Donsol, Philippines

Donsol is a small quiet town made up of a friendly close knit community where everyone who works there, knows each other. The Butanding* Interaction Officers (BIO’s) who head the whale shark dives know the resort owners, who also know all the tour operators, and so on. While Don Sol is the lesser travelled destination for whale shark diving, it is the predominant attraction that draws travelers to this city. Though, there are other small gems that make Don Sol a uniquely special place to visit as well.

*Butanding is the local name for whale sharks

Must book

We arranged our entire tour through Thresher. There are a series of tours you can choose from (a few include a trek at Mount Mayon- Legazpi’s dormant volcano). They are extremely organized, quick to respond, and helpful with all questions and details. The experience upon arriving was seamless- all touch points were spot on. Unknowingly, this was a private tour, but absolutely worth it, and we’d highly recommend if interested in something similar!

Insider tip: Be sure to time your trip during the whale shark migration season (January through May) as unlike Oslob, the local fisherman don’t feed the whale sharks to stay in the area, so you may risk not having an encounter if you visit outside of this season.

Must do

  • Dive. If you aren’t certified, you can opt to do a “Discovery Dive”, to see the colorful sea vegetation and marine life that surround San Miguel Island. We were lucky to see a turtle, clown fish, and frog fish to name a few while submerged. The guide masters are eager to share all their knowledge with you as well, with bodes for a great experience!
  • Whale Shark Dive*. This is why you come to Donsol. If you don’t have a tour pre-booked, make sure to arrive at the Visitor Center around 8am to try to get a place on a boat departing that morning. You’ll be out on the water for three hours with a professional spotter who will find the sharks in the water. Do see if you can get on Omar’s boat, as he is the most renowned BIO in town, and will make sure you have the experience of a lifetime! *By “dive” we mean snorkel, but you can dive into the water during your experience.
  • Night-time Firefly cruise. This was included in our package, but we met two friends who were thrilled to joined us. As we grew up with fireflies, we hadn’t given this cruise much thought, but it was a magical night and we’d recommend it if time allows. You board a Filipino sea boat after dark, and head out into the mangroves where it’s pitch black. The only light you see is from the thousands of stars and moon in the sky. The fireflies light up the trees like Christmas lights, and as you sit there in the dark watching them, a guide tells you all about them. (Did you know they lay 500 eggs, and they only live for 2-3 short months?)

Must stay

Elysia Resort. The owner is old friends with one of Donsol’s acclaimed BIO’s, and is highly regarded in the community. We stayed at Elysia and truly enjoyed our experience. The rooms are simple, but the food and common areas (pool, dining area, beach, etc.) are nice, and the staff are all lovely. (We were watching one of our GoPro videos on our laptop over lunch and one of the wait staff stopped what she was doing to watch, genuinely excited to hear about our experience!)

Must research

LAMAVE NGO (LArge MArine VErtebrate project Philippines): There is a team of marine biologists currently doing work in Donsol to study the trends around migration patterns and the effects that the increasing tourism is having on the species. The researchers often join boats that are going out for the day. We were lucky to have a volunteer for the organization join us for one of our two morning excursions and were thrilled to learn a wealth of information from her about the sharks.
General info on whale sharks

Must drink

  • Mango shake
  • Banana shake
  • Tropical shake*
  • Calamansi Juice
  • Blended iced coffee*
  • Frozen iced tea*

*If staying at Elysia Resort

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