Underwater-Encounters with gentle Giants

Posted by on June 14, 2013

Donsol-00029A 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.

16 Responses to Underwater-Encounters with gentle Giants

  1. Laura

    Amazing Philipp!

    • Phil D.

      Thanks Laura..I really appreciate your feedback. Glad you like my reports. Unfortunately my laptop is broken again and I am not sure when I can update again. Hope you will stay tuned ….. Phil

  2. baneensabz

    wow, what a journey. Wish I was there, yet I might’ve freaked

    • Phil D.

      Hey Baneen, thanks for stopping by. It was such an amazing experience and I will never forget it. At first it was a little freaky but than it was just awesome. So great to see these wild creatures in their natural habitat….

  3. lizaott

    Reblogged this on Philippine Photogram.

  4. fernwehh

    You are so lucky to spot the manta rays! I went there with a friend previously and did not spot any, unfortunately. If you have a chance, go to Sipadan Islands for diving as it is one of the best dive sites in South East Asia! cheers and keep on travelling! 🙂

    • Phil D.

      Hello Fernweh, thanks for stopping by my blog here. Too bad you didn’t spot the rays but it’s always sort of a gamble. I tried another time in Indonesia (Flores) and didn’t get lucky either. What can you do. But yeah, diving Sipadan is definetely on my list. It’s supposed to difficult though due to the restrictions in terms of the number of tourists.
      By the way, I really like your blog and the pictures you posted. Especially your reports on Nepal are awesome. I so want to go. Did you do the trek by yourself or did you hire a proper guide for that time? What camera are you currently using. I love your pics I have to say. Greetings from Germany, Philipp. PS: Where are you from anyhow? Your blog title is German but I bet you are not from Europe, right?

      • fernwehh

        Hi Philipp! I’m Singaporean Chinese, but I was born in the Netherlands. Yeahs diving Sipadan is on my list too, but diving is pricey, so sometimes it takes a step back in my plans. Thanks for your kind comments regarding my blog! I hired a guide for my Nepal trek, as the last part of the trek is a little technical (had to use ropes, crampons and stuffs) and it’s our first time doing it. I’m using the Olympus OM-D EM5. Really enjoyed reading your blog! I’m actually planning a long trip (6 months and more) to South America near the end of this year, so am finding your blog and travel tips really helpful! Do continue posting!

    • Phil D.

      Hey again, the trek looked awesome. Can you tell me how much it was since I have absolutely no idea how the pricing is for these things in Nepal. Your idea about traveling South America sounds great as well. Have fun planning it, thats part of the fun. How you gonna do it then? Can you take a break from work or are you self employed? Usually it’s not so easy to get a few months off but it is usually so worth it. Cheers, Phil

      • fernwehh

        Sure, for our 3 weeks program it’s US$1585 (we got a slight discount as we have a big group, so the more the merrier). This excludes other costs you have to factor in as well like tips, insurance, visa, renting of equipment like crampons, jumar, harness, mountaineering boots (it costs about US$60-70 for us. if you already have them, bring it along to save money). I have 3 friends who took the 2 weeks program for Gokyo Lakes only and it costs about US$1k.

        Nope, i’m planning to quit and travel for about a year. Still trying to save up now. We only get 15 days of leave a year here which is not enough! Most travels so far are just touch and go for me, which I’m not a fan of..

        • Philipp Dukatz

          Wow, that sounds awesome I have to say…..something I’d really like to do. And you are right, dealing with 15 days is tough and for almost any trip not really enough. But I always say you have to dealwith what you get and make the most of it. So I bet you still had some trips …. I am wishing you all the best for your plans, saving up and planning your trip. It’ll sure be awesome …. Keep me updated.. Would love tohear about it ..

    • Phil D.

      I can understand perfectly. Those short trips are just not enough after a while. I wish you all the best for your plan to quit and go traveling. It’s been a hard decision for me but I definitely don’t regret it. Just should have done it earlier.
      1.500 Dollars for a 3 week trek seems like lots of money for me. But if that’s what it takes …. I thought Nepal would be pretty cheap. Anyhow, it will be a while until I will be able to make it there I think. Have you already made an itinerary for your trip then? Cheers, Philipp

  5. Leidy

    Hi. I´ve been reading this blog and it´s awesome. I dont get bored reading your post and watching your pics.

    I will be in Philipines next Tuesday. One of the ideas is first go to Donsol for the wale sharks (Its possible to dive with them?) and now that I saw your post I wanna see the manta rays. How is it call the dive shop you went and how much did that cost for the hotel and the dives package?

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Leidy,
      thanks a lot for stopping by, I really appreciate it. Glad you like the pictures and stories. So for the whalesharks: You only snorkel with, no diving. This is not possible anyways, as they need to spotted and then you need to be in the water as soon as possible and swim alongside of them. That wouldn’t even be possiblewith full scuba gear. So only snorkeling. The diving was cool but I don’t remember the diveshop. There are only acouple and they are on the main road, where also the Whaleshark station is located. basically my diveshop was just across from there. Just enquire about the trips they do that same day or the day after…. Usually they go to Manta Bowl almost every day. Price was 2000 PHP if I am not mistaken. Whalesharkwatching was about 800PHP and gets cheaper if you havent seen any whalesharks and want to try it again. Hope that helps.. Please let meknow how it went …. All the best and happy travels. I am a bit jelous hehe

  6. Charlotte

    Hi! I am going to cebu today and then to bohol do you have any recomendations of places to stay or places to visit?


    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Charlotte, I can’t really recommend you places as I was staying only a short time in Cebu City and then went onwards to tour the island. In Cebu City I stayed with friends. I have not been do Bohol, only for a stopover to catch other ferries. So in this aspect, I can really help you out. Have fun though, I am sure it will be awesome. Philipp