Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Bicol Express, Part 1: Swimming with the Butandings in Donsol, Sorsogon

Here it is! The first stop on my week-long beach vacation is Donsol, Sorsogon.
I'm telling you as early as now that this will be a lengthy post but please bear with me. I'll try to supply you with all the important information that will be useful if you're visiting so you don't have to make the same mistakes that we did :) I'll reward you with a video of our whale shark encounter at the end, don't worry!

How do you get to Donsol?

By Bus to Legazpi City, Albay

1.     From Manila, take the bus to Legazpi City. For a list of the bus lines and where to find them, click here. Brace yourself for a butt-numbing 9-12 hour drive! Don't say I didn't warn you.
2.     Get off at the Legazpi Grand Central Terminal and take a van to Donsol for P75. The van terminal is just right across the bus terminal. This is an hour and a half to a 2-hour drive, depending on your van driver's amazing driving skills.
3.     Once you're at Donsol Terminal, hail a tricycle and ask them to take you to where you're staying. Travel time and fares may vary depending on how far you are from the town center.

By Bus to Donsol, Sorsogon

1.     Skip steps 1 and 2 from above. Proceed to Step 3 :)

By Plane

1.     Fly in to Legazpi Airport and take a cab or a van to the terminal. (We didn't go through this but make sure you ask the Tourism Board how much the rates are before you step out of the airport) 
2.     Follow Steps 2 and 3 from above!


So, how exactly did we get there?

We booked our tickets in February during the Travel Expo here in Manila and originally planned to go elsewhere. Donsol was just a side trip, planned after the significant other and I had quite a few round of beers. Danger, danger!
We flew in to Naga Airport, which I EXTREMELY ADVISE AGAINST! Our flight, which was supposed to leave at 11:30AM, was 4 hours late. From Naga Airport, we travelled an extra 2 hours to Legaspi and paid P140 each. Thanks to Philippine Airlines and the delay it caused, the Legazpi van terminal was completely deserted at 8-ish. We hired a cab to take us to Donsol and paid an extra P1100 for the whole trip. We waited for the cab and left the terminal a little past 9PM. Although the road was bumpy, we safely arrived at our hotel by past 11PM and was gleefully welcomed by the hotel staff.

Where did we stay?

We stayed in a Single Bedroom at Woodland Beach Resort. The room had a queen-size bed and was big enough for 3 people to stay in. The mattress, however, was not that comfortable to sleep in.  We had the usual A/C and Hot Shower but don't expect a cable TV. WiFi is only available in their bar. We also noticed some cobwebs behind the bed and lots of ants. It must be the season. For Php1,800 (USD42) a night during peak season, it ain't too shabby!


If you're a budget traveller and willing to share a room with 2 other people, the resort also has an aircon room for Php500 (USD12) a night with a common bath.

What's there to do?

Whale Shark Encounter

Donsol is where you go when you want to experience the adventure of swimming with Whale Sharks, locally known as Butanding. The sightings usually start in November and ends in June but the best time to visit is between February and May! It will be a 3-hour boat tour and you can swim with the Butandings as much as you want (if your lungs can catch up with them!)
We were the first boat out to sea and weren't guaranteed that we would be seeing the gentle giants. The guide repeats that it wasn't 100% sure that we'll see them because we're looking for them in their real habitat. It was not like in Oslob where they feed the Butandings so they'd come up to the boats.
We were in the boat ride for what seemed like an eternity (just crossing the 2- hour mark) and the guide kept on assuring us that they will try their best to get us an encounter but continued not to promise us anything. After two false alarms, we all felt disheartened. One swift turn and the guide saw something in the distance and advised us to prepare to jump. All 6 of us quickly sat on the right side of the boat and jumped. There I landed right in front of my first Butanding.

Firefly Watching

There are 2 ways to do this:  
Go Mainstream Arrange a river cruise at the Donsol Ecotourism Center for Php1250 good for 5 people (USD 29) You can either charter the whole boat (which is perfect for proposals, I must say) or wait to be paired up with other passengers and split the fare.
Go Hipster - Negotiate with a tricycle driver to take you to where the fireflies are for Php200 good for 4 people (USD 5) They'll take you to the bridge where the boat passes under and even take you to a rice field where the trees are literally glowing because of the fireflies. If going this route, I suggest that you cover up so you don't get bitten by mosquitoes.
We chose the latter and gave our tricycle driver Php500 to take us around and pick us up from the hotel and bring us to the terminal upon check out. I don't suggest that you pay him as much but he's really nice and accommodating! I'll give you his contact details and even post his picture so you can get in touch with him.

Things that I wish I knew before I went to Donsol:

1.     Do not take the plane however convenient it might seem. Unless having your flight delayed, your schedule messed up and having to pay extra sounds okay to you.... which leads me to point 2.

2.     Make sure you're in Legazpi Terminal before 6PM because the transportation doesn't run 24/7 like we were led to believe. The vans have a cut-off and would instantly leave once they've filled up their 12-seater capacity.

How much did we spend?

(Worst Case Scenario. I don’t think you can do worse than this.)

(in USD)
Cab from Naga Airport to Naga Van Terminal
(USD 8)
Van from Naga City to Legazpi City
Php140 each
(USD 4)
(USD 7)
Cab from Legazpi City Terminal to Donsol, Sorsogon
(USD 26)
Woodland Beach Resort stay, 2D1N
(USD 83)
Butanding Watching

Breakdown of Fees:
·      Boat Rental, BIO (Butanding Interaction Officer)Fee, Spotter Fee: Php3510/6 people x 2 of us= Php1170 
·      Registration Fee: Php100 for locals, Php300 for foreigners= Php200 for two of us 
·      Snorkel and Fins: P300 per set = P600 for the two of us

(USD 45)

Firefly Watching, Pick-up and Drop off to Donsol Terminal, Tip
(USD 12)
(USD 178)

Sharing you some contact numbers:

Vitton and Woodland Beach Resorts
Donsol, Sorsogon, Philippines
Contact Person: Annie Buenaagua

Mobile No. (063)927-912-6313 
Donsol, Sorsogon, Philippines
Contact Person: Kuya Eddie Avisado
Mobile No. (063)912-260-8303
This is Kuya Eddie, y'all!

Hope you found my adventure interesting! Got something to say? Sound off below!

Loving the sand in between my toes,
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