When I first arrived to Manila to start my solo backpacking adventures in the Philippines, I didn’t know much on where to go as I discarded my initial plan of heading towards Palawan because there were no ferries for a few days due to Easter and the flights were coming with a hefty price tag because of the same reason. Backpacking in Donsol was certainly not planned at all.
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As usual, most of my itineraries are improvised after meeting fellow backpackers in the hostels I stay and this was no exception.
In Manila, I was staying at the Sulit Dormitel Mapa, which was pretty decent. Looking more as a hotel than a hostel. I met there a guy that was just arriving from backpacking in Donsol and only spoke wonders about the place and that’s the only bit of information I need to head towards a new destination!
Donsol is in the south of Luzon island which is the most populous and largest island in the Philippines.
From Manila you can get night buses from different stations around the city. You can check times and prices in 12go.Asia and if you don’t find tickets, feel free to go directly to one of the bus stations as I found more buses there that were not being advertised online.
From other cities, such as Batangas, you will have to do a bus change.
I ended up taking a non-ac night bus that took about 14 hours to Legazpi. The non-ac was of course cheaper (750 Pesos) and I was actually pretty cold at times during the night.
Legazpi is a large town and it’s situated about 1 hour from Donsol. I wanted to stay here for a night as I saw images of the impressive (and highly active) Mayon Volcano and wanted to have a look and investigate if it’s possible to hike it.
Unfortunately, you can only hike to about half way of the volcano and only with tour operators so I didn’t sign up for it.
There are many other activities to do in Legazpi so it’s not bad to have a short stopover there.
From Legazpi there are mini vans going to Donsol regularly, there are no advertised times as you just need to go to the bus terminal and wait until there are enough passengers to fill up the van. The trip cost 100 Pesos.
Where to stay
My friend in Manila recommended the Woodland Beach Resort, it was not the cheapest option but for just a couple of bucks more a night you get pretty good extras such as being right by the beach and a swimming pool, definitely not the standard of hostels I’m used to! XD
This resort is a bit out of town and for an extra 25 Pesos the mini van driver from Legazpi will drop you there. Otherwise, from Donsol town you can get a tricycle for 20 Pesos.
What to do in Donsol
Chill by the beach and the pool for starters!
Then, the most famous thing to do in Donsol is to swim with the Whale Sharks! the biggest fish we know so far!
Another popular activity is the Firefly tour at night.
Experiencing the Whale Shark Interaction
The best season to see these magnificent friendly beasts is from November until June.
Although there are also Scuba Diving tours. There’s no need to sign up for them if your main goal is to see the Whale Shark as they come to feed at surface level so with snorkelling equipment you will experience a wonderful adventure!
Donsol is one of the best places in the world to experience the Whale Shark, here they come to feed naturally out of plankton so it’s much better to come here than to the other famous Filipino spot of Oslob as there they feed the Whale Shark with shrimps.
This is a terrible thing to do as it causes disruption in the natural migration route that has worked for centuries and just because of human exploitation looking an economic benefit without thinking of the consequences on the environment.
Please do a favour to our planet and do NOT swim with the Whale Sharks in Oslob!
Back in Donsol, there’s only one place where you can sign up for the Whale Shark Interaction, and it’s walking distance from the Woodland Resort.
On top of the tour price, there are protected area fees and rental of the snorkelling equipment. All in all it comes to 1200 Pesos.
If you have your own mask and fins (you definitely need the fins!) you can save about 300 Pesos.
There are not set times for this activity, so make sure to come early in the morning as it’s on a first-come-first-served basis. With the boats only taking 6 people at a time.
I really liked that before boarding the boat you’re directed to watch an educational video with the dos and don’ts of the Whale Shark interaction.
They also mention that they limit the number of boats per day and the number of boats that can interact with the same Whale Shark. This is wonderful as it shows the people in Donsol is caring for this precious and special natural show.
The tour last for about 4 hours. The chance of spotting a Whale Shark can never be guaranteed so the boat will be sailing around with a “spotter” high up on the boat giving indications to the captain on where to go.
We were very lucky as we spotted 6 different Whales that day!
Although the Whale Shark is really peaceful and means no harm for humans, the very first one was a scary moment as when I jumped off the boat and saw underwater the huge fish was just a meter away from me!
I had to move quickly to avoid touching it. It’s very tempting to get very close to them, but the main thing when taking part on this experience is to not disrupt their life so please restrain from touching them.
As explained by the guides, keep a couple of meters distance and enjoy whilst trying to keep up swimming with them!
If you stay in Donsol for a couple of days keep an eye on the weather forecast as there are more chances of spotting the Whale Sharks in clear days than in cloudy ones.
This has been a magical experience and one of those lucky finds as if it wasn’t for the conversation I had back in Manila I wouldn’t have known about this place.
Firefly River tour
Another popular thing to do in Donsol is to go firefly watching at night. I say popular, but there were not many people taking part on it.
The starting point for this tour is a bit out of town so you need to get a tricycle.
We found someone that for 50 Pesos will take us there and wait until the end of the tour to take us back to the resort.
The tour price is 250 Pesos and it last for about an hour or so. It starts right after sunset and it’s a peaceful boat ride around the river.
Similar to the Whale Shark experience, before boarding the boat you’re presented with an instructional video explaining a bit on what makes the area special for the fireflies.
The tour guide was very friendly and explained quite a few things on the fireflies’ behaviour. I sadly don’t have photos of the key moments as my phone camera is not great for night shots.
By the end of the tour I was actually a bit tired of the fireflies already, but we had an amazing starry night and being in such a dark place was making all the stars to look wonderful!
Donsol (and one day in Legazpi) was a pretty cool place to start my Filipino adventures. It was a mix of natural wonders and chilled environment.
You could definitely explore more in the area by renting a motorbike as there are some hiking spots and an underground river.
I didn’t stay much longer just because a 30-day visa and the prospect of lots of islands to come were not inviting for more!
Feel free to drop any questions or suggestions on hings to do in Donsol and have a happy adventure! 🙂
Check out the rest of my backpacking in the Philippines adventures for more inspiration on your trip!