If you are in search for a big adventure, there is nothing bigger than swimming with a 60 feet long and 40 ton creature like a whale shark. There is a small town in the southern tip of the big island of Luzon in the Philippines. A simple town called Donsol can offer that big adventure you are looking for.
The whale shark, locally known in Donsol as “butanding”, is the biggest fish in the world. The best time to visit the island is from December to May to see the whale sharks feasting on the plankton rich waters.
Getting to know the gentle giant
The Rhincodon Typus or commonly known as whale share is among the most endangered species in the world. Only about 1000 of these creatures have been identified across the globe although their history have been traced by experts way back to the Cretaceous and Jurassic period. The first known whale shark was sighted in 1828.
In due time, studies have pointed to the waters of Donsol, Sorgogon in the Philippines as the area where the most number of whale sharks congregate.
The whale sharks are migratory and they follow the tropical waters to enjoy the big amount of krill and plankton brought by the water current, good water temperature, and good condition of the sea.
In Donsol, the presence of whale sharks in their waters has boosted the ecotourism in the region. It has also improved efforts to protect the environment and the endangered specie. Typically, you will be able to see a “butanding” between 4 to 12 meters in length with its distinct flat head and checkered white spot pattern.
The whale shark has a very huge 2-meter mouth lined with thousands of small teeth inside. They never chew the food though but they suck in big volumes of water and filter the food through their gill rakers and release the water through their gill slits.
Ironic to its size, the whale shark is known to be a gentle giant. Swimming with them brings great thrill in gigantic proportions.
Getting to Donsol to meet the whale shark
The best way to go to Donsol is via the capital Manila. From Manila, Donsol is about 500 kilometers away and can be reached via air travel or comfortable land commute.
If you want to take the quick route by air plane, you can get a ticket to Legazpi City. The flight will just take around 45 minutes. From there you need to take a van for an hour to reach Donsol.
A bus ride on the other hand will take about 10 hours from Manila to Legazpi. A van from Legazpi Bus Terminal can take you to Donsol. You can also rent a car or a van to bring you from Manila to Donsol if you want your travel to be more private.
In Donsol, you can choose from a hotel or lodging houses. There are also resort cottages that you can rent in Magallanes, Castilla, Pilar, and of course in Donsol. You may also want to check out home-stay facilities to get to know the warm people of the town.
You need to report to their Tourism Office to register, listen to an orientation, arrange boat rides, and hire the shark spotters pr Butanding Interaction Officer. It might be best to bring cash to pay for the boat and the guides.
Usually you need to meet your guide before eight in the morning. Don’t forget to bring water and food. A sunblock is also a must. You need to bring a snorkeling gear and underwater camera. You cant use flash under water and other illuminating devices under water.
Here are some reminders when you interact with the whale shark:
- You cannot ride or touch the whale shark
- Maintain a distance of at least 3 meters from the head (the big fish suck water big time, so common sense)
- Don’t block the path of the butanding
- You cannot use SCUBA gear, jet skis, scooters, or any underwater propulsion gadget
- A max of 6 swimmers can follow one whale shark
Other activities in Donsol
Aside from following the gentle whale sharks there are other activities you can do in Donsol, Sorsogon.
Swim with the Manta Rays
The manta rays also find the waters of Donsol as one of their ideal feeding grounds. Like the whale sharks, tresher sharks, hammerheads, and other big boys of the sea, the manta rays frequent the Ticao Pass where large amounts of plankton are carried to by the currents from the San Bernardino Strait.
Another jaw dropping experience is firefly watching along the Donsol River. You can ask the locals to guide you in touring the 100-kilometer river lined with shrubs, coconut trees, and mangroves. The environment around the water is just perfect for the dancing fireflies. You will not see just a few of them but they come in the thousands if not millions.
A small boat can take you down the mouth of the river to enjoy the sunset. After sun has gone down the horizon, the view will lit up with tiny sparkles and it will be hard to tell the difference between the stars and the fireflies. Check out the water too and the reflection is amazing.
The Donsol river is also perfect for water sports lovers. It is perfect for kayaking. The water is calm and the scenery is great.
Trekking Up the Mayon Volcano
You need to ask the tourism office if there is any restriction to go near or trek up the most active volcano in the Philippines, Mayon Volcano. It has erupted around 47 times in the last four centuries. It is also popular worldwide because of its almost perfect cone shape and is considered to be one of nature’s wonders.
You can ask a local guide to arrange a trip for you. In case you can not go near because of lava flows, watching Mayon from afar is also awesome.
By the way, when you are in the region, ask the local if you can try their “siling labuyo”. It is considered as on of the hottest chili pepper in the world (7th to be exact). If you can’t take the heat, there are a lot of local delicacies you can enjoy.
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