May 23, 2011

Donsol: Butanding Encounter & Firefly Tour.

I ticked off one item in my Life List -- swim with whale sharks.

It was definitely one of the most exhilarating, most unforgettable experiences!

E and I started our journey with a funny incident -- we almost missed our flight. We were not late, but the check-in counter closed way too early. Fortunately, the universe was on our side and the PAL staff was quite helpful, so we were able to board on a plane to Legaspi.

Upon arrival, we decided to go directly to Donsol. We took a tricycle from the airport to the terminal and then we took a van to Donsol. The van stopped at the Donsol town center and from there, we took a tricycle to AGM Beachfront Resort where we stayed.
PAL Airfare (Manila-Legaspi-Manila): Php3000
Tricycle (Legaspi Airport-Terminal): Php50
Van (Legaspi-Donsol): Php150/person

A Hundred Thousand Fireflies

Our first day in Donsol was spent eating, sleeping, walking around town, and in the evening, firefly watching.

AGM Resort arranged our firefly tour for us. We headed off to the boarding area at about 7pm (just a 5-minute tricycle ride from AGM Resort). The firefly tour took place at the 100 meter-wide, 100 kilometer-long Donsol river. We were assigned to a boat with a local fisherman and a guide who was wonderful in answering all our questions. It was pitch black, drizzling, and cold. It was exciting! We stopped by three mangrove sites, lingered, and watched in amazement as hundreds and hundreds of fireflies lit up trees like christmas lights. It was truly magical!
Firefly Watching: Php250/person (6 pax per boat).
You will be provided with life jackets.

Butanding Encounter

A lot of people come to Donsol for the Butanding Encounter. And I totally understand why. As I already said, it is exhilarating, breathtaking, amazing. After all, it is not everyday that one can actually see and swim with these gentle giants. And I have a heart for big animals. If only it was possible, I would love to have a whale shark, an elephant, and a lion for pets. Haha.

Remember: Start early. There are more butanding sightings in the morning.

Before hopping into a boat for the Butanding Encounter:
  • Register at the Visitor Center (just beside Vitton Beach, 5-min tricycle ride from the town center)
  • Pay required fees
  • Watch briefing
  • Proceed to boats assigned to you
  • Discuss your trip with your spotter or Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO)
  • Make sure you have your things with you: snorkeling gear, sunblock, water, and food
Php 3,500/boat (maximum of 6 pax per boat)
Php 100 : Registration
Php 150 : Fins (you can rent fins & snorkel at the Tourist Center or your resort)

We were seven in the boat -- four shameless tourists (haha), a BIO, a spotter, and the boat captain. We had loads of fun, laughter, and conversation. It truly was a fabulous three hours. We all found the experience quite amazing and worthwhile. We were also all grateful because the weather was beautiful that morning. It rained the day before and a few hours after our butanding encounter.

I swam with two whale sharks that day. My first jump was perhaps, the most memorable. It was surreal. It was exciting. It was pure joy. When I got back to the boat, I told E: "I wanted to hug the whale shark." Haha. But really, I can't find the right words to describe how utterly extraordinary the experience was.

Remember: When your BIO or guide says JUMP, you jump! :D That means, he got the signal from the spotter that there's a whale shark near you.

Code of Conduct (grabbed from their brochure)
  • Do not touch or ride the whale shark.
  • Do not restrict the movement of the whale shark or impede its natural path.
  • The recommended distance from the whale shark is 3 meters from the body and 4 meters from the tail.
  • Do not undertake flash photography.
  • Do not use scuba, scooters, jet skis, or any motorized underwater propulsion.
  • A maximum of 6 swimmers per whale shark is allowed.
  • There must only be one boat per whale shark.
Whale sharks are wild animals. Respect safety regulations.
Whale sharks, known locally as Butanding are known to grow to lengths up to 18m, weight up to 40 tons, and live up to 100 years. They are highly migratory. Their movement may be guided by food availability, water temperature, quality environmental factors. Where they go during the off-season is still not known. They typically feed on plankton.

We must remember that we are visitors to the whale sharks' natural habitat. And our primary responsibility is to ensure that our actions do not disturb or upset their natural rhythms. {grabbed from their brochure}

Walking Around Town

Since the Butanding Encounter was done in three hours that Sunday morning, E and I agreed we'd go back to the town center. We had late lunch at Giddy's. Since we ate too much, we decided we'd just walk back to our hotel. It was a long walk, but a good one. We checked out the market, the school, the bakeries again, and breathed in all the simplicity of this beautiful place.

We particularly love this school! How happy are those colors?

This is the St. Joseph Parish Church. We dropped by and said a little prayer. This Church has beautiful, airy interiors.

Young people playing basketball at the Church yard -- quite a familiar scene to me. I am, after all, a small city-small town girl.

E and I loved the market! Bustling with people of all ages and filled with many fresh produce, childhood favorites, and lots of colorful knick knacks!

One of the joys of traveling is meeting people. We met these kids when we arrived at the bridge (Donsol River) while the sun was setting.

Where to Stay in Donsol

AGM Beachfront Resort
Dancalan, Donsol
Phone: +63917 3813404

Amor Farm Beach Resort
Dancalan, Donsol
Phone: +63919 7998637

Elysia Beach Resort
Pangpang, Donsol
Phone: +639264759762

Shoreline Beach Resort & Resto
Dancalan, Donsol
Phone: +63917 8610231

Casa Bianca Beach Resort
Dancalan, Donsol
Phone: +63907 2999915

Santiago Homestay
Poso, Donsol
Phone: +63939 3108758

Giddy's Place Dive Resort Hotel
Clemente St., PWWD, Donsol
Phone: +63917 8488881

Vitton Resort Development Corp.
Dancalan, Donsol
Phone: +63927 9126313

Aguluz Homestay
Awaii, Donsol
Phone: +63918 9420897

We left Donsol on Monday morning but before we finally said goodbye, we walked towards the Tourist Center, took pictures along the way, had breakfast at Vitton Beach, and stopped for quick dose of caffeine at Pinay Coffee Lady. The Tourist Center, by the way, is about 15 minutes by foot from our hotel (AGM).

This is the view just across our hotel. More rice fields line the road to the Tourist Center. It is beautiful! I don't know why, but ever since I was a little girl, I've always loved rice fields. There's just something so peaceful about them. How perfect is this place? Whale sharks swimming in the blue open ocean on one side and green rice fields on the other.

This is a trip I will not soon forget.

How to Get There

From Manila to Legaspi
You can fly to Legaspi through --
Philippine Airlines . Cebu Pacific . Zest Air
(check their website for schedule).

Or you can take a ten-hour bus ride --
Cagsawa Travel & Tours Inc. (QC: 02 9131514 . Ermita: 02 5259756)
Philtranco (Legaspi City: 52 8202794)
RSL Transit (QC: 02 9137127)

From Legaspi to Donsol
Take a tricycle from the airport to the Legaspi City bus terminal (php50).
Then take a passenger van (one hour trip . Php150/person) to Donsol.

Donsol to Legaspi
Tricycle from AGM Hotel to the town: Php20
Jeep from Donsol to Daraga: Php60 (one and a half hour trip)
. . . . .

Municipal Tourism Office
Donsol, Sorsogon
Phone: +63919 7070394

Dept. of Tourism
Regional Center Site
Rawis, Legaspi City
Phone: +6352 4820712

Also visit their WEBSITE for more information.

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  1. Thanks for the informative wrap up of Donsol. Its been really helpful. I can't wait to swim with whale sharks next April when I visit with my daughter! :-)

  2. You are welcome! I'm sure you'd love it! It's an amazing feeling to actually swim with the butandings! :)

  3. Was disappointed in Donsol this April as it was raining when we were there and I wasn't expected 60 people to be chasing after a single whale. Lots of people got elbowed in the rush. Not at all what I expected but turns out is very common. I actually think the whale sharks must be disturbed by all this.

    1. That is really sad. A friend of mine was also there this summer and she wasn't able to see a single whale.




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