Donsol Travel Guide: The Whale Shark Capital of the World

Nestled in an idyllic fishing village, Donsol proudly holds the title of the whale shark capital of the world, where sustainable tourism practices are championed.

Why go to Donsol

Donsol offers a rare opportunity to swim alongside the largest creatures in the sea, the awe-inspiring whale sharks, locally known as “butanding.” From November to June, these gentle giants grace the waters off the coast of Donsol, feeding on plankton, krill, and small fish. While other destinations in the Philippines also promote whale shark encounters, Donsol stands out as the only place where you can witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Beyond the thrilling experience of swimming with whale sharks, the waters between Donsol and Ticao Islands also attract elusive manta rays, adding to the allure of marine encounters.

In addition to the captivating marine life, Donsol offers a range of activities both on land and in the surrounding waters. Delve into traditional shrimping under the night sky, embark on enchanting firefly-watching boat tours, explore nearby islands on exhilarating island-hopping adventures, or indulge in the adrenaline rush of cliff diving. On land, immerse yourself in the town’s heritage by visiting the historic Barcelona Church and the charming old houses in Juban. For further exploration, neighboring towns beckon with attractions like Irosin’s rejuvenating hot and cold springs and Bacon District’s pristine beaches.

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When to go to Donsol

To maximize your chances of encountering whale sharks, plan your visit to Donsol between November and June. However, if diving is your primary focus, it is advisable to visit after February, as the northeast monsoon from November to January may bring unpredictable rainfall and strong winds. Keep in mind that most resorts are closed during the off-season. Nevertheless, many other activities can be enjoyed year-round, ensuring a memorable trip to Donsol.

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Where to stay in Donsol

When choosing accommodation in Donsol, two main areas should be considered. The town center provides proximity to the market, church, shops, and eateries, while Dancalan Beach, located approximately 2 kilometers away, is home to the shark interaction center, most resorts, and dive shops. Staying in the town center is generally more affordable, but it necessitates commuting to Dancalan for whale shark interactions, diving, and water-based activities. Fortunately, the town has adapted well to the influx of tourists over the past two decades, offering a range of decent accommodations. Options include dorm beds starting at around 500 PHP per night, various homestays averaging around 1,000 PHP, and beach resorts along the coastal strip with room rates ranging from 2,000 PHP to 3,000 PHP per night, many of which boast sea views from the rooms or common areas.

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Where to eat in Donsol

Dining options in Donsol are somewhat limited, particularly during the off-season. Many visitors opt to bring supplies from Legazpi before heading to Donsol. However, there are local eateries and food stalls in the town center where you can savor traditional dishes. It’s worth noting that these establishments tend to close early. Bicolano cuisine takes center stage, featuring delights such as laing (taro leaves in coconut milk), Bicol Express (pork in coconut milk and chilies), seaweed salad, kinunot (stingray flakes in coconut milk and chilies), and crab simmered in coconut milk. Sorsogon favorites like binut-ong (sticky rice with coconut milk), kinagang (buko with crabmeat, shrimp, or scallops), hinagom (rice delicacy), and kuyog (fermented or fried anchovy-like fish) are also commonly available. Resort-owned restaurants like Kawnkita and Elysia offer a variety of local dishes, including those mentioned above, along with continental options. Dos Orio Cafe Bar and Restaurant focuses on Italian and Japanese cuisine, offering sushi and pasta, while Giddy’s Place is renowned for their crispy pata (deep-fried pork knuckles) and happy hour promotions.

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How to get around Donsol

Within Donsol, the primary mode of transportation is tricycles, the local version of tuk-tuks, which are readily available throughout the island and can take you to any desired location. A tricycle ride from the town center to Dancalan, where the shark interaction center is located, costs around 20 PHP and takes approximately 15 minutes. Jeepneys and UV express vehicles are also available for longer trips to neighboring places like Legazpi and Pilar. Additionally, scooters or motorbikes can be rented from locals, although there are no specialized motorbike rental shops. Asking around among the locals can help you find someone willing to “loan” their bike for a fee.

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How to get to and from Donsol

The fastest way to reach Donsol is by flying to Legazpi and then taking a van, bus, or jeepney to the town. Cebu Pacific offers several daily flights from Manila, with prices ranging from 1,500 PHP to 4,500 PHP. The flight duration is approximately 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes. From Cebu, the same airline operates flights to Legazpi, costing between 2,000 PHP and 4,000 PHP.

Philippine Airlines provides flights from Manila to Legazpi, with a travel time of about 50 minutes to an hour. Flights from Cebu are significantly more expensive, ranging from 5,000 PHP to 13,000 PHP for a one-way ticket.

For a more economical option, consider taking a bus from Manila to Donsol. Philtranco buses depart from terminals in Pasay and Cubao, and the journey takes approximately 12 to 13 hours, depending on traffic conditions. Air-conditioned bus tickets cost between 840 PHP and 860 PHP.

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From Legazpi Airport, you can take a tricycle to the market satellite and then catch a van or UV Express to Donsol. The travel time is usually around 1.5 hours, and the fares range from 70 PHP to 75 PHP. Alternatively, jeepneys also travel to Donsol, with fares priced at 60 PHP, although the trip may take longer due to frequent stops.

If you’re coming from Masbate, you can take a ferry to Pilar. Montenegro Shipping Lines operates multiple fastcraft and Roro vessels with prices ranging from 236 PHP to 396 PHP, and travel times varying between 2 and 3 hours. Consult their website for booking and schedule details. From Pilar, it only takes about 20 minutes to reach Donsol by van or jeepney.

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Is Donsol a safe place to visit?

As a remote fishing village, Donsol is generally safe, free from the typical dangers and annoyances associated with larger cities. In fact, the primary concern lies in ensuring the safety of the whale sharks themselves. Fortunately, the whale shark interaction tour is well-regulated, prioritizing the welfare of both the magnificent creatures and the visitors. However, if you plan on diving, it is strongly recommended to obtain travel insurance to protect against potential accidents.