fish, palad (flat fish) and octopus ever and a sea horse. Unfortunately most of these were being caught for their dinner that night. We spent about an hour and a half roaming the sand bank shores. The local children would always ask our names and try to interact with us with the little English they knew, teaching us philipino words. One girl was sweet enough to give me a shell as a gift.
That evening we took the hour and a half night firefly tour. Only being able to visit via boat there were five people per boat and we sailed through a river in search for the habituated trees. Each tree housed a family of thousands of fire flies, all lit up like little specks of light in the darkness. They were not found on every tree but the trees which they habitated eautifully lit up like a Christmas tree. We sat there in the darkness watching in the peaceful silence.
We finished the night dining at BARacuda restaurant, which had been recommended to us. They served fresh fish cooked by the owner Juliet who showed us the catch of the day in a bowl. The restaurant was situated on the beach with a very nice atmosphere and music playing in the background. We opted to try Jackfish, a local fish recommended by Juliet which turned out to be delicious. Even though prices are just a bit higher than other restaurants every dish we saw looked and smelt great and all customers seemed very happy. Apart from the restaurant there are also bungalows available. Juliet was proud of her cooking and very friendly, she even gave us tips on how to get to Boracay from there. We highly recommend this restaurant.
Donsol is renouned for Whale Sharks sightings. These gentle giants are protected here by WWF guidelines and follow certain rules such as restricting contact to only snorkelling at least 3 metres away and limiting the number of snorkellers to six to a boat.
Today was the day we had been waiting for and our main reason for travelling all this way to Donsol. We met at the Information Centre at 7am ready to be allocated to a boat for our whale shark (Butanding) diving experience. There were six to a boat plus the guide, driver and spotter. We sailed out about a kilometre into the waters, where these large gentle creatures are found, before we noticed a few boats gathered around at a specific area. They had spotted a Butanding! Because they come to the surface they are easily spotted but considering the large ocean it can be quite challenging. It only took seconds from the time the whale was spotted to us swimming alongside it. We had to put on all our gear (snorkel, mask and flipper) and sit on the edge of the boat ready to jump when the guide told us to. When we were directed to jump we jumped and followed the guide to the shark. The first shark was small (around 7 metres) and swam near the surface with it’s dorsal fin protruding out of the water. The largest we spotted being around 10 metres in length. It was easy to follow and it didn’t even seem bothered about us swimming next to it. However, we could not keep up with any of them for more than a couple of minutes before it swam away or dived downwards into the deep depths of the sea. Even though each dive was short lived it the excitement was great.
Spotting whale sharks was challenging. The first two were not as difficult but we sailed in search for a long time before another boat sited the third. To our relief we successfully managed to swim five times with three different sharks within the three hours we were out at sea and for £15, which is very cheap, I would definitely do it again!
These Butanding migrate to Donsol area from January to May but this year they saw sightings as early as November. We were informed that the adults, thus the larger ones, had already migrated away as it was nearing the time for them to move on and the young remained in the area for a little bit longer. I wasn’t going to complain, yes it would be amazing to see the bigger sharks but I was more than satisfied swimming with the smaller ones, which in actual fact are still quite big and impressive!
After our tour we visited the medical centre to remove Max’s stitches and then walked around the town, visiting the local market and the shoreline. The town was very underdeveloped and very local, which we loved. Huts on stilts lined the beach and we were amused when we saw the ‘Donsol Centre’ sign when there was so little to it.
We were watched every step we took, people would smile and children would wave. We could tell they were still not accustomed to seeing foreigners walking around their village very much. We bought a few snacks and headed back to our resort to eat. We opted out of seeing Mayon Volcano near Legazpi because it was an hours drive away and we had seen it from the boat, surrounded by clouds so we didn’t take the risk.
Whale Shark Diving
It only took seconds from the time the whale was spotted to us swimming alongside it!
Watching the silhouettes of the locals walking along the shore with the sun set behind them was picture-perfect.
Having decided to catch the earliest ferry from Pilar to Masbate, at 7:30am, we had to leave the resort at 6am in order for the tricycle to get us to the station in time to catch a jeepney to Pilar. One of the family members, named Sunshine, was kind enough to wake up early to arrange the tricycle for us. Even having arrived early the first ferry was full so we had no option but to take the 8:30am ferry which took just over two hours.