When researching a trip to the Philippines, no doubt you will come across the whale sharks. It’s hard to miss them, considering the largest recorded was a ridiculous 41.5 feet. To share the water with such a huge yet calm creature will be one of the most incredible experiences of your life, guaranteed.
A quick search online and you will soon find that Donsol is a great area to visit in order to see them on their natural migratory path. They pass through a channel created by two islands; the morning fisherman can spot them and relay the location and numbers to the guide boats. You can then be dropped off ahead, swim alongside for as far as you can, keeping the disturbance to a minimum.
Always do your own research when animals are involved to ensure you are traveling ethically and responsibly.
This is likely to be pretty high up on any nature-travel-animal lovers list of lifetime experiences, but that’s not what this article is about. I would like to share with you a few gems in the surrounding area of Donsol for before, after or as well as seeing the whale sharks. This way you really get the most of your stay and don’t miss the good stuff! So without further ado, here are a few of my top picks on what to do in Bicol.
Rent a Car
When you touch down in Legazpi (nearest airport), you can contact the good folks at Mayon Rent A Car and get sorted out with some transport. I know that people can be apprehensive about driving in foreign countries – there is a different driving style, you don’t know the roads etc. But stay smart and you will soon feel like one of the locals as you make your way to the best spots in your own time and in comfort!
Your adventure is truly in your hands when you have your own vehicle. Your path opens up to more than just the usual tourist trail of going bus station to bus station. You’re A to B now has countless other letters thrown in there as you divert, twist and turn, hitting up every viewpoint, hidden waterfall and scenic spot along the way.
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Find a Beach
You’re in the Philippines. Beaches are what the Philippines does. And they do it better than anyone else.
The Bicol Region has their fair share of stunning beaches. From the surfing spots around Sorsogon such as Rizal beach to the more mellow, clear water that the Philippines is famous for. The beaches here are laid back, stunning, and well worth visiting. It is definitely one of my top recommendations on things to do in Bicol.
The simple way of finding what you want whilst avoiding tourist traps is to look at a map. The sheltered sides will have tranquil, chill out spots and the sides with open ocean and a long fetch will bring you the waves.
Related: Best Beaches in the Philippines
LOLA Sayong – Eco Surf Camp
This is one not to be missed. LOLA Sayong is a nonprofit organisation, made up of volunteers passionate about the environment, sustainable living and of course – the surf! You can stay for the day or spend the night in one of their cosy wooden cottages.
LOLA Sayong is the ultimate escape. They promote a complete detox from the hustle and bustle. Wake up early, have some surf lessons then spend the rest of your day putting it into practise. Or sit back and watch the locals make it look easy.
The evenings are a chance to learn about how the camp are using their profits to fund health and environmental education projects as well as putting local kids through school and college. They also have many incentives for visitors to help out too, such as the ‘5 for 5 free coffee’.
If you spend 5 minutes clearing trash from a 5-metre patch of beach, you get a free coffee. Once the sun goes down, the guitars come out. Apparently the more you surf the better you get at singing. It can’t be a coincidence that every one of the local crew will sound like a reincarnated Marley or Protoje as soon as the guitar sounds!
Be warned: a three-day trip will quickly turn into a week. Why not just free up your whole month?
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Visit the Usual Scenic Spots
I usually promote the path less travelled, avoiding the busy areas and going the local way. However, sometimes, the tourist areas are busy for good reason – the places that you don’t want to miss.
This 16th-century church has really been through it. First burnt down by Dutch pirates, then melted by the erupting Mayon volcano (seen hiding behind the clouds in the photo), the church has fought hard to hold its place. It has now been recognised as one of the must visit historic sites in Asia. A great spot for history buffs, as well as those that want to take in the supurb views of Mt. Mayon.
Following that, just a short drive away, you can find Sumlang Lake. You can’t get more chilled than this spot. Bamboo rafts, loungers, and views for days. I can see it getting quite busy, but if you can hang around until sunset, the groups disperse and it’s just you all the local kids as they play around the lake.
The lush vegetation and warm weather make for the perfect conditions to jump under a waterfall. They can be found all over the region, best to ask a local where the quiet ones are and they’ll be happy to show you as some require a short hike. A day at the hot springs in Bulusan is also recommended. These areas harness the natural warm water that is running from the volcanoes. Large pools have been built, with cottages all around to bring your own food and drink.
Naturally, Mt. Mayon tops the list as it is one of the most visited places while in the region. This volcano is world-renowned due to its “perfect cone” because of its symmetric conical shape. At the time of this article being published, Mount Mayon has just exploded, with lots of video and photographic footage of lava spewing out of its perfectly shaped top. Hopefully, not much damage will occur during this time.
So you’ve seen Mt. Mayon from every scenic spot and angle possible. Now it’s time to get up and on it! Head over to Bicol Adventure ATV to sort out a quad bike tour. There are a few different options, with varying prices and difficulties. Whatever option you pick, you will be given an initial safety briefing, driving lessons and then guided every step of the way with the professional drivers. Splash through puddles, cross rivers and blast over all terrain.
Now, get your flights booked, pencil all the above into your itinerary and let the adventures begin! If you want to see more awesome adventures on things to do in Bicol, check out this video that I (Chris) from Global Shenanigans produced.
Looking for more articles in the Philippines? Check out a few of our best ones
- Where to Stay in the Philippines
- Complete Guide to Traveling Around the Philippines
- Diving in the Philippines