Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Swimming with the Whalesharks at Donsol

December 28, 2012

Donsol, Sorsogon is known as the Whaleshark capital of the world. It is a place where these large sea creatures breed and feed. Usually, the whalesharks are migratory, many of them stay at the seas of Donsol throughout the year and there is not a time in a year that most of them will get back to this same sea around March-May. As we have planned for our Bicol Roadtrip for 2012, this itinerary to Donsol has never left my mind and we should really go to this place.

As I had a peptalk with Annie, the resort manager of Vitton and Woodlands Resort, Donsol was unknown to the world 10 years ago not until a French diver discovered what the seas of Donsol have… enormous Whalesharks. And the word spread on.

Whalesharks are called Butanding to locals of Donsol. It was derived from the word “buta” which means “retreat” where fishermen, when they see this creature roaming around, they actually get back to the shores because they thought that the whalesharks are dangerous due to its size. But of course, now they know that these big creatures are very tame.

Donsol is not a white beach however, this area is a very serene area of the Bicol Region due to the fact that you may be able to reach Donsol by going up the mountains of Sorsogon then down to the shores of Donsol. This place is technically hidden from the main Maharlika Highway of the Philippines. This is definitely a great destination to get united with nature and with the whalesharks.
From Manila, Donsol is about 528 kilometers away and about 50 kilometers away from Legazpi city airport. Roads are very much in good condition but you do have to get through winding roads from Maharlika highway to Donsol.

When we arrived Donsol, the easterly caused by typhoon Quinta has just pummelled the Bicol region and thus the rains from Albay has went down to Donsol. It was 2AM of the 28th and we are short 9 kilometers from the tourist center and we have to stop by the road side because the Poi-C river has just overflown and is not passable by small vehicles. So I had to sleep instead and wait for the morning as I have been driving for 12 hours already. As I woke up by 7:00 AM, the flood has receded ankle-deep and my vehicle can pass through it already.

And so we arrived at Donsol, Sorsogon. The first thing we did was to stop over the Donsol Tourist Center and reserved for a slot for the Whaleshark viewing. The cost of the whaleshark viewing is P638/pax for a group of 6 in a boat. If you don’t have a snorkelling gear, you would need to rent for a snorkel and fins within the tourist center for P300/pax. After payment, you would then be given an orientation regarding how to keep distance and keep it safe when swimming with the whalesharks.
After registration, we are only 4 people full and would still need to wait for 2 more before we can proceed. So we used this time to seek for a place to stay.

Just beside the Tourist Center, there is Vitton Resort and from there we met Annie, the resort manager which coincidentally we have the same hometown back in Manila. The cheapest room she offered us was P1800 per night which includes a queen-sized bed, airconditioned, a TV and a bathroom. Upon knowing that we are backpackers, she smilingly offered us a cheaper room on another resort Vitton has just acquired and improved… The Woodlands resort which is only about less than 100 meters away from Vitton. It was surprisingly only P500/night per person! The backpacker package is a big room with 3 queen sized beds open for other occupants, no airconditioning and with open windows and a shared bathroom.

We did not hesitate to take the room because it was off-peak during that time so it seems we only paid for P1000 for a big room and we are the only occupants. Such a lucky day for us!

The Backpacker room at Woodlands Resort
Pool beside out hotel room

Beach front of Woodlands Resort where whalesharks thrive

Sunset by the shore at Donsol

After paying for the room, the tourist centre then called us and it is time to head off as our group is already complete. And so we hurried down excited to see whalesharks up close for the first time.

On the way to the whalesharks

The Whaleshark Spotter

We had about 8 dives that spanned to about 3 hours until our group has seen the whalesharks up close for 5 times. Lucky for my wife as she was able to see them 5 times as she was literally dragged by Joseph, the Butanding Information Officer (BIO) that accompanied us for the dive! I was unlucky though together with 4 other groups who wasn’t able to see the whalesharks. Out of 7 boats that went out, only 3 boats and that includes us that was able to swim with the sharks.

Joseph, the Butanding Information Officer

Myself scrambling to view whalesharks
And this whaleshark is just about 3 meters below us and is as big as a bus!

It is off-peak season and they said, usually only 3-4 whalesharks are on the sea. But during peak season March-May, there are more than 20 of them on the sea. So you may need to consider to get here during peak months however you need to reserve at least 4 days before you get to Donsol because we were informed it gets cramped up during peak season.

How we looked like after seeing the Whalesharks of Donsol

After  “gruelling” dives to the seas of Donsol, we then head back to our hotel and cook our own lunch.

By night time, there is a restaurant bar nearby for us to booze and dine. The BARacuda Bar offers very delicious Mediterranean cuisine cooked by the owner herself, Juliet. She is such a nice lady and very hospitable to both Filipino and foreign guests. In fact, aside from what we ordered, she sat with us, mingled and given us free shots of rhum.

I personally liked the pasta on red sauce and wine as everyone knows Mediterranean cuisine is one of my favourite dishes. Prices are way affordable than in Manila and I can say it is more great tasting!

New friends from Australia met at BARacuda

And so we had the best day in Donsol and it is time to take a nap and wake up early to head back to Legazpi City for our Mayon Volcano Adventure.

For more detailed information regarding the itinerary of this Bicol Road trip, check on the links below:


Vitton and Woodlands Resort Donsol: Annie – 09279136313
BARacuda Seafood and Cocktails: Juliet - 09266400863

Openstreetmap Philippines Map (link)
Schadow1 Expeditions Contributions (link)

How to use for your Navigation System (link)

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