Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sorsogon: Whale shark (butanding) interaction tours in Donsol

Whale shark or butanding (Photo from Dir. Maria Ravanilla, DOT Bicol)
Donsol has become a popular destination for visitors to the Philippines because of its whale shark (Rhincodon typus) or butanding interaction tours. From Legazpi City, we drove to Donsol, Sorsogon which was about two hours away.

As soon as we arrived, we proceeded to the Donsol Visitors Center to register and do the necessary briefing. Upon arrival at Donsol, all tourists have to proceed to the Donsol Visitors Center to log, register and pay the required fees (Php100 for Filipinos and Php300 for foreigners; Php3500 per boat). You will then be required to watch a briefing video.

If you arrive in the afternoon, it's best that you do this upon arrival to avoid the lines the next morning, which is what we did. Boats leave only in the morning starting at 7 a.m. Although some boats leave early in the afternoon, there's a smaller chance to see the whale sharks since their feeding time is usually over.

You will also be given a boarding pass, after which you wait for your boat assignments and proceed to the boats when given. If you register the afternoon before, you immediately proceed to the boarding pass and boat assignment stage the next morning.

Each boat has a butanding interaction officer (BIO), spotter and a crew. Make sure to discuss your trip with the BIO. If you have your own snorkeling gear and fins, make sure to bring them. If you don't have any, there are a lot available for rent. The fins are necessary to be able to keep up with the whale sharks. I tried swimming without the fins once and it was quite challenging.

After registering, we proceeded to our accommodation. I was billeted at Villa JoLee (rooms start at Php1500 a night). After settling down, it was free time. In the evening, we went firefly watching in the Ogod River.

The next day, we were up early. Although we got to leave at 7 a.m., we were told the whale sharks usually come out to feed at 10 a.m. It takes an hour to get to the feeding area. So the best time to leave really is between 8 to 9 a.m. Unfortunately, we only got to see a glimpse of one butanding in the 5 hours that we were out at sea. The last time I was there in 2007, we saw four. For a detailed account of the Donsol experience, read Butanding and firefly encounters in Donsol, Sorsogon.

How to get to Donsol, Sorsogon
By bus from Manila, you could get off at Legazpi City (10 hours) and hop on a van or hired vehicle at the Legazpi Bus Terminal going to Donsol, Sorsogon (1 to 2 hours). Or you can take a bus directly to Sorsogon City (12 hours) and take a jeep or van to Donsol from there (1 to 2 hours). By air, you fly to Legazpi City. At the airport, hired land transport is available but not cheap. Alternately, you can take a tricycle at the airport to the Legazpi Bus Terminal and hop on a van to Donsol from there.

More photos of Albay, Sorsogon and Camarines Sur in the Ivan About Town FB page.

Thank you to Director Verna Buensuceso and Christie Navarro of the Department of Tourism Team Europe for arranging the trip of Nellie Huang and Alberto Molero of to Bicol! Thank you also to Director Maria Ravanilla and Amy Detera of Department of Tourism Bicol Region, Donsol Municipal Tourism Officer Nenita Pedragosa and Donsol EcoTour for their valuable assistance and warm hospitality!

Donsol, Sorsogon Tourism Office
Mobile No. +63 (919) 7070394 / (921) 9699544

Villa JoLee
Mobile No. +63 (908) 5606666 / (929) 1505658

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