Diving with whale sharks at Donsol.
The main attraction in Donsol are the whale sharks, ever since they’ve been ‘discovered’ in 1998. You can go on a diving trip or a snorkelling trip, which will take you to Manta Bowl (2 hours boat ride) where the whale sharks are; they’re not in Donsol itself. As the name Manta Bowl suggests, manta rays are to be seen here as well. The whale sharks are not fed here, unlike some other places like Oslob. As you can imagine (hopefully), it is not a good thing to feed whale sharks as they will no longer be able to support themselves and become dependant on the food they are given, which isn’t right for them even. So it is highly advised to not visit these kind of places.
Not so known, but another attraction in Donsol are the firefly tours; a boat will take you along the river where several locations are concentrated with fireflies. Donsol itself is a rather sleepy town without any attractions, you’ll find an ATM here, some internet cafe’s, plenty of shops and places to eat, but otherwise not very exciting.
My Donsol experience:
I came with a group of 8 backpackers from Legazpi, after a 1,5h minivan ride we were dropped off at Dancalan resort, while we had requested to be dropped off in Donsol. But seeing the resort and being able to share a php1200 room with 4 people, it seemed a great deal. Also we were right at the beach and near all diving and snorkelling trips. We all went to plan the snorkelling trip for the next day (somewhere around php1000), but after hearing that the chance to see them was actually quite small, 5 of us arranged a dive trip for php3200; a 90% chance to see them! All people we talked to saw them, some even up to 7.
We enjoyed the resort for that day, went swimming, enjoyed great food at the restaurant (not very cheap, but good quality, great staff here by the way), played pool at the bar and at night we went for the firefly tour. I didn’t expect much of it, but it turned out quite nice. A boat took us down the river, seeing a few fireflies here and there, until we found a few locations that were covered with them. We hang around a few of the locations, trading position with the other few boats to let everyone get close to them. The fireflies light up to attract prey or mates. It was quite hard to get any good shots or film, especially from the rocking boat, but here’s a sample:
Next day after a quick breakfast at 6am our group went on our diving trip, first to San Miguel, where we would all do a test-dive and the dive masters would check out abilities. If for example our buoyancy wouldn’t be good, we would not be allowed to do the 2 dives at Manta Bowl. But we were all ok and left for Manta Bowl, seeing whale sharks from the boat when we neared our first diving location. Really excited we all jumped into the water, but we were separated from 1 one of our group who had clearing problems (one of the dive masters stayed with hime of course). Turned out he was the lucky one, because he was the only one that saw a whale shark that day. We saw manta rays twice, which was nice, but not what we came for. So it turned out a very disappointing day for most of us.. Apparently there’s a dive shop in Donsol which gives a guarantee, so if you don’t see them, you’ll get a new free dive trip. If only we had known before. No one on the snorkelling trip saw them either.
So at night we drank our sorrow away at the nearby cocktail bar BARacuda, which serves some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had, and is run by a cool english guy. The next couple of days the group slowly fell apart as people headed for different locations, while some of us chilled at the resort for a few more days, sipping cocktails at night.
Planning a trip to Donsol:
Whale sharks usually arrive between November and June, best time to sight them being February to April.
What to know about Donsol:
The diving here is for Advanced divers only, because of the strong currents, although they do let Open Water divers do it. For our group they had the Open Water divers pay for an extra dive master. We were all ok, the dive wasn’t as extreme as we expected. But please note: it is illegal. The diving shop is not allowed to do this (the dive master can get in serious trouble) and your insurance will likely not cover you if anything goes wrong during the trip.
From Manila it’s 12hour busride (depending on your bus) to Legazpi, from where it’s an easy 1,5 cramped minivan ride to Donsol. It’s worth staying in Legazpi for a day or two if you have the time.
Conclusion & rating
Overal we had a good time, especially thanks to the nice beach resort and nearby BARacuda bar. Not seeing the whale sharks while diving was disappointing of course. I was happy to have joined a group, which made the whole thing way more enjoyable.
Rating (out of 10):
OVERAL EXPERIENCE; 7
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: 7
EASY TO TRAVEL: 7
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