Donsol Sights and Things to Do
No longer a sleepy coastal town after the discovery of the whale sharks in 1998, Donsol retains its rustic charm and remains committed to supporting eco-friendly activities only. Here, we've highlighted a few of them that can be enjoyed all year round.
Whale shark interaction
Whale shark interaction continues to be the most popular activity especially during the season which runs from November to June. You can register directly at the visitor centre for 300PHP (100PHP for domestic tourists) or have your accommodation pre-book for you for a nominal fee. This registration is valid for 5 days would you wish to go out for several days.
It is not uncommon for people to book multiple days to increase their chances of seeing the gentle giants in the wild. A boat per 6 will cost you 3,500PHP. Don't worry if you're traveling solo because they'll assign you to a random boat to share with other people.
What we really liked about the organisation is that they have very strict rules about the excursion and even assign one BIO (Butanding Interaction Officer) per boat. The whole trip probably lasted about 3 hours and we were able to jump down to the water 5 times. Swimming right next to the biggest creatures in the world was surreal. We were in awe and intimidated at the same time. Definitely something we won't ever forget and will definitely come back the next season. Please remember though that there's no guaranteed sighting and you won't get any refund if you don't see the sharks. However, we were told the best months to go are between March to May with almost 100% probability to meet them.
In the evening, joining a firefly tour is a nice way to unwind. You get into a boat with 4 to 6 other people and you are whisked away into the darkness to experience the most magical thing ever, especially if you grew up in a large city. The tour normally starts around dusk but it gets dark pretty quickly. As you glide along the placid water, the silence of the night is broken only by the soft rustle of the wind and gentle murmurs of the people on the boat. Then, you see a group of flashing lights in the shadowy trees by the riverbank. It is so amazing but importunately next to impossible to capture it on camera so the whole experience is for your eyes and soul only. The tour costs around 1,300PHP per boat.
A relatively new night tour in Donsol is shrimp catching using a traditional way called "sudsod" what basically means sweeping the ocean floor with triangular nets. This means you have to get down and dirty in waist high water along with the other shrimpers. It was a new experience wading in the dark but you get a new appreciation of the locals' livelihood. We took this tour as part of a package so we're not sure how much the going rate is now but your hotel can organize one for you in a jiffy.
Diving with manta rays
If you're up for it, you can also try your luck at diving with manta rays in the Manta Bowl located between Ticao and Donsol Islands. We paid 26,500PHP but the package was inclusive of round trip transfers, board and lodging, and 6 dives for 5D/4N with Bicol Dive Center. You can also scout around, as we've known travellers who paid only around 4,500PHP for 3 dives/day. We weren't so lucky with the rays but we saw a couple of reef sharks and jack fishes. The current can be strong though so this might not be ideal for beginners.
Other things to do around Donsol
Besides interacting with various marine creatures, there are numerous other things to do in and around Donsol. You can do some cliff diving and island hopping as well as some heritage sightseeing visiting Juban's old houses and the Barcelona Church. You can also spend your days lazing out in the beaches in Bacon District or in San Mateo's hot and cold spring in Irosin.