From December to May, the biggest fish in the world finds refuge in the waters of Donsol feeding on the abundance of plankton and krill found in this area. Swimming with the Whale Sharks in Donsol is an experience of a lifetime not to be missed.
Donsol is also an ideal feeding and cleaning station for Manta Rays during this period. Ticao Pass has one of the world’s highest concentration of plankton due to the strong currents from San Bernardino Strait. The Pass is the deep sea “big-boys’-alley” which also attracts Whale Sharks, Hammerheads, Thresher Sharks and other pelagics.
Donsol is approximately 550 kilometres from Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Legaspi airport is the closest airport. There are daily flights from Manila to Legaspi city (45 minutes). After a 1 hour road transfer you will then arrive in Donsol.
Ticao Island is an island in the province of Masbate in the Bicol region. Geographically Ticao Island is closer to the province of Sorsogon. Ticao is a 1.5 to 2 hour boat ride from Donsol. As Donsol is strictly a snorkelling area, all the diving in the region is done around Ticao Island.
From Donsol / Ticao you can climb the perfect cone shaped volcano of Mt Mayon at 2,421 metres. Mt Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines, having had erupted 47 times in the past 400 years. Watch the sunset and take an evening Firefly Tour along the Donsol and Ogod Rivers to see the millions of fireflies dancing in the trees and rippling through the water. Kayak through the mangrove river or join excursions to experience the local culture. A Legaspi City or provincial tour will include sights such as Abaca Handicrafts and Pili Shops, Cagsawa Ruins, Daraga Church, Embarcadero, Lignon Hill, Mt Mayon Rest House, and Tiwi Pottery.
Horseback riding is a popular activity on Ticao Island as Masbate Province is well known for its ranches and the rodeo.
Swim with the gentle giant of the ocean in Donsol - the Whale Shark.
Have you ever imagined swimming beside a fish that is 18 metres long and 40 tons heavy? Now, imagine swimming with a school of fishes that big! This is what Donsol has to offer.
Studies show that the world's largest annual congregation of Whale Sharks is in the waters of Donsol between December to May. Due to restrictions implaced by the Department of Tourism, there is a designated, whale shark interaction area in Donsol. With the discovery of the immense number of Whale Sharks in Donsol and the promotion of eco-tourism in the area, efforts for the preservation of this endangered species has been heightened. Scientists and conservationists have also migrated to Donsol to further study these animals. By using tracking devices and photo identification, it is hoped that the mystery of these great gentle giants will be soon discovered.
In Donsol waters, typical sightings of whale sharks are between 4-12 metres in length with distinctive characteristics that include a broad, flat head, 3 prominent ridges on the upper flank, a checkerboard pattern of white spots and stripes on its blue-gray-brown-skin. By donning a mask, fins and snorkel you can swim besides these magnificent creatures and be awestruck by their friendly and gentle nature.
Whale sharks, locally known as butanding, gather in the Donsol area six to eight months a year, sometimes migrating as early as November and staying as late as June. Numbers peak from February to early May. Since Donsol is visited primarily for the whale sharks, the resorts in Donsol are non-operational from July to October.
Manta rays are seen year round with the peak months being March to October.
Whilst you have the chance to swim with the whale sharks during these months, the diving conditions may not be very comfortable. These are the rainiest months in the Legaspi, Donsol, and Ticao Island areas. The water in Donsol will continue to be calm despite the rain as the winds are not strong in Donsol. Ticao Island, on the other hand, is directly affected by the Amihan winds. Ticao Island Resort is directly affected by these winds and the waves during this time move towards the resort. During these months, the beachfront of Ticao Island Resort quickly gets dirty and the maintenance team have to work hard to keep the beach clean.
These would be the ideal months to visit as this is when you can get the best of both worlds – Whale Sharks and great diving. This is the dry season/summer period. The wetter weather may sometimes extend into the early part of February.
Is a good time to visit if you are looking for a diving holiday and are not focused on seeing the whale sharks. Although the whale sharks will not be around, you will get the chance to see Manta Rays, Thresher Sharks, White Tip Sharks, and other pelagics whilst diving around Ticao Island. Of course, there is also the macro critters and the corals in the dive sites around San Miguel.
These are the Habagat months in the Philippines and Donsol is directly affected by the Habagat winds. With the Habagat winds, the ocean is very rough. Because of the wind, the direction of the waves would also be towards the beach of Donsol. Just like Ticao Island during the Amihan months, all the trash from the ocean settles on the shoreline of Donsol during Habagat months. This is probably why the whale sharks are no longer around by this time. There is also a theory that the whale sharks may be within the area but are swimming in the deeper waters.
As Ticao Island is on the opposite end it is not affected by the Habagat winds. During these months, the ocean in front of Ticao Island Resort is extremely calm and diving the diving conditions are exceptional.
From July to October there may be the occasional rain and thunderstorm as it is the typhoon season in the Philippines. Donsol would feel the main brunt of the storms as the wind and waves will hit the Donsol shores. Rain showers would reach Ticao Island but the area would not feel the wind and waves as much.
The air temperature ranges from 26 - 32 degrees Celsius whilst the water temperature will range from 26 - 30 degrees Celsius.
|Elysia Beach Resort
15-20min tricycle ride to Donsol town
|Wifi: No internet access
Onsite Shop: No
Onsite Dive Centre: No
|Ticao Island Resort
Onsite Shop: No
Onsite Dive Centre: Yes
There are two main areas to dive around Ticao Island – Manta Bowl Shoal and San Miguel Island which house several dive sites. The strong current flowing from the San Bernardino Straight makes Donsol / Ticao an ideal feeding centre for the Manta Rays. Given their size, it is a challenge for the Manta Ray to clean itself. The Manta relies on wrasse like Remora fish to remove small parasites from their skin and gill cavities. Because of the Donsol's water conditions, the needed wrasse are abundant, making Donsol not only a Manta feeding centre, but also a Manta cleaning station.
A depression in the Shoal off Ticao Island. This is where you get the most sightings of Manta Rays. Here you may also see whale sharks and the occasional hammerhead and thresher shark.
A gorgeous mix of coral, rock and sandy bottom formations. It is an exciting place to dive because of the many areas to hide from the current and to watch the colourful reef fish play and feed in the current. You can see schools of surgeons, fusiliers, butterfly fish, and damsels and may encounter a manta ray or two.
A busy highway for skip jack tuna and barracuda. With their sheer quantity, they build a thick wall of fish which can run for a kilometre. Excitement comes to the ocean predators when a school of sardines travel by. Think of it as a mini version of Africa's sardine run.
Located on the northern part of the main Ticao Island, about 45 minutes by boat away from Manta Bowl. Several dive sites are found around the island and each dive site is very different. Here you can admire underwater limestone formations with swim throughs and mini caves, encrusted corals, colourful sponges and soft corals. There are also drift dives in moderate to strong currents where you can see sharks and rays playing in the current. This area also has it share of critters—nudibranchs, frogfish, banded boxer shrimp and the Spanish Dancer.