Where: Donsol, Sorsogon
Who: Mr, Mrs & Little Miss Wanderlust
When: April 2013
What: Swim with the Whalesharks the gentle giants of Donsol Bay.
A sleepy rural town in the Bicol region, until it recently became popular for being featured in one of tv shows for having awesome animal encounters with whalesharks. But not only whalesharks will be seen as there are also other great sights to see and things to do in this town.
Book a 1 hour flight from Manila to Legaspi via Philippine Airlines, Air Philippines or Cebu Pacific. Flights are usually early in the morning and at lunchtime. The latest flight out of Legaspi to Manila is usually at 2:10PM.
Then, take a 5-min tricycle ride from the airport to the shuttle terminal (about Php 80 or US$1.70 per tricycle (fits 3 passengers) from inside the airport, Php 30 or US$ 0.65 per tricycle from across the street from the airport).
Finally, take a 1-hour land trip via public airconditioned Shuttle to Donsol (about Php 80 or US$1.70 but you have to wait until the shuttle is full
Take a 12-14 hour trip to Donsol. Buses from Manila usually leave from the Cubao Terminal beside Ali Mall at 1PM and 4PM via Lobrigo Lines and they arrive in Donsol at 3AM and 6AM respectively. Outside of these times you may opt to take any bus to Legaspi (usually one leaves every hour) and take a public shuttle or jeep from either Legaspi or Daraga. Please note that the last trip to Donsol from Legaspi is at 5PM and 6PM from Daraga. Plan to arrive earlier as these trips tend to leave early when their full already. Alternatively, you may asked to be fetched by private van at PHP 2,000 per van to Donsol.
Buses leave Donsol for Manila at 12NN but these stay in Pilar Town (30 min from Donsol) until about 5PM. Alternatively, you can opt to leave Donsol for Pilar at 3 or 4 PM to catch the bus to Manila from Pilar. Public transport is available from Donsol to Pilar or you may rent a van for about Php 600 or US$12.50.
Tourism continues to develop piecemeal in Donsol. The first hotel established in the area is the Amor Farm Beach Resort in 1997 followed by the Woodland Beach Resort in 1998 which started off as a family vacation house. Interest to visit the quaint and quiet town grew as soon as news of whale shark sightings grew amongst the international marine biologist community. Tourists can now avail of rooms that cater to all financial budgets, from the backpacker to the family vacationer from various resorts and homestays in Donsol.
Most establishments accept only cash and the nearest bank or ATM is an hour away in Legaspi. Giddy's Place PADI Dive Resort is the only resort that accepts credit card payments to date. It is also the only resort open all year round as the others are only open during whaleshark season (December to May). Landlines are non existent in Donsol and most rely on mobile phones. Internet service just came to Donsol in 2008 using cellular technology. There are a few internet shops in town.
1. Swim with the Butanding (Whaleshark) - Swimming with whale sharks was featured as the Best Animal Encounter in Asia by Time Magazine in 2004. Whale sharks can be seen between November and June, with presence peaking between February and May.
Interaction with the whale sharks is regulated by the local Department of Tourism (DOT) office. WWF guidelines are generally observed to protect the sharks. Rules include limiting the number of swimmers per boat to six, no scuba divers and staying further than three meters from the sharks.
2. Cruise the river at night only guided by the light of Fireflies - While most people come to Donsol for the Whale Sharks, the firefly tours are a well worthwhile experience too. Your hotel should be able to organize a Tricycle for you to be taken to the wharf.
3. Shrimp-catching night tour - this tour is also available all year round as local fishermen together with your guides assist you and show how to catch shrimp at night.
4. Explore around you - Donsol also has great trekking and biking site due mainly to the abundance of hilly areas and fields.
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