Once a sleepy fishing village nestled on the coast of a Filipino island, Donsol has since risen in the international tourism scene thanks to its status as the best place to see 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. Without further ado, here is your guide to the best things to do in Donsol, Philippines.
What to Know
Whale shark season in Donsol lasts from November to early June, making the town one of the best places to visit in the Philippines year round. Though getting there isn’t too difficult, it does require a bit of work. Look for flights to Manila before heading on to Legazpi City and taking a bus or taxi for an hour and a half to your destination. While there isn’t a specific best time to visit the Philippines, be sure to keep your eyes on ticket prices, and book early to get the best deals.
Pack for beach weather, and 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 commonly used 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 (or butanding, in the local lingo) tour at any number of tourist kiosks or hotels. In most cases, 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 find yourself swimming with whale sharks in their natural habitat (Note: please be sure to follow all rules set out so as to not harm the majestic creatures).
Though this experience may seem intimidating at first, it is actually a relaxing, almost meditative. The whale sharks of the Philippines are gentle creatures, and following them through the ocean provides a unique opportunity to harmonize with nature. 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. Here, you can take a raft through an underground cavern, go cliff jumping, or simply float around in a beautiful hidden lake. Quitinday is a day trip from Donsol, but it can definitely add both adventure and relaxation to your trip.
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 provides a great contrast to the excitement of whale shark hunting. These environmentally-friendly tours are guided for your convenience, and can be arranged online or at your hotel.
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. Elysia Beach Resort is a great secondary resort option, and those looking for a more domestic experience should consider one of the many villa offerings Donsol has to offer. While the villa options still offer luxury, they also provide a unique cultural component to your stay that may be worth exploring.
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. One food that should not be missed? Halo halo – a sweet mishmash of flavors that serves as a classic Filipino dessert.
No matter what shape your trip takes, one thing is certain. From whale sharks to fireflies, and beaches to hidden caverns, Donsol has an incredible amount to offer anyone looking for adventure off the beaten path.
Header photo by Michael Liao on Unsplash