Around Donsol

Credits:  “Natural Beauty” quickpage created by Maria LaFrance

After a morning of whale shark adventure, what next?  Just a short banca ride across the San Bernardino Straits, many dive shops offer trips to Manta Bowl in Ticao Island.  We however didn’t have time so I made a mental note to plan for some serious diving there next season.


Instead, we headed out to the Donsol River in the hopes to see fireflies illuminating in the dark.  I was envisioning dramatic strips of trees lit with fireflies like Christmas trees radiating the evening.  Alas, save for the beautiful sunset on our ride to the site, the fireflies were a let down.

We saw a total of 2, perhaps 3 trees with some fireflies glowing but not enough to even show on cam.  It didn’t help, per our guide, that it was a full moon.

Baracuda Seafood and Cocktails

Clockwise:  Home-made Pesto; tuna sashimi; succulent grilled prawns; A very fresh fried lapu-lapu.

Baracuda (with 1 “r”) serves excellent food that’s worth a mention.  After our sorry firefly tour, invited and recommended by the Israeli couple we shared the banca with, the four of us set out for Barracuda bar for some really good eats.  The resto-bar has a very friendly atmosphere headed by the owner herself, Juliet de la Cruz.  She goes around tables talking and offering shots of rum to diners.

Where to Stay

We wanted to stay at Elysia Beach Resort but they didn’t have a room so we settled for the comfortable albeit spartan Dancalan Resort.

Dancalan Beach Resort

With truly enjoyable breakfast of pancakes, bacon and coffee.

As we were walking around town, we passed Elysia resort and decided to check it out.

A simple but tastefully designed resort with rooms built around a pool.

The food may not be as good as that of the Barracuda or Dancalan (breakfast was good), it was pretty decent.

Since the main activity here takes just half a day, splurging a bit to lounge around the beautiful and relaxing grounds of Elysia makes pretty good sense to me.  I’ve made another mental note to book earlier next time I come back, most likely for those Mantas.

Useful info:

Baracuda Seafood and Cocktails
Contact: Juliet de la Paz
Mobile: +63926-640-0863
Dancalan Beach Resort
Contact No:  +63905-218-2973
Elysia Beach Resort
Contact Nos: +63917-547-4466 / +63927-348-2340 / +63926-475-9762


Contrary to our 2008 attempt when we spent 3 hours waiting and waiting for naught, each attempt a failure.  Disappointed but not defeated, I promised to come back someday.  That someday finally arrived.

“Get ready”, Allan ordered.  We grabbed our fins, mask and sat at the edge of the banca ready for action at the word “go”.  The water was murky owing to a typhoon that hit the area a few days earlier.  As soon as my eyes adjusted to the murky water, I saw a dark image, more like a shadow below me.  Then it disappeared into the deep.  Is that it? I wondered.

Minutes later, we repeated the same exercise but this time with more success.  I could figure out the spots moving gently below me.  Immediately I pointed my camera and shot away, trying to capture images of the world’s largest living fish – a whale shark or what locals call butanding.

Our encounter most likely a juvenile.

These gentle giants can measure up to 15-20 meters long and weigh up to 35 tons.  They have very distinct color markings of pale spots and stripes against a dark background.    Butandings have been observed to converge in the waters off Donsol from November – May.  Each year they disappear in June and find their way back again November without fail.  They come to feed off the plankton rich waters of Donsol.

Sorsogon has been part of the migration highway of one of the highest concentration of whale sharks in the world for generations, sighted and slaughtered since residents could remember.  In 1998, the Department of Agriculture issued a Fisheries Administration order – banning the capture, sale, purchase, possession, transport, or export of whale sharks.

Eco-tourism replaced the age-old hunting practices and since then tourist flock to Donsol in increasing numbers year after year, rising from a 5th class municipality in 1998 to 1st class today.

Barangay Dancalan is where the tourist center is and where one goes to register for a boat and guide.

While close interaction with wildlife is a delicate topic, the World Wildlife Fund has teamed up with the local tourism office to create rules and some best practices for the tour.

With success comes disorganization.  It was disappointing to see that boat operators and some guides or what they call Butanding Interaction Officers (BIO) oftentimes ignore the rules of interaction.

Ironically, a poster of the rules is plastered on the wall of the tourist center for everyone’s guidance while a video is shown throughout the day, a requirement before one goes off to the water.

Outside of the video, pasted on the wall for everyone’s information is the rules of interaction.

Sadly, the non observance has happened in 2008 resulting to our failed attempts.  Today, it is more glaring.

I was engrossed with my encounter, swimming along with this big boy albeit in murky waters, then a fin hits my face,

All after the same fish less than 10 minutes after we jumped.

I looked up and to my dismay, saw more than a dozen heads (definitely more than the 6 allowed per whale shark) bobbing and snorkeling in one direction.  As we were swimming back to our boat, we bumped into a tourist in the water.  Looking resigned he said to us, “This is ridiculous.”  And indeed, it was.

The scene we left — at least a dozen boat fighting for an encounter with the butanding.

Having had 2 sightings, which was more than our 2008 experience, we decided to leave even before our 3 hours were up. Happy with the encounter but saddened by the way things are being handled in that once sleepy fishing village.