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Asia Destinations Guide Philippines Travel Tips

Donsol | A Guide to Whale Shark City

Once a sleepy fishing village in the heart of the Philippines, Donsol has since risen in the international tourism scene thanks to its status as a breeding ground for whale sharks. The community has since dedicated itself to sustainable eco-tourism, allowing you to experience a whale of a tale without having a negative impact on the gentle giants that call these waters home.

What to Know

Whale shark season in Donsol lasts from November to early June, and with consistently beautiful weather, there’s really no bad time to go. Getting there isn’t too difficult, though it does require a bit of work. Fly to Manila and then on to Legazpi City before taking a bus or taxi for an hour and a half to your destination. Pack for beach weather, though be sure to bring sun protection, walking shoes, and an underwater camera. Donsol itself is relatively small and lodging may need to be found in one of the nearby cities. Regardless of distance, your hotel should cost less than $50, and the rest of the trip should also be reasonably priced, even if you stay at a more luxurious property. English is common throughout the Philippines, and getting around is relatively simple. Plan to stay up to a few days at most, depending on how much you and your travel companions love snorkeling and scuba diving.

What to Do

Donsol isn’t shy about its premiere attraction, and it’s incredibly easy to sign up for a whale shark tour at any number of tourist kiosks or hotels (snorkeling gear is provided). Tours will generally leave in the morning or early afternoon, and are a whirlwind of cruising around the bays hunting for the sharks. Once the spotter has seen them, you’ll be instructed to dive off the side of the boat and into the waters where you’ll be able to swim alongside the whale sharks in their natural habitat. Please be sure to follow all rules set out so as to not harm the majestic creatures. Once the shark moves on, the chase resumes, and you’ll be able to digest your experience on the boat as you wait for the next one to begin.

Outside of whale sharks, Donsol also offers scuba trips with gorgeous giant manta rays, and nearby Quitinday Underground River offers an exciting break from animal encounters. Those looking for experiences with smaller creatures should embark on an evening firefly cruise, which allows you to see tropical trees lit up by the thousands of fireflies that inhabit them. The cruise is truly a serene experience and a great contrast to the excitement the whale sharks provide.

Food and Lodging

Vitton and Woodland Beach Resorts are the standout lodging experience in Donsol, as the resort contains one of the few local beaches and is directly next to the embarkation point for whale shark tours. That being said, there are plenty of other fantastic resorts in the area with similar amenities and affordable price points. Donsol’s fishing village past means that it has fantastic seafood options, as well as a smattering of Filipino restaurants. Expect big flavors and sumptuous spices from the local cuisine. Most resorts have accounted for tourists’ tastes and have milder offerings if spices are an issue.

Header photo by Michael Liao on Unsplash

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Fireflies at the Donsol river 🔥

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