A little bit belated, I want to share two awesome encounters I had during my recent stay in Donsol. The sleepy town of Donsol is located in Sorsogon, Southern Luzon and is world famous for being regularly visited by whale sharks. The biggest fish of the world are known to come here between November and June with January until May being the peak season. The encounters with these gentle giants used to be very regular but lately encounters have become scarce. It seems like the whalesharks have found a new feeding ground which they prefer over Donsol. Since I have missed swimming with them while I was travelling in Australia, I definitely wanted to take my chances, even though it was already very late in the season.
The quest of swimming with whalesharks
I arrived in Donsol and didn’t even bother checking into a guesthouse. I went straight to the tourist information which also arranges the trips and was lucky enough to join a group of Russians without having to wait. When we entered the boat, another group had just returned – no whale sharks. Hence I didn’t expect anything and since I had endured a long, strenous trip, I just started to snooze away once we took off. I never really woke up until after an hour and a half the captain suddenly started to shout hysterically. I was definitely awake by then. We had to be quick now: Getting to the top of the boat, putting on the gear and jumping into the water. I couldn’t wait for the Russians and jumped straight in. And there it was, right below me and just about a meter away. An about 8 meter whale shark, gently swimming past the boat. Wow, how lucky I was. But the giant was fast and started to plow away. Thanks to my rental fins I was able to keep up and swam along it for about 2 minutes. The whale shark started to descent with me trying to chase after it. At one point it disappeared but I was just so happy and stoked to have seen this natural phenomenon. Unfortunately I didn’t have an underwater camera with me so I don’t have any pictures of this memorable encounter. Anyhow, for the rest of the boat ride back to Donsol I couldn’t help but smile all the time.
Some luxury in Donsol
After my return I talked to the local dive shop which offered me a really good dive package including diving at the famous Manta Point. The Point is a cleaning station for huge Manta Rays and the chances of spotting them around there are comparably good. Since I already got lucky once, I figured I could be on a roll and signed up for the package.
Hungry and tired, I still had to arrange accommodation and found that amazing little resort right by the beach. They had a backpacker deal which mad it affordable for me. The setting in a lush and spacious garden, with a new pool right in front of the airy restaurant made it so enjoyable. Just the right place after my long journey to Donsol. And the best thing was that there were only about three other guests. I really seemed to be on a roll now.
Diving with Manta Rays
The morning started early. I grabbed a few snacks and went to the diveshop. After a quick briefing together with my four other dive buddies for that day, we boarded the boat and took off for Manta Bowl. The spot is characterized by a very strong current. Diving hence involves a very quick descent with clinging onto the reef with a hook once down. Since this is challenging, we did an easy check dive before hitting Manta Bowl itself. Even that dive was nice with lots of coral, fish and even a sea snake passing by.
But we wanted to see what we had come for – the Manta Rays. We arrived at the spot and suited up. Everyone was excited and anxious to get in. The thing is, that you really take your chances here. Sightings are not guaranteed and if you don’t see the rays, the dive will be totally unspectacular due to the absence of other marine life and corals.
We did the descent and the current wasn’t as strong as expected. We were able to make some distance until we all heard the signal of one of the dive masters. I wasn’t able to see it right away but we were sure a Manta was around. We all stayed put until it emerged out of the blue. A huge Manta moving gently, almost angel like, through the water. It circled around us and even stopped for a bit to check us out. After a while it disappeared again and everyone seemed to be really happy with laughter being heard underwater. But that wasn’t enough. Just about 5 minutes later another Manta appeared and also put up a little show for us. It was great. We finally surfaced and when everybody took off their masks, there were a lot of big smiles.
We gave it a second try during our third and last dive but didn’t get lucky this time. No one cared too much though and we were all more than satisfied with our trip. It was a truly memorable experience.
Last thoughts …
I got as lucky as one get get when going to Donsol. Sightings of whalesharks were really scarce during the time I went and I actually didn’t expect to see them. The encounter itself was phenomenal and unforgettable. Especially after having skipped the whale shark experience in Western Australia due to a ridiculously high price, I was happy to have finally swam with those giants.
Diving in Donsol is not the cheapest, especially compared to places like Coron. But encountering the Manta Rays was definitely worth it. It is a gamble and you have to know that and not be too disappointed if you don’t see them. It’s a little bit like roulette and I was happy to have hit the jackpot.