Sorsogon Province boasts a lot of things to do — one of them is seeing and interacting with whale sharks in the wild! This tour is available in Donsol, a quiet town perfect for beach lovers and divers.
For a little background, the whale shark is also called butanding by locals. The whale sharks visit Donsol Bay to feed and breed on certain months, since the area is teeming with fish and krill. According to our guide, the whale sharks here measure anywhere from 18 inches to 10-14 meters in length.
In contrast to the whale shark activity in Oslob (Cebu), the tour in Donsol is natural and sustainable. In Oslob, the whale sharks are fed by humans so they stay in the area, whereas here they are merely being spotted in the wild. The tour guides also make sure that visitors follow guidelines to keep the whale sharks safe.
Here’s my experience on the whale shark activity in Donsol, Sorsogon! Also below is a guide on everything you need to know about it.
Our whale shark experience in Donsol
I went here in the summer of 2022 as part of the Tourism Promotions Board’s invite for #ExcitingBicol trip.
Our group went to the Donsol Tourism Office where we registered and attended a short orientation on whale shark watching. We watched a video and there was a short discussion on the do’s and don’ts on whale shark interaction.
The whole tour usually takes 2-3 hours, depending on the sightings. We were divided into small groups and then assigned into different boats.
There were only four of us in the boat. We had a spotter whose job is to look for whale sharks in the water and also a guide who would assist us in the water.
Our guide told us we should have our snorkels and gears ready. Once he says “Jump”, we should immediately jump. To be honest, I thought he was exaggerating a bit. Once we had a sighting, we scrambled to the port side of the boat. He handed a floater to us so we could hold on to it once we get to the water. Holding to the floater is optional — able swimmers can swim on their own. But we were basically non-swimmers, and though I can usually survive in open water, the fins I rented at that time were too tight and too stiff to move in the water.
Anyway, everything happened so fast. We jumped into the water and our guide pulled us to where the whale shark is. I saw the whale shark with its distinct spots and then it was gone. Just like that.
It was vastly different from my experience in Oslob years back, where the whale sharks literally just swam around in the area and there was no need for urgency. Here you have a short window to see them up close and personal.
Our boat then sailed further to look for other whale sharks. Sometimes our spotted would see a whale shark, but then it would swim away or swim deeper into the ocean.
After a while, we had a second sighting. This one was sort of a disaster because once we jumped in the water, the rope holding the floater got loose and my companion and I got left behind. Then we got swept away by the strong waves. I drank a lot of sea water before we got rescued.
We were all laughing about it afterwards.
Overall, we had 2 sightings although it was short. Interestingly, the other groups had different experiences. One didn’t manage to jump in the water at all, and the other had a great experience where a small whale shark swam around them. As per our guide, the young whale sharks sometimes play with humans.
The whale shark interaction in Donsol was very fun – and it was adrenaline pumping too. I hope I can go back here in another season and see more whale sharks in the water.
How to Get to Donsol
From Manila, there are 2 ways to get to Donsol (Sorsogon):
- Take a local flight to Legazpi Airport.
- From the airport, ride a tricycle to the shuttle terminal which is 5 minutes away. Fare is around P80 per ride.
- Finally, ride a van to Donsol. Fare is P80 per person. Travel time is 1-1.5 hour.
- From Manila, ride a bus bound for Donsol. Fare is about P700 per person. Travel time is 11-12 hours.
When Is the Best Time to Visit
Whale shark season runs from November to June, when there is high plankton density in the ocean. However, the best months to see the whale sharks are February to May.
How to Book a Boat Tour
The Donsol Municipal Tourism Office handles the registration and tour for the whale shark activity. The staff will assign you with boats. Most resorts & dive centers also offer whale shark tour packages.
Here are the current rates (Updated as of 2022):
- Registration fee – P100 for local tourist / P300 for foreign tourist
- Boat rental – P5000 (good up to 6 people)
You can pay the full boat fee or share with other tourists to reduce cost.
Other things you need to know:
- Before the tour starts, you need to watch an educational video about the whale sharks, which includes rules about interaction.
- Lifevest and snorkeling gear are provided. If you want your own snorkeling set, you can buy from the stores located near the visitor center.
- There are 3 schedules daily: 7:30AM, 10:30AM, and 1:30PM. The last schedule may be cancelled if there are not enough tourists. The whole activity lasts 3 hours.
Guidelines on Whale Shark Activity
Here are the guidelines for the whale shark interaction:
- No flash photography.
- No jet ski, scuba gear, and underwater propulsion.
- No blocking the whale shark’s path.
- No touching or riding the whale sharks.
- Strictly no fish feeding.
- Keep a distance of 3 meters from the tail. (If the visibility is low, tourists are allowed to get closer.)
- A maximum of 6 snorkelers per whale shark. Only one boat per whale shark.
Reminders and Tips
Here are some reminders and tips about whale shark watching in Donsol:
- Book the early schedule. Especially if you go during high season.
- The whale shark tour is strictly a snorkeling activity. Diving is not allowed in Donsol Bay for safety since there are constant moving boats and snorkelers in the area.
- Sightings are never guaranteed. It’s best to allot 2 days for the activity, so even if there are no sightings on the first day, you can have another go the following day. If booking with a resort or dive center, choose one who can give you updates on recent sightings before your trip.
- Manage your expectations. There is a limit on the number of boats & tourists per whale shark but it isn’t always followed especially when there are limited sightings. As per other tourists, sometimes it can get pretty chaotic.
- This activity is best suited for good swimmers. Whale sharks are quick so if you’re not a good swimmer, you might not be able to keep up. If you’re on a private boat, your guide may pull you in a float.
Where to Stay in Donsol
You can find different types of accommodations in Donsol. There are hotels & homestays in the town proper and resorts along the beach. Take note that some resorts are only open during whale shark season.
Here are some recommended ones:
- AGM Beach Resort – Book rooms here
- Dancalan Beach Resort – Book rooms here
- Vitton Beach Resort – Book rooms here
Other Things to Do in Donsol
Whale shark watching is the main activity in Donsol, but there are other things you can do here as well.
- Scuba diving. You can scuba dive to Manta Bowl Shoal in Ticao Island located about 1.5 hours away to see manta rays and different species of sharks. Diving is open all-year-round.
- Kayaking and firefly watching. If you’re looking for a relaxing activity, try going on a boat tour in Donsol River or Ogod River to see fireflies at night.
- Enjoy seafood meals. Donsol is a fishing village, so take this opportunity to eat fresh seafood cooked the Bicolano way.
- Explore the rest of Sorsogon Province. You can go island hopping in Matnog, kayaking in Bulusan Lake, surfing, and more. Looking for more ideas? Here’s a list of Top Things to Do in Sorsogon.
- Take a day trip to neighboring provinces. Head to Albay to visit the Cagsawa Ruins, which offers a wonderful view of Mount Mayon, or Quitinday Underground River, which offers spelunking and cliff jumping activities. You can also go island hopping in Tabaco or Caramoan Islands in Camarines Sur.
Here is some useful contact information:
- Donsol Tourism Office – Facebook
Has this Guide on Whale Shark Watching in Donsol, Sorsogon, been helpful to you? If you’ve been here, share your experiences below!
What to read next:
Here are our guides about Sorsogon:
- Travel Guide to Sorsogon
- Best Things to Do in Sorsogon
- Island Hopping in Matnog, Sorsogon
- Whale Shark Watching in Donsol, Sorsogon
- Buhatan River Cruise in Sorsogon
- Bulusan Lake in Sorsogon
- Zoe’s Resort and Eco Adventure Park
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Katherine Cortes is a 30-something freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).