- Whaleshark, Photo courtesy of Sophie Rodrigues
This place at the southern tip of luzon recently made a huge break on the country’s falling tourism when hundreds of whale sharks were spotted congregating in the muddy but plankton-rich waters of Donsol. Whale shark spotting in sorsogon became a word of mouth passed on to every tourist exploring the Philippines. As thousands of visitors arrive each season to swim and witness their friendly behavior, the unknown town of Donsol, in which its economy was initially reliant to fishing and cottage industry alone, now benefits from higher revenue brought by the presence of these giant fish locally called "Butanding".
These gentle giants arrive from as early as November but the official season starts from February and runs until end of May, where the sea of Donsol is at its clearest and calmest. Local tourism officials and professional divers have established guidelines on proper whale shark watching intended to maintain safety and to defend the creatures from over exploitation.
The town of Donsol is 1 hr drive from Sorsogon and slightly similar if you would be coming from Legazpi City. These two cities are jumping-off points to Donsol: both have decent accomodations, and transporting facilities. Lodging in Donsol can be fussy and rental shops for snorkeling equipments are still scarse. It is recommended to bring your own gears and packed lunch if staying there for the day.
Upon reaching the area, directly proceed to the Tourism Office for registration, orientation and arrangement of boats, guides and whale shark spotters. Prepare some cash (as credit card is yet not facilitated) for registration, boat fee and assistance. At this time, a boat accomodating 5-7 persons costs 2,500 Php which can be shared individually and registration is 300php each person. Be sure to be there before eight in the morning to avoid delays of procedures, and be aware that during this time sea water is smoother and calm. Thus, the calmer the water, the more whale sharks get close to the surface and there are more chances of interaction.
- A whaleshark close encounter.
Best time to go is in March or April when these creatures are most present. It is guaranteed to witness minimum of 8 to 10 whale sharks in two hours. So take your time, swim with them and enjoy more of their sociable behaviour. Only cameras without flashes are allowed to use.
Because of their mysterious congregation, the once "never heard" town of Donsol became a common word of mouth relayed to every tourist arriving in the country.
To get there, PAL has regular flights from Manila to Legazpi City and Philtranco Bus Co. has routes bounded for Sorsogon.