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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Donsol, Sorsogon Travel Guide: Whale Shark Interaction

I must admit, I've been rambling too much about my two failed attempts. At this point, I'll put them into good use... I have compiled this extensive guide for Whale Shark Interaction in Donsol Sorsogon, probably the most extensive you can find on the net.

FACTS:

The name "whale shark" or locally called "butanding" comes from the fish physiology that is, a shark as huge as a whale that shares the same filter feeder eating mode. As filter feeder, these gentle giants feed on planktons, algae, and small nektonic life.

Donsol Bay has the largest concentration of whale shark in the world.


WHERE IS DONSOL BAY:
The interaction site can be reached by outrigger boat in 10 minutes from the shores of Dancalan Beach Area (Baranggay),
Town of Donsol, Province of Sorsogon, Region of Bicol, Southern Luzon, Philippines.

BEST TIME TO VISIT:



These gentle giants are believed to migrate to the plankton rich warm waters of Donsol Bay between October to June. It's best to go on a sunny day, between March to May. Increase your chances when timed not on a full moon and when you go out at sea early in the morning. Early morning is feeding time and the sea is calmer.

WHALE SHARK INTERACTION FEES:

As I spoke to a Butanding Interaction Officer, he stressed that it is not appropriate to say whale shark watching in Donsol but rather whale shark interaction in Donsol. It is their aim for tourists to actually interact with them.

All whale shark interaction tours are managed by the Donsol Tourism Office (Tourist Center), they are open from 7am to 5pm. One shall register and pay the fees at the tourist center, located by the seaside right next to Vitton Resort. Your assigned BIO will lead you to a two minute walk to the shore to board your outrigger boat. Outrigger boats are allowed to sail between 730am to 3pm. During peak season, trips are scheduled to leave at 730am and 1030am with a maximum of 20 boats at a time.

P3,500 per boat upto 7 pax
inclusive of 1 Butanding Interaction Office (BIO), 1 spotter, 1 skipper and lifevests
> children 7 years and below ride for free in excess of the 7pax count.
+ P100 registration for locals (P300 for foreigners) valid for 5 days.
+ P650 for additional BIO (optional)
+ P300 snorkeling set rental (optional)

DANCALAN, DONSOL LOCATION MAP:


WHERE TO STAY:

When you contact your resort of choice, bank to bank payment transfers is generally required to confirm your reservation.

Accommodation in Dancalan, Donsol is very basic, no frills, no tv. I personally suggest Vitton Resort,
since it is located right next to the tourist center. Next option would be Amor Farm Resort (5 minutes by foot from the tourist center), contact them for reservations:

Amor Farm Beach Resort (rate updated as of December 2009)

Located some 5 minutes walk from the tourist center
Contact No. +63 9095181150
Email Add: rasyl_r_amor@yahoo.com/info_amorbeachresort@yahoo.com
Room Rates:
AC with hot and cold shower - 1,800.00php
Ac Room (standard) - 1,700.00php
Fan Rooms - 1,000/ 1,300php
Fan Room with hot and cold shower -1,400.00php
ALL rooms are with ensuite bathroom and private veranda overlooking the beach.
MODE of payment to secure reservations: Bank-bank transfer / Paypal / Western union

Vitton Beach Resort
Located right next to the tourist center
Contact Nora Morales/Ann +639279126313
Rates (starting year 2009):
AC Rooms w/ Hot & Cold P1,800 (for 2 + P300 extra person)
Family Room (for 4) P3,500
Woodland Resort
Located some 5 minutes trike ride from tourist center
Contact Nora Morales/ Marichu +639219699544 / Mel +639182315420 http://woodland.resort-philippines.com/
(It may take a while for them to respond since telecom signal is weak in the area.)
Rates: Big Cottages AC (10 pax) P2,700.00
AC Rooms (2 pax) P1,700.00
Non AC Cottages P 800.00

Casa Bianca
Contact Hazel +639213687066/Jun Balmonte +63906-3099372/ Jun (fireflies) +639069320457
Rates: Fan Room P800
AC Room P1,500


If you're on a tight budget, you may pitch a tent, shower rooms are available for rent at the resort or opt to stay in Donsol town proper, about 3kms away, 10 minutes trike ride (P10/pax). The likes of Hernandez Guest House and Erna Guest house offers a bedspace for P200/head with common bath.

For Department of Tourism accredited homestays, please get in touch with Ms. Irma Jimenez (mobile: +63 906 7625955) of the Donsol Inn-Keepers Association (DIKA) or arrange with Salvador "Dudz" Adrao +639272330364 ecotourismdonsol@yahoo.com.ph

WHERE TO EAT:

Feast on seafood and try out local delicacies like bicol express (pork strips with chilli cooked in coconut milk).

You may eat at Vitton Resort (order in advance, it takes a while for them to prepare), Amar Farm Resort (good and reasonably priced), Gennevie Resto and Barracuda Resto or opt to go to Donsol Town's Market and get some fresh catch to be cooked at your resort.


HOW TO GET THERE:

(click on links for updated flight/trip schedules)
MANILA - LEGASPI CITY - DONSOL is the best route.

(update: direct flights from Cebu to Legaspi resumes in January 2009)

Option 1. BY PLANE: daily flights from Manila to Legaspi City via flagship airline PAL or budget airline Cebu Pacific (45 mins). or 5 times weekly from Cebu City to Legaspi City via twin-turbopropeller of Cebu Pacific (asked to be seated at the front row or rear most part of the plane, the propeller can be noisy in the middle). If you're coming from other cities like Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Palawan, there are no direct flights, one must go through Manila or Cebu for a connecting flight to Legaspi City Airport. Then see Option A-C below.

Option 2. If flights are full, fly from Manila to Naga City. [You may opt to spend a day wakeboarding at Pili, Camarines Sur.] From Naga, take a trike to the Van/Bus Terminal, ride a van that will take you to Legaspi City for P140 for a 2 to 3-hour ride. Vans headed for Legaspi are in the van Terminal just across of the bus terminal. There are also buses for Legaspi from Naga but they take longer since they stop frequently. Private vans are also available for hire for about P4,000.

Option 3. BY BUS(10-12hours), daily trips from Cubao, Quezon City, Manila to Legaspi City on Philtranco for about P600-900 per way, other bus lines are also available. Transit from Legaspi through Option A or B below.

Option 4. By boat from Cebu to Masbate (P480-P1800, 10 hours) via Trans Asia Shipping Lines (Sulpicio Lines is cancelled as of this writing), take a ferry from Masbate to Pilar Town (P360, 2 hours), take a jeep from Pilar to Donsol Town Proper (30 minutes), take a trike to (Tourist Center) Dancalan, Beach Area (P20-30).

And then transit from Legaspi City to Baranggay Dancalan via Donsol town proper (1 hour):


Option A. From Legaspi airport take the trike (P50) to van terminal at satellite market/Pacific Mall (this is also where the bus from Manila stops), take a van to Donsol town (P60) for an hour and half ride. From Donsol town, take the trike to Dancalan or talk it through for the van to proceed to (Tourist Center) Dancalan Beach Area for a fee of P20 or

Option B. Rent/hire a private van at the airport or bus terminal. (Several drivers are waiting just outside the airport holding a van for hire sign.) You may opt to arrange with the resort for P1,200-1,500 per van, that comfortably fits 10pax sans oversize luggage. (Do request a side trip to Cagsawa Ruins, it's just 15 mins away from the airport.), or

Option C. Approach the tourist desk at Legaspi airport's arrival terminal, they will arrange a private van to pool other tourists, the cost of P1,500 per van shall be split among them.

WHAT TO PACK:

* swimming attire (skimpy suit may not be appropriate)
* snorkeling set (rental available at P300/set)
* underwater camera
* cash (credit card is not accepted)


For more information, visit Albay Tourism or Sorsogon Tourism. More tips from real travelers .

WHAT TO EXPECT (MY PERSONAL TIPS):
GETTING THERE:

* Plane tickets comprise the biggest chunk of your expense, fares can go as low as P1,500 or a high of P8,000 per way, so it's best to book early.
* It's ideal to keep your itinerary flexible, flight and bus schedule maybe delayed. You don't want to have the same story as mine.
* On the plane ride to Legaspi, request to be seated on the left side of the plane (facing the cockpit) to get a view of the Mayon Volcano when landing.
GET STARTED:

* Whale shark sighting is not guaranteed but with high possibility (5-7 sightings on the average). It's best to have at least two mornings in your itinerary to do the tour.
* Check the local weather here. It must be sunny. Bad weather or continuous heavy rain will affect water visibility and an overcast might be difficult for the spotter. The weather in the region is quite unpredictable.
* Avoid peak season, spotting one will be like a race. More than 20 boats will be chasing after one spotted shadow especially when water visibility is limited.
* Start early, the tourist center opens at 730am; limited number of boats is allowed to sail, next batch starts around 1030am and it can be rowdy when there are too many tourists.
* You will be asked to watch a 15-minute interaction guide video, you can do this a day ahead to get started early.
* The tourist center does not accept advance booking (or so they say). They will assign a BIO and his team on rotation. NOTE: Advance booking is not required.
* (But the truth is) Advance booking may be arranged with agents (for a fee) or directly to BIO or through your chosen resort. Contact in advance experienced Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) and spotter (the likes of Omar, Joel, Boyet, Bobby, Jack) [i'll PM you if you need it]
* If you're a solo traveller or small group, you can request the tourist center to match you with other travellers to share the cost of the boat.
* Children are allowed to join, you may request for additional BIO to assist them for a fee.
* Scuba diving is not allowed in Donsol Bay. (rent a boat to Manta Bowl, Ticao Island.)


This is the moment:

* Psyche up yourself to see a huge fish about 5 to 15 meters, as big as a bus! Don't panic these gentle giants are filter feeders. For your safety, observe the interaction guide at all times.
* Gear up once on board, your BIO shouts 1-2-3 jump! anytime. Interaction site is just 10 minutes away from the shore. You don't only watch or swim but interact with the whale sharks; strong swimmers will have an advantage but the adrenalin rush will help you through. An interaction can last from a few seconds upto an hour if you're lucky (5-10 minutes on the average).
* You may have to wait on the boat a few minutes or an hour in between sightings. Have a hearty breakfast and pack enough food and drinks to fill you up.

BRAGGING RIGHTS:

* Remember to get your Certificate at the tourist center after the interaction, signed by your BIO showing the number of whale sharks seen. (no longer available)
* Bring spare cash, souvenirs like hand painted shirts are available for sale.
* Give your BIO and crew a well deserved tip, interaction with the whale shark is priceless.



MY DIY POST TRIP ACCOUNTING (March 2009):

P6,992 per pax for group of 6 inclusive of:
* P1,982 Cebu-Legaspi-Cebu
* P240 airport terminal fees
* P1,800 two nights twin share at Vitton Resort (1800x2/2pax)
* P800 whale watching (P3500/6+100+tip)
* P250 fireflies river cruise (P1250/5pax)
* P1,250 meals (5 meals, P250/meal @ vitton)
* P420 private airport transfers with city tour - Legaspi to Donsol(P2,500/way/6pax)
* P250 private airport transfers - Donsol to Legaspi(P1,500/way/6pax)

SAMPLE ITINERARY BY PLANE:

Day 1
* 1245-1345 CEB-LEG/MLA-LEG
* 1445-1500 Side trip to Cagsawa Ruins and Daraga Church
* 1500-1600 1 hour land trip from Legaspi to Donsol
* 1600-1700 check-in and register at the tourist center
* 1900-2000 fireflies river cruise

Day 2
* 0730-1100 Butanding 1
* afternoon freetime

Day 3
* back to Legaspi for flight home
* or proceed to Camsur Watersports Complex in Pili, Camarines Sur


The locals are exceptionally hospitable so feel free to ask for directions. Communication should not be a problem since English is widely spoken in most part of the country. If you still aren't convinced to do-it-yourself and don't mind to spend a lil, i mean - much more, book package tours with agents or check out donsolecotour.com or contact Salvador "Dudz" Adrao +639272330364 ecotourismdonsol@yahoo.com.ph

WWF CONSERVATION PROJECT:
Connect the Dots, volunteer, or donate in WWF conservation programs contact them.

WHAT ELSE TO DO:

In Donsol:

*Butanding Festival, in April
*Firefly river cruise (P1,250 per 5 pax)
*Snorkeling in Halea, San Miguel Island (P3,500 per trip)
*Dive in Manta Bowl, Ticao Island (Each resort has their own contact for a Dive Operator)

In Legaspi:

*view of Mayon Volcano along the road, or trekking tours up the volcano.
*visit Cagsawa Church Ruins, 15 mins away from the airport and be welcome by children who will offer their services to be your guide and take some fun poses of you.

In Camarines Sur (like our itinerary):
*wakeboarding in Camsur Wakeboarding Complex
*aquasports in Lago del Rey Camsur Wakeboarding Complex

If I missed out on anything or if you find this useful, do drop me a line. Enjoy discovering the Philippines. :D

(updated April 2009)

30 comments:

  1. nice info. i think i need to update mine. i wish to go back there someday

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  2. haha finally! thanks sunjun. but i'm not into tags, does it really work? :D

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  3. this one's easy, cut and paste ra. hehehe

    don't know if it really works but if your links are out there then more people definitely will have the chance to click on it. ^^

    ReplyDelete
  4. @tutubi, me too. i ought to go back next year.

    I'll post a link to your backpacking donsol guide here, i found that very informative.

    http://www.backpackingphilippines.com/search/label/Sorsogon

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  5. Nice comprehensive list! Success na ba? ;)

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  6. wala pa, nina. i'll push my luck in march next year. :)

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  7. great website!

    I added it to my list of favorites on dutchpickle

    cheers

    dp

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  8. dutchpickle, thanks!.

    Hands down to your 8-day Donsol experience. How I wish I also have the luxury of time to do the same.

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  9. Whoa!.. Really? Donsol, the one near Sorsogon City? has one of the largest concentration of whale shark?

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  10. john & carla, my pleasure.

    melody, yes you're right. Donsol, Sorsogon, Bicol Region - Philippines.
    :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. hello, do you have the contact numbers of any BIO's? thanks...

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  12. Joel (jun) Briones +639194202324
    Omar Nepomuceno +639279989289

    You may ask your resort to arrange for you (Vitton offers).

    Senior guides includes: Omar, Joel, Boyet, Bobby, Jack

    Warning: some senior guides are picky with their clients - make sure you give them a well deserved tip. :)

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  13. raymond, a hotel in Donsol town? that's going to be a first. Let's see how your customer review goes before I include you in my list. :D

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  14. hello everybody,
    I am joel Briones, One of the senior guides here in Donsol, and i am not a picky one for their tips hehehehee but their tip is ok.
    I want to invite tourist to come here and contact me for their convenience and facilitate their tour.
    My cp is 63+919-420-2324
    my email is superkim18@yahoo.com
    see you!!!

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  15. Welcome to Butanding Adventure!!
    We are inviting everyone to experience the thrill and excitement with the Whaleshark, the Gentle Giants of Donsol. Dubbed as, "The Best Animal Encounter in Asia".
    We are very sure that your trip will be exciting as you come along way with this Gentle Giant.
    Just contact me in my email at takz78@yahoo.com and my number 63+921-743-5677
    see you guys here and TC..

    ReplyDelete
  16. an awesome post, parang andito na talaga lahat. one question though, ano yung month ng peak season?

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  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  18. japanesecake, i've written the peak season read through again. :) but the bestest time should be end of march and early april.

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  19. cezar, ey joel briones, i've met you. You're the guide who handled our other group. I've listed your number beforehand already. Yes, you are good. :)

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  20. made the updates rasyl. wow, rates are increasing annually. hope the facilities are improving too. On my last visit, Vitton had expansion plans of putting up a spa. Anything new with Amor?

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  21. Yeah, we have increase a litte with the rates, especially with the new rooms to cater the guests requirement,e.i..AC and fan room both with hot & cold shower, and we made renovations of our old rooms (nipa huts) which we have since the first time people recognised Donsol as the whaleshark hub, as it has aged:)...We have now 20 rooms in total and have had expanded the restaurant as more walk-in guests seem to like our food ;) , and we have Bar, near the beachside,operating recently..We have in a row additional amenities for next season..i'll keep you posted on thiss..cheers!

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  22. thanks! the blog is very informative.. keep it up!! :)

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  23. hi freeze, r u from cebu also? thanks for the info.

    Anyhoo, can you also give info but firefly river cruise? it would really be helpful to get some contact numbers, prices and other tips?

    Thanks!

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  24. anonymous, yes, i'm a true blue cebuano.

    the outrigger boat rental for the firefly river cruise was P1,250 for maximum group of 5 people. (in 2009) Sorry, I don't have contact info, simply arrange with your host(where you will be staying) when you get there, it's just the same rate. Just don't book through travel agencies.

    The bangka will even pick you up in front of your resort if the tide is low, if not, they'll take care of the tricycle ride. Advance booking is not necessary; they just paddle on a small bangka through a river. the term cruise is just glorified. :) But those fireflies are such a pretty sight.

    On your way from Donsol Town to Donsol Bay, you won't miss the bridge where you'll do the river cruise.

    hope this helps.

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  25. Amazing Experience indeed!!!
    http://jotan23.blogspot.com/2011/03/6d5n-bicol-itinerary-day-four-swim-with.html

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  26. This is so informative! Awesome post. Thank you so much!

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  27. Wow, this is really the best post about whale interaction. If I may ask, is it possible to do whale shark interaction and firefly tour in one day? It's our first time in Bicol and we already booked our hotel in Legazpi for the whole 3 days. If it's DIY with firefly tour, where can we get a ride going back to Legazpi?

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  28. If you would be coming back to legaspi in the evening, i would suggest that you rent a van, im not quite sure about public transport in the evening, donsol and legaspi is more than an hour travel across paved roads, winding up and down a mountain at some point.

    ReplyDelete