Travelling to Donsol, Philippines

Travelling to Donsol, Philippines

I recently spent some time in Donsol, Philippines to catch sight of the whale sharks and hang out in nature. Information on this place is a bit difficult to find, so I thought I'd create a guide for people who want to visit.

Getting to Donsol

Taking the bus from Manila

This is the cheapest way to do it, but it'll take about 12 hours. The bus only leaves once per day at around 11am-12pm. I decided to fly instead, since it's the fastest way.

Taking a flight

The nearest airport is Legaspi airport, or Bicol international airport. Once arrived, you can choose to explore around the city first, or head straight to Donsol via a bus or jeepney. Once you alight at the airport, there will be many people jostling for your attention - the prices are actually decent for the trip you take (~100 php to the city at Legaspi / Daraga). Getting off at Legaspi has a higher chance of catching a ride out of Donsol, but Daraga is technically a bit nearer.

Getting a van to Donsol from Legaspi City

There are two ways to do this - first is by jeepney, while the second is by air-con van. The first way is cheaper by about ~20-30 PHP, but takes a while longer (2 hours compared to 1 hour). Also, my jeepney broke down on the way.

I took a jeepney into Donsol but a van back out of Donsol, and would recommend the van if you have a strong stomach and want a more comfortable ride with air conditioning. I got a bit motion sick on the van.

The vans have a shorter availability period, but you can just try your luck and enquire at the airport about whether any of them are going to Donsol.

Main tourist activities

Legaspi landmarks

There's the Cagsawa Ruins (also the start point for ATV), Daraga church, Bicol university, and Puro boulevard. There are also several smaller national parks around which could be cool to explore too.

Riding the ATV around Legaspi

This is the closest you can get to the volcano since it is still active. The deal is around 1850 PHP per hour usually, I managed to get a deal for 1100 PHP by going directly to the operator via a recommendation by my tuk tuk driver. I think it was these guys.

Diving in Donsol

There is only one dive center in Donsol, but I didn't go since it took up a lot of time. The dive is more advanced with stronger currents, and the sightings rate of mantas and whale sharks does not seem to be very high.

Snorkeling in Donsol

Whale shark season is between January to May, though the peak is March-April. The chances of seeing a shark is pretty high then - I only spotted them once during my trip out to sea, but others saw them 5 times in one trip. Each trip is about 3 hours long.

I pre-booked a tour at the only dive center in Donsol, which cost 1850 and requires sending a deposit (I avoided fees by using Revolut, but you can use GCash via Wise, too).

Another way you can do it is to wait by the area near the dive center and join a group spontaneously. If you talk to the boatmen, you can often get a better deal. Another traveller I met paid 1133 php total for the same trip, and an extra 300 php for renting the snorkeling equipment, saving ~400 php.

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Tips for spotting whale sharks

You'd need to be ready to jump right away - there are many people chasing after the whale shark in each boat, and they swim pretty quickly. So be ready and jump in once your boat captain gives the signal to do it.

San Rafael falls

This is a small waterfall nearby. It is 300 PHP per person for a trike there and back, plus a hike in and out (30mins one way). If you have more time, you can consider Tuba falls (~1 hour hike one way), which looks nicer on the picture than San Rafael, but is harder to get to.

Firefly tour

There is also a tour available to see fireflies for 3000 PHP per boat. If you get 6 people to share with you, that's 500 PHP per person. It's much cheaper to just go there and wait for somebody instead of arranging a tour at 1200 PHP per person, especially if you are going during peak season. There are two places to do it, one is nearer to the city while the other is further out. I did the one nearer to the city because once you're out in the river, the light pollution becomes negligible. I also had clear skies so the stars were amazing, too. It was really nice because you could get quite close to the fireflies (for the one in the city at least) - they don't fly around you but the tour guide lets you chill nearby for as long as you like.

Hang out with locals

I met a tourist who has been in the Philippines for a couple of months, and he managed to hang out with the locals and enjoy food together with the locals' family. Some of the experiences were pretty insane (to me at least!) - he had to step over beaches and cross a flood to reach the house where there was lots of delicious food waiting.


For food, I usually wandered around and just walked into whatever that looks interesting. If you prefer a more local experience, try to go to where you see more locals hanging out. You can try things like Bicol express and laing, which are paste-like dishes that taste amazing. There are few local options for strict vegetarians, but there are spots that cater to tourists which can offer those.


I stayed at Touristlink Homestay, which was a bit out of the way from the town center (~10mins walk) but was beautiful. The host, Liezel, was great too, and very warm.

Sample itinerary

Day 1 - land in Legaspi City, ask a local to bring you around the city and catch the sights (~400 PHP, about 2 hours). If time permits, go for the ATV tour. Head out to Donsol by 4pm.

Day 1 evening - view fireflies if weather allows.

Day 2 morning - see whale sharks.

Day 2 afternoon - San Rafael/Tuba falls.

Day 3 morning - buffer to see whale sharks if day 2's luck is not good.

Day 3 evening - walk around the town at night. The night sky is amazing, particularly at Donsol Bay, and you can watch people catch crabs out during low tide. Bring a torchlight/your phone.

Day 4 whole day - visit Manta Bowl (the dive site).

Day 5 morning - ATV tour/Legaspi city tour as desired.