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Introducing Donsol

Until the 'discovery' of whale sharks off the coast here in 1998, Donsol, about 45km southwest of Legaspi, was an obscure, sleepy fishing village in one of Sorsogon's more remote areas. In 1998 a local diver shot a video of the whale sharks and a newspaper carried a story about Donsol's gentle butanding. Since then Donsol has become one of the Philippines' most popular tourist locations.

It's truly an exhilarating experience swimming along with these huge blue-grey, silver-spotted creatures. You need to be a decent snorkeller and in relatively good shape to keep up with the sharks. In the peak months of February to May, the question isn't whether you will see a shark, but how many you will see. On a good day you'll see 15. In some years the sharks migrate here as early as November and stay until late June. Call Salvador Achao at the Donsol Visitors Center(0927 233 0364; barangay Dancalan; 7.30am-5pm Jan-Jun, 7.30am-5pm Mon-Fri Jul-Dec) before you visit to make sure the sharks are around.

Only snorkelling equipment is allowed; scuba diving is prohibited. There is a limited supply of snorkelling equipment available for rent (P300 per session) at the visitors centre, so it's safer to bring your own.

Before heading out to see the sharks, stop in at the visitors centre, 1.5km north of the Donsol River bridge, and pay your registration fee (citizen/foreigner P150/500). The visitors centre can arrange a boat (good for seven people), a spotter and a Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) if you have not done so in advance through a tour operator in Legaspi or Sorsogon. The boat and spotter costs P3500; the BIO costs P700. Most boats now leave from the beach in front of the visitors centre. Be sure to tip the crew, especially if you've had a good day. It's not a bad idea to call and reserve a boat in advance, especially around Easter.