Donsol is a small rural town in coastal village close to Legazpi in Sorsogon. It has recently become a favored destination to swim with whale sharks over Oslob, due to the responsible way in which it practices tourism.
There are 2 main areas in Donsol - what is called the town center, with small shops and food stalls, home stays hotels and Dancalan, which is situated around the beach about 2km west of the city center.
Donsol town is a small rural town of a few thousand people. Before the arrival of tourists the local economy was based on fishing, rice farming and copra [dried coconut meat]. With the arrival of tourists to see the whale sharks there has been an injection of money into the area which has meant better infrastructure. The town has a nice church, wet market and near the quay side are a fishing community and fish dealers.
About 2km out of town is Barangay Dancalan. In Dancalan you will find the Visitor Center, most dive shops and beach resorts. Most resorts do not accept credit cards and there is an ATM at the accounting office in town, ask your hotel for directions (10-20 pesos each way from Dancalan by tricycle). Most Resorts and hotels in Donsol are open only during the whaleshark season (December to May), with two exceptions listed below.
There are several flights from Manila daily and three weekly from Cebu City (Cebu Pacific - Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday) to Legazpi.
From Legazpi it is approximately 1.5hours by public van or private pick-up to Donsol. Private vans cost from P1500-P2000 per van, and you can get them outside the airport when you arrive. They have a/c and will drop you directly at your accommodation. Private cars are also available outside the terminal, be prepared to bargain.
Public a/c vans run by UV Express are also available, take a tricycle from the airport to the bus station. Fare is P70, they leave when full and will drop you at the Donsol bus station in the town center, from where you can take another tricyle the 4km to Dancalan, unless you plan to stay in town.
Jeepneys go from Legazpi to Donsol for P60/65, stopping by Pilar Port, but are much slower than the vans, making frequent stops.
Buses also are available from Manila direct to Donsol (daily, 13 hours) or to Legazpi (many buses per day, including overnight buses). If you come from Batangas you can take a bus to Turbina and from there a bus to Legazpi.
There are many ferries daily from Masbate City on Masbate to Pilar, a 20minute van or jeepney (20PHP) from Donsol. It is possible to travel from Malapascua to Donsol via Masbate in less than 24hours, there are two ferries from Bogo (1hour south of Maya), departing to Cataingan and Cawayan on Masbate. Both leave daily at midnight and arrive about 6 hours later. From either of these ports get a van to Masbate City and catch a ferry to Pilar.
There are lots of tricycles in Donsol that will get you wherever you want. To go from the city center to Dancalan Visitor's Center the 'fixed' price is P20 but it can be lower if you're willing to negotiate.
Jeepneys are the cheapest transportation to Pilar (P20, about 20-30mins) and Legazpi (P60-65, 1hour 30mins+, depending on traffic and number of pick-ups). They leave from the Donsol bus terminal, or you can take them from the corner at the town's entrance. Put you hand out to stop them.
There are also busses called UV express that go to Pilar and Legazpi. They are faster than jeepneys but less frequent, and cost around P75 or P85.
- Whale Sharks. Whale sharks, locally known as butanding, gather in the area six to nine months a year (November - June), with the numbers peaking from February to early May. The largest fish in the world can grow up to 12 meters in length, and weigh many tons. They're considered a vulnerable species, and are protected in the Philippines. The first recorded sightings of baby whalesharks (under 24 inches) worldwide were recorded in 2009 in Donsol.
Note. If you are sensitive to ecology you should know there are prolific rumours that whale sharks are attracted (not every one of them) by feeding them by boat operators. Please also be aware that some boats do not obey the rule "one boat per one shark". Too many boats scare the sharks and might be harmful for them. Report abuse to police.
- Fireflies. One of the few places in the world that holds night time firefly tour. Fireflies light up entire trees, giving off a serene scene. This can be done at the Donsol River or at the Ogod River. Cost is about P1200/boat (max 4 people).
- Cock Fighting. Ask any tricycle to take you to the local "cockpit" in the afternoon.
- Mount Mayon. An almost perfectly symmetrical volcano close to Legazpi (and visible from your whaleshark watching boat). Ask a tour agent or at your resort. Note that as this is an active, smoking volcano it is not possible to ascend to the summit.
Most of the hotels can organize the activities for you, including transportation. However they tend to add a fee on top of the usual price.
- Whale Shark Interaction  Swimming with whale sharks. Register at the Visitor's Center located at Barangay Dancalan. You can do this in advance, or just turn up at 7am the day you'd like to go. Shark watchers are assigned a Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) and have to follow strict guidelines. All whale shark tour boats are provided by the center inclusive of an interaction guide called a Butanding Interaction Officer or BIO. Some resorts can do pre-booking for a minimal service fee. Price is P300 (P100 for Filipinos and local residents with ACR card) for the registration (valid for 5 days), and P3500 per boat (up to 6 people). If you are travelling solo you will be randomly assigned a boat, unless of course you want to pay the entire 3500PHP for your own private boat! Please note that there is no guarantee of seeing a whale shark. Boat operators will take you out even if no Butanding have been sighted in the previous few days. There is a calendar board outside the center which shows the number of sightings for the month. Avoiding weekends and booking multiple days increases your chances of success, there are no refunds or credits if you aren't lucky enough to see the butanding.
- Frontier Whale Shark Tours, ☎ +63 917 540 8410 ([email protected]), . Leads guided whale shark tours every year from February to May with experienced naturalists as guides. The guides enter the water with the group and are experts at maintaining a safe approach to the sharks. Tours start in Manila and include domestic flights, all transfers,resort accommodation and full meals. edit
- Scuba Diving is a popular activity here, and there are a handful of operators available:
- Bicol Dive Center, ☎ +63 (906) 8016852 ([email protected]), . Dive center is just across the tourist center. Offers Dive course & day trips to San Miguel Island and Manta Bowl,Island Hopping and snorkeling, the price is P4500 for 3 dives (minimum of 4 divers)and give special rates for big groups. Gear is in good condition, the boat is spacious and the people are really friendly. Accepts cash or credit card payment. Dive shop is open year round. edit
- Frontier Scuba, ([email protected]), . Leads guided whale shark tours every year from February to May with experienced naturalists as guides. Tours start in Manila and include domestic flights, resort accommodation and meals. edit
- Giddy's Place PADI Dive Resort, Clemente Street, Donsol, ☎ +63 (917) 848-8881 ([email protected]), . Open year round. It is the only PADI accredited facility in Donsol and the only one with Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD) accreditation. Has the only dive training pool in Donsol and the surrounding towns. Has Donsol's only resident dive instructor and has Grade A Air. Will have Nitrox blending By March 2011. Has the lowest rate for the solo diver. Accepts credit cards (Visa, MC, Amex, JCB) without surcharge. edit
- Fun Dive Asia, Dancalan, Donsol (in front of Dancalan Beach Resort beside tourist center), ☎ 0918-9252996, . One of the pioneer dive shops in Donsol edit
- D'SPA is the only full service Spa in Donsol and the surrounding towns and is attached to Giddy's Place. You have a lot of options including scrubs, body, foot and stone massages.
There is no ATM in the town and it is difficult to change money, so cash up before heading to Donsol. You can also send yourself money online & pick it up at an authorized place in town. Enjoy Donsol has a step by step guide how to do this if you have never done it before. The nearest ATM is an hour away in Legaspi. To exchange Euros or US dollars, ask at Amor Resort or Hernandez Guest House, but the rate can be more than 10% less than the official one (teling you false numbers on rates in Legaspi). Alternatively in a pinch you can purchase meals and avail of accommodations and activities at Giddy's Place PADI Dive Resort using a credit card.
Except for the payment for the rooms, Casa Bianca accepts U.S. Dollars and Euros for the meals. Strictly following the exact exchange rates in Legazpi.
Most of the resorts along the beach have their own restaurant where you can eat even if you are not staying in the resort.
- Butanding Bar & Restaurant, Clemente street (Attached to Giddy's place). Open until 1AM. Popular for its icy cold beer, mixed drinks, good food and seafood, good music and well-stocked bar and separate video karaoke area. One of the few places to eat past early dinner time. Free WiFi. Try the local dish "Crispy Pata" or deep fried pork leg which is a Philippine specialty. Accepts credit cards. edit
- Sadtong Panawn Restaurant. 500m after the Visitor Center going east, houses few antique collections, including an old piano, pre-world war 2 bicycle and chair, 300 year old vases, antique televisions and so on. The restaurant serves fresh seafoods like squid sisig and grilled squid in sweet sauce. and before leaving Donsol, try their signature flaming chicken inasal. The restaurant has FREE wifi and has shows and events every Friday, Saturday and Sunday featuring Bettina Bexina and company. See our face book for the pictures. Casa Bianca Donsol (Local Business). edit
- BARacuda, Dancalan (500m after the Visitor center going west), ☎ 09266400863 ([email protected]). 5pm-late. The owner, Juliet, goes fishing in the day to offer you fresh fish at night. You can choose your own fish from the day's catch and they will cook it for you. They also serve cocktails. The bar is alongside the beach on a terrace, overlooking the sea. Real friendly place, Juliet will come and chat with you if you are alone. She also tend to bring rum at the end of dinner, for free. P500-P1000. edit
- AGM Beachfront Resort Restaurant, Brgy. Dancalan (inside AGM Beachfront Resort), ☎ +63-9196882264, . 6am-11pm. Serves freshly caught fish, crabs, shrimps and other seafood, and also meat and fresh vegetables sourced from nearby farms. Chinese, Filipino, and Continental foods are available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant also caters. Contact info: email - [email protected]; tel nos. +63-9173813404 and +63-9195464276. edit
As a general rule, accommodation and food/drink in the town proper is cheaper than at Dancalan Beach, but consider that you will have to pay for transportation to/from Dancalan to see the whalesharks or to do other activities such as diving. Rooms close to Dancalan start at about 500PHP for a double.
- Dos Orio 10 min walk from the tourist information center, on the beach. 800PHP (Mar 2013) for AC room, with hot water shower, WIFI (in restaurant and reaches some rooms). Breakfast is included, there is no cut off time so you have it when you come back from seeing the whales.
- Alexandra's Transient Haus in the town. 500PHP fan room with shared bathroom. Cold water shower, breakfast included.
- Amor Farm Beach Resort, Dancalan, ☎ +63 910-476217 ([email protected]). Amor Farm Beach Resort has a nicely landscaped garden with a lot of nice places to share a beer. Attached restaurant has an ok menu. It is walking distance from the butanding visitor's center. Airconditioned rooms (king-size bed, en suite toilet and bath) - Php 1,500. Fan room (1 single bed and 1 double bed, en-suite toilet and bath) - Php 1,000.. edit
- Donsol Bay Resort, Gimagaan,Donsol, Sorsogon (+63) 0935 965 7840, [email protected]. Rooms are Twin / Triple ,air-conditioned with individual bathrooms and hot shower. All rooms are beach view. Standard rooms (Php 1,500- 2,000), All rates inclusive of breakfast for two person. Facilities are: bar & restaurant, swimming pool, wide beach front, free parking area, free shuttle service to Butanding Interaction Center. This is about 5 minutes ride away from the tourist center by vehicle and 10 minutes ride away from the town center. Also provide tour packages.
- Hernandez Guest House. Php 400. Located in the downtown, this is a budget option with basic rooms (shared bath and toilet) close to a busy street. You can get to the Visitors Center in by 5 minutes/Php 15 per head tricycle ride.
- Vitton & Woodland Resort, Dancalan, 09279126313, 09216904399, and +63 0921 929 3811. [[email protected]]. Room rates Php 2000-3200, all rooms are airconditioned with individual bathrooms and hot shower. They also have 2 restaurant inside Mommy Nems Resto & Vitton Cafe, wide swimmingpool, Dive Center (Bicol Dive Center). They also offer Kayak tours, Firefly watching,and Van transfer. Directly next to the Butanding center. Considered to be the nearest place to stay in the area near the jump-off point for whale shark interaction.
- Casa Bianca Beach Resort, Dancalan, +63 (906) 309-9372, E-mail: [email protected], WEB SITE: casabiancadonsol.multiply.com, FACE BOOK: Casa Bianca Donsol Local Business. Room Rates: Php. 800.00 fan room with bathroom with hot&cold shower (for 2 persons); Php. 1,000 for 3 persons. Aircon rooms cost Php. 1,500-2,000 (Please see the web site). with Restaurant inside that serves fresh seafoods, and an array of local and international dishes, only resort in Dancalan Donsol with WIFI. 5-10mins walking distance to the tourist center. The resto and bar has always an activity every friday, saturday and sunday. So prepare yourself to the stretch of party. (party cuts off at 10pm for other guests rest.)
- Elysia Beach Resort, Pangpang, Donsol, Sorsogon (5 minutes walk from the visitor center going west, at the beach front), ☎ 63-917-547-4466, . Resort opened in 2009. They have a swimming pool with wooden deck and a international restaurant and cocktail bar, coffee shop (espreso and brewed coffee). Also you can use beach bed. All the rooms are beach view. edit
- Victoria's Guest House, Dancalan, ☎ +639065560697. E-mail: [email protected] Opened December 25, 2011. The place is accessible by the local road on the left side of the TOP (Tourist-Oriented Police) Cop Police Station, located 15 minutes walk to the Butanding Interaction Office. They have private ecological beach cottages being shared with small group of travellers who prefer quite place in a rural setting. Ensuite bathrooms with hot shower. The small kitchen offers fresh sea foods and vegetables. Firefly watching nearby. Telephones: +63 9065560697 / +63 9124568888 / +63 9223815994 (12°53’51” N,123 °35’28 E) edit
- KENT'S Grill, Brgy. Ogod Donsol, Sorsogon (going to Ogod River). checkin: 10:30 am; checkout: 11:00pm. Located at Brgy. Ogod near the firefly boarding area situated in the middle of a fishpond and overlooking the Ogod river. Serves fresh and live crabs, lapu-lapu, and prawns in lemon butter or garlic butter. and also serves meat and vegetables. edit
- Donsol Homestay, ☎ 639215449100. Newly painted, Very Clean. 1100 PHP (Feb 2013) for AC room, cold water showering, double size bed or 2 bed (1 bed on the floor). The owner live in the 1st floor. there are 2 guest room , a little public area & 1 bathroom in 2nd floor. No check in check out Limit. 5 min walk form the Whale shark visitor center. Opposite to Woodland resort & Elysia Beach Resort. There is a store in the front. Right next to rice farm & surrounded by Coconut tree brought out the tropical feel. This is a budget option with resort lv cleaniness , and 5 mins walk from the official whale shark tour visitor center. You can live there and have meal in the resorts nearby. The owner's son Joe is a cockfighting lover and a tricycle driver. He will love to take you to see see local cockfighting gathering which start 1:30PM everyday if you like. It is a good option to spend your time after you had 3 hour whaleshark tour in the morning. Also they serve free breakfast with fresh grill fish , coffee & potato occasionally. edit
Philtranco run one bus daily from Donsol terminal to Manila (12pm departure), while there are many trips per day from Legazpi. Fares from Legazpi start at 350PHP, but can cost up to 650PHP depending on the bus company and level of comfort.
UV Express run frequent minivans from Donsol terminal to Legazpi, departing when full. Fare is P75.
From Legazpi there are several flights per day to Manila, and three per week to Cebu.
There are many daily ferries from Pilar, a 20minute jeepney ride from Donsol terminal, to Masbate City.