Donsol is a municipality located in Sorsogon. It used to be just a simple and quiet coastal town where the locals lived off from the bounty of the land and sea. But tourism surged when its gentle and gigantic sea creatures gained media attention. It didn't take long before the sleepy town of Donsol became a huge attraction in the country. Soon, resorts, inns, and other various establishments were popping left and right on its shores to accommodate the huge number of tourists it receives every year.
The butanding or whale shark is undeniably the king of Donsol's marine life. After their presence was discovered in 1998, the town became a premier destination for underwater tourism. Boat tours are offered in Donsol where tourists can snorkel near with the whale sharks. The tour guides also share informative and fun trivia about these sea creatures. The government and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have been working together to ensure the safety and preservation of the whale sharks in Donsol.
Diving is an even better way to explore the rich marine life of Donsol. There are numerous dive sites around with different kinds of colorful fish and corals. Aside from the whale sharks, there are other huge creatures lurking in its seas like manta rays, thresher sharks, and hammerheads.
Other attractions in Donsol include a firefly tour and a shrimp catching tour at night. Biking and trekking are ideal activities as well because of the abundance of hills and fields.
Tourists will have to fly to Legazpi, Albay, since there are no direct flights to Donsol. From Manila, there are daily flights to Legazpi via Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. The flight is only one hour. From the airport, you can take a private van to Donsol. You can also head to the bus station via tricycle where you can take a public van for a more affordable ride.
You can also ride a bus from Manila all the way to Donsol via Philtranco. You can choose between ordinary and air conditioned. Travel time lasts about 12 hours.
How to Get Around
Tricycles are available if you want to get around Donsol. There are also motorbike rentals if you know how to drive one.
What to See
The highlight of any visit to Donsol is to swim with the gentle giants of the sea—the whale sharks or locally known as butanding. There are various sites around the Philippines where you can also see some whale sharks, but the process in Donsol is regulated properly by the Department of Tourism and abides by the guidelines set by the World Wildlife Fund. No wonder Donsol is considered the “Whale Shark Capital of the World.”
Whale shark interaction is strictly limited to snorkeling only. In addition, snorkelers are only allowed to swim at least three meters away from these sea creatures. The butanding converge in Donsol Bay during the months of November to June, while most of them come to the surface from March to May.
Aside from swimming with the whale sharks, another highly recommended activity in Donsol is to go on a cruise along the Donsol River at night. The Ogod River, one of the arteries of Donsol River, has lush vegetation inhabited by fireflies. The Firefly River Tour presents a stunning spectacle of lights from the insects that will dazzle anyone. The tour usually begins just before sunset.
And if you have a couple of days to spare, why not head over to Ticao Island off the coast of Masbate for an exciting diving adventure? While you’re there, you can either choose to dive at Manta Bowl or San Miguel Island. Both dive sites feature fascinating underwater worlds teeming with fish, corals, and various sea creatures.
Activities to Try
You can also try shrimp catching when in Donsol, where you’ll learn some of its traditional ways from the fishing communities. Shrimp catching is one of the important sources of livelihood for the people of Donsol.
Events and Festivals
To usher in the whale shark season, the town of Donsol celebrates the annual Butanding Festival every April as thanksgiving for the blessings that the whale sharks have brought for the people of Donsol. The highlight of the festival is the street parade of life-sized images of butanding on floats as well as street dancing from contingents from various provinces in Bicol.
Where to Eat
BARacuda Restaurant in Donsol serves delightful Italian food. The restaurant’s rustic setting and friendly staff, especially Juliette the owner, add to the pleasant dining experience. Their offerings range from delectable dishes made with the freshest ingredients and a fine selection of cocktails.
For fiery Bicolano dishes, head to Kawnkita Restaurant at Amor Farm Beach Resort for their quirky sounding but appetizing dishes like It’s the best thing, Laing!; Hot off the press, Bicol Express; and Forget me not, Kinunot!
The Butanding Bar and Restaurant is yet another favorite dining spot in Donsol. It serves a mean crispy pata that is so good, you won’t regret cheating on your diet. The restobar also offers below zero beers and frozen margaritas. They also serve the finest locally made coffee.
Fare: PHP 3,500.00++
The roundtrip airfare from Manila to Legazpi is roughly PHP 3,500.00, but you can score lower prices during seat sales. The private vans to Donsol at the airport is PHP 1,500.00 to PHP 2,000.00 one-way, but the public vans at the nearby bus station is only PHP 80.00 to PHP 100.00 per head.
If you’re taking the bus from Manila to Donsol, the one-way fare costs around PHP 800.00 to PHP 900.00.
Tricycle fares in Donsol are rather cheap at PHP 8.00 to PHP 10.00 per head. Meanwhile, motorbike rentals vary. You can arrange this with your hotel.
Food: PHP 200.00 to PHP 300.00
Dining in Donsol is relatively affordable. On average, you only have to spend about PHP 200.00 to PHP 300.00 per meal.
Shopping: PHP 20.00 to PHP 300.00
Key chains and ref magnets are available for about PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00 per piece. You can also grab souvenir shirts starting at PHP 200.00.
Accommodations: PHP 900.00 to PHP 4,500.00
For budget travelers, comfortable rooms at homestays and hostels are available for only PHP 900.00 a night. Hotel rooms, meanwhile, range from PHP 2,500.00 to PHP 4,500.00 for an overnight stay.
Activities: PHP 3,500.00++
Swimming with the whale sharks will cost you around PHP 3,500.00, inclusive of boat rental good for six persons and a tour guide. Snorkeling equipment is also available for rent at PHP 300.00. For the Firefly River Tour, the price is PHP 1,250.00 for a maximum of five people per boat.
Other Fees and Taxes: PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00
When you dine at restaurants, tipping is no longer necessary especially if a service charge is already included in the bill. But if you insist, you can leave a small amount of PHP 20.00 to PHP 50.00.