Diving Donsol

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Donsol, Philippines

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Country: Philippines  Area: Philippines

Water Temp: 26 - 30°C (79 - 86°F)

Visibility: 10 - 20m (33 - 66 ft)

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Donsol is a small rural costal town situated in the province of Sorsogon at the southern end of Luzon Island. People come to this little town mainly to see and swim with the Whale Sharks who come in huge numbers to mate and feed on the plankton immediately off the coast.

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Donsol is a quiet town and would probably suit someone looking for a holiday with adventures in the form of swimming with the Whale Sharks and exploring nearby dive sites.

The Whale Sharks, that flock to the area to feed on the plankton, is the primary reason people go to Donsol. You can arrange trips out to snorkel with the giant fish by registering with the Donsol tourist information centre, or through the resort you’re staying in. Snorkelling gear is available to hire if you don’t have you’re own.

Scuba diving in Donsol is prohibited so as not to disturb the Whale Sharks (snorkeling is permitted however), so diving is done around Ticao Island, a small island just south west of Donsol.

Climate

The best weather in Donsol is from February to June. This is the dry season with temperatures ranging from 31-34 degrees C. Donsol is also likely to be the busiest during the months of February to May as this is when Whale Shark numbers are at their peak.

November to January is the wet season, visitors to the area during these months should expect rain. Dive conditions will be uncomfortable with the Amihan winds blowing hard towards Ticao, where the majority of the dive sites are. However, the waters by Donsol will be calm despite the rain. Temperatures are about 32/31 degrees C.

As mentioned, February to June is the dry season, however there is sometimes a cross over with the end of the January rains continuing for the early part of February.

July to October the temerapture is steady at about 33 degrees C. In July, the wind changes direction and is called Habagata. During these months the winds will blow against Donsol beaches, leaving the waters around Ticao calm. There will also be the occasional rain and thunderstorm as this is typhoon season in the Philippines. 

Marine Conservation

Whale Sharks are considered an endangered species and there are specific guidelines for when interacting with them which are strictly adhered to in Donsol. People are expected to pay a conservation fee before swimming with the Whale Sharks. This goes towards the care of the local reef conservation and on going protection of the vulnerable Whale Shark. Work is on going to encourage stake holders to protect the Manta Bowl.

 
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The Diving

There are 3 main sites on Ticao: Manta Bowl, San Miguel Coral Gardens and San Miguel 3 Caves.

The Manta Bowl site is situated in the Ticao Pass, between Donsol and Ticao Island. There is an underwater atoll where the are some corals, mostly on the north and south sides, but of more interest are the Manta Rays. Mantas come to this area to feed on the plankton and krill and also to clean themselves of parasites they have picked up. You might also be lucky and spot some Whale Sharks who also come for the plankton. Other marine life you might see include Thresher Sharks, White Tip Sea Snakes, Tuna and the occasional Hammerhead. This part of the pass is subject to strong currents so this dive site is recommend for those with diving experience. 


The Coral Gardens
are situated at the most northern point of Ticao Island where there are two small white sandy islets. This underwater world is home to an extensive area of soft corals and a variety of bright macro marine life. Creatures you are likely to see here include Crinoids, Clingfish, Bicolour Goatfish, juvenile Butterfly fish and Catfish. Although this dive site is suitable for all levels, the currents can be changeable. Instructors might change the place you’ll dive if they feel the current is too strong. Visibility is about 15 metres.

Just a little way up from Coral Gardens is the 3 Caves dive site. This is a great site for divers who enjoy exploring caves however, there isn’t a great diversity in the marine life in this area. In the third cave there are large sea fans and if you explore the cave floor you might find some unusual critters. 

The best time for diving holidays is between July and October - despite this being the wettest season, the prevailing wind (called Habagat) blows hard against Donsol, but does not affect Ticao Island where the scuba sites are. However, it does mean that the sea is choppy for the 2 hour boat ride over to Ticao. Most of the resorts in Donsol are also dive centres and offer various packages and trips to suit what you’re looking for with trips going out roughly 3 times a day. There are also dive courses on offer, some of which are pool based, from children’s introduction to scuba to Rescue Diver courses. 

If you’re really keen to snorkel with the Whale Sharks as well as fitting in scuba trips then a good time to go is between February and March. This is the driest and hottest time of the year with temperatures reaching 32 degrees during March and May. Going at this time will give you a little bit of everything.

 

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Getting there

Legaspi Airport is the closest airport with daily flights from Manila taking 45 minutes. Once you’ve landed you’ll need to get a brief tricycle ride to the shuttle terminal where you can get the shuttle bus (usually air conditioned) to Donsol. You’ll need to wait for the buss to fill up before it leaves and the journey will take about an hour. Talk to the driver and ask them to drop you in Donsol, its worth saying where in Donsol you're staying so you get dropped off close to your resort. Some resorts also have the option of private van hire, but this will be significantly more expensive.

It is also possible to catch a bus from Manila all the way to Donsol. The bus leaves from Cubao Terminal and takes 12-14 hours. 

 

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Going Out

Donsol is still a relatively small and sleepy tropical town and only a few restaurants and cafes in and around the area. There are a few bars in the resorts but no nightclubs and the night life is quite relaxed.

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Other Activities

Donsol is a great place to base yourself to go off to other places too. On the days you’re not scouring the sea for Whale Sharks, you can island hop and explore to smaller islands in the area. There are also firefly tours at night where you can see the rather magical sight of glowing blue green dots in the darkness. Shrimp catching with a local fisherman and river kayaking are other popular ways to while away the days. Many resorts also offer tour packages that allow you to explore the area and the region of Sorsogon.

Family Activities

There are resorts on the island that cater for children and families, with pools and areas of grass and greenery to run around. It’s worth baring in mind that this area is quite rural and during the off season the beaches at Donsol aren’t at their best. However, the local markets, firefly tours and jungles would all provide great places to explore with children.

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Tips

There is one ATM in Donsol, but you’d be wise to get out enough cash at the airport as many of the resorts and activity organisations only accept cash and this one ATM isn’t always working or replenished. Some places might accept credit card.

Some resorts are only open during Whale Shark season and close during the months of July to October. However some do remain open. 

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