Donsol Travel Guide
In a nutshell
Donsol is an idyllic fishing village that is dubbed the whale shark capital of the world as well as an advocate of sustainable tourism.
Why go to Donsol
It isn't everyday that you get to swim with the largest creatures in the sea but between November to June, you just might get your chance. Also known locally as "butanding", the whale sharks frequent the sea off-shore of Donsol around this time of year to feed on plankton, krill, and other small fishes.
Donsol is not the only place promoted as a whale shark watching spot in the country but it is the only place where you see them truly in the wild. After an exhilarating time swimming alongside these gentle giants, you can try your luck in spotting equally rare manta rays which also frequent the waters between Donsol and Ticao Islands.
Closer to shore, you can engage in some traditional shrimping under the night sky or else get on a boat to watch the magical fireflies. Of course you can always go on an island hopping tour or cliff diving adventures, too. On land, you may visit the Barcelona Church and the old houses in Juban for a little heritage tour. If you're up for more, there are other areas of interest in neighbouring towns like the cold and hot spring in Irosin and the beaches in Bacon district.
When to go to Donsol
If you're going for some whale shark sighting then head to Donsol between the months of November to June. If you're planning to do some diving then it is better to come after February since the northeast monsoon from November to January will account for erratic rainfall and strong winds. Do take note, too, that most resorts are closed off season. Other activities however can be enjoyed the entire year.
Where to stay in Donsol
Visitors have to consider only two areas when choosing where to stay in Donsol. You can either stay in the town centre where you'll be near the market, church, shops, and eateries or in Dancalan beach located about 2 kilometres away. Dancalan is where the shark interaction centre is located as well as most resorts and dive shops. As a rule, it is cheaper to stay in town but it also means having to travel to and from Dancalan for your whale shark interaction, diving, and other water based activities.
Fortunately, the rural town has adapted well to the influx of tourists during the last two decades and has made decent accommodations available. It is possible to book a dorm bed for as low as 500PHP per night while various homestays can be had for around 1000PHP. Room rates in beach resorts along the coastal strip normally range between 2,000PHP and 3,000PHP per night.
Where to eat in Donsol
Dining options in Donsol are rather limited, more so during off season. Most people who we know actually bring in supplies from Legazpi before heading over to Donsol.
There are however eateries and food stalls in the town centre where you can enjoy local dishes but do know that these establishments closes early.
Bicolano dishes such as laing (taro leaves with coconut milk ), Bicol Express ( pork with coconut milk and chilies ), seaweed salad, kinunot (stingray flakes in coconut milk and chilies), crab simmered in coconut milk, and a lot more are commonly available.
You will also find Sorsogon favorites like binut-ong (sticky rice with coconut milk), kinagang (buko with crabmeat and shrimp or scallops), hinagom (rice delicacy), and kuyog (fermented or fried anchovy like fish).
Resort owned restaurants like Kawnkita and Elysia offer various local dishes mentioned above plus other continental choices. Dos Orio Cafe Bar and Restaurant leans more toward Italian and Japanese menu like sushi and pasta while Giddy's Place is known for their crispy pata and happy hour.
How to get around Donsol
The usual mode of transportation within Donsol is tricycles (local version of tuk-tuk) which can take you anywhere on the island. A ride from the town centre to Dancalan if you're going to the whale shark interaction centre is 20PHP and takes about 15 minutes.
There are also jeepneys and UV express but these are for when you need to travel to neighbouring places like Legazpi and Pilar.
Scooters or motorbikes can be rented, too. While there are no specialized motorbike rentals, you can ask around locals and they can refer you to someone willing to "loan" their bike for a fee.
How to get to and from Donsol
The fastest way to get to Donsol is by flying to Legazpi and then taking a van, bus, or jeepney.
Cebu Pacific has several flights daily from Manila which cost around 1,500PHP to 4,500PHP. Travel time is from 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes. The same carrier flies from Cebu for about 2,000PHP to 4,000PHP.
For roughly 50 minutes to an hour, you can get from Manila to Legazpi with Philippine Airlines. If flying from Cebu, it will cost you a lot more as one-way ticket can go from 5,000PHP to 13,000PHP.
A more economical albeit slower option is to take a bus from Manila all the way to Donsol. Philtranco has a terminal in Pasay and Cubao. Travel time is about 12 to 13 hours depending on traffic and tickets cost between 840PHP and 860PHP for air-conditioned buses.
If you're coming from Legazpi airport, take a trike to the market satellite and from there get on a van to Donsol. Travel time usually lasts 1.5 hour and the fare is 75PHP. Alternatively, you can take the UV Express for 70PHP. There are also jeepneys heading to Donsol – these ones cost 60PHP only but make frequent stops so expect a longer trip.
You can take a ferry from Masbate to Pilar. Montenegro Shipping Lines have multiple fastcrafts and Roro for 236PHP to 396PHP with travel time between 2 hours and 3 hours. You may check the website for booking and schedule. From Pilar, it takes only about 20 minutes to get to Donsol by van or jeepney.
Is Donsol a safe place to visit?
As a remote fishing village, Donsol is free from the usual dangers and annoyances that plague bigger cities. In fact, we would worry more about the safety of the whale sharks. Fortunately, the whale shark interaction tour is a well run program that has the safety of both the mammals and the visitors in mind. However, if you are going to do some diving, we urge you to get a travel insurance since accidents can happen.