Donsol-Caramoan: From Whalesharks and Fireflies to Beaches and Bonfires

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The Bicol Region is more than coconut milk-based dishes and land of “Uragons”. Situated at the southernmost tip of Luzon, this region can make or break your travel bucket list.. even companionship.

For a 5-day holiday, our trip started in Donsol, a first class municipality of Sorsogon province famous for its Whale shark interaction activities then wrapped it up in Caramoan, a peninsular town of Camarines Sur made popular worldwide by hit TV series “Survivor”.

This region has long been a procrastinated travel destination on my list, but it only took quarter of a second and a charming bribe to make me hop on a last-minute bus to Legazpi for that epic inter-region soirée. 

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Our Whale Shark spotter making sure we make most out of our encounter. And we did! We saw two 6-meter long Butandings!

Certified divers find Donsol as another great dive spot in the country where they can be in close contact with Whale Sharks or locally known as Butandings, Manta Rays, and many other beautiful friends of the water world. Hammerhead Sharks and the shy Thresher Shark can also sometimes be spotted here. But for non-divers like me (shame!), this town offers a one-of-a-kind encounter with the gentle giants, too.

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All’s ready for the encounter. Jump in 3..2..

To start off, head over to the Tourist Center for a proper orientation on the Butanding encounter. Basic rule is to observe the allowable distance from their body and tail, but the most important reminder of all, strictly no touching! Each boat caters to a maximum of 6 tourists accompanied by a Butanding Interaction Officer, Whale Shark Spotter, and Boat Captain.

That morning, we had the chance to swim with two 6-meter long Butandings. Best if you come prepared with an underwater camera to document the whole experience!

Trivia: In 2007, an indie film entitled“Donsol” was shot on location. It is a story about a Whale Shark guide who falls in love with a beautiful but mysterious tourist. The two individuals are nursing their own heartaches but find themselves hopelessly drawn to each other. Also, this film became the official entry of the Philippines to OSCARS Foreign Language Category that year! Cool, isn’t it?

Later that night on board a tricycle, we found ourselves en route to Donsol river for another amazing interaction but this time, rather more “intimately”: The mating of fireflies.

That moment, I thought, was probably the best ecological illumination that I have ever witnessed in this lifetime. Just us, mere humans watching centimeter-small organisms flying around a tree to perform acts of science before our eyes. It was authentic magic. It was surreal. I can’t even.

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Photo courtesy: Tripsiders

Under the light of the quarter moon as well as the influence of alcohol, there we were, 6 adults discussing and arguing about firefly facts, Latin name origins, historical and pop-culture references, constellations, travel, and even unparalleled feelings. Therefore, while on the subject of science, the chemical reaction of wine and Red Horse to our brains apparently produced substantial neurons in abundance than usual. (Photo from Tripsiders)

Trivia: Fireflies are not beetles. The primary purpose of their light or bioluminescence is to be used in mate selection. They have a variety of ways to communicate with mates in courtships: steady glows, flashing, and the use of chemical signals unrelated to photic systems. And, male fireflies literally shine brighter than the female ones. Ergo, if we apply analogy to humans, men are more carnal than women  😉

How to go there

From Manila you have two following options:

  1. Take a bus bound for Legazpi (more or less 12hrs for a night trip). From Legazpi central terminal, ride a UV Express van to Donsol (1-1.5hrs).
  2. Fly via local low-cost carriers to Legazpi (1hr flight). From Legazpi central terminal, ride a UV Express van to Donsol (1-1.5hrs).

For a detailed list of nationwide bus schedules and bus operators going to and fro one city to another, you may visit PinoyTravel. The goal of the genius people behind this very helpful site (and app too!) is simply admirable: all heart #ParasaBayan!

Accommodation

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View of the ocean from the hotel restaurant and on the right is the pool (not seen in photo).

We stayed at Woodland Resort, a beachfront hotel a few minutes walk from the Tourist Center. For backpackers or budget travelers, this hotel offers a bed in their dorm quarters for Php500 a night. There are other homestays for a cheaper price but located a bit far from the Tourist Center/Dive Resorts.

CARAMOAN

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White sand and limestones of Lahus Island.

Then there was the detour.

An upside of traveling alone is that you get to take on a pacing without compromise. Once headcount starts to add up, equal amount of annoyance and patience develop. Considering both places are from the same region, believe it or not, it took us 11 hrs from Donsol to get to paradise that is Caramoan in Camarines Sur.

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Buwis-buhay shot of Matukad Island from the cliff to see the giant Milk fish or Bangus .

As the island infamous for the location of international TV series “Survivor”, Caramoan Peninsula is a group of island that offers pristine white beaches and sand bars, limestones, lagoons, caves, and unspoiled natural resources. When we arrived in the island around sunset, we decided to walk along the shore to nearby stores for some beers and barbeque. Near the far end of Paniman shores, we passed by the headquarters of “Survivor” crew where a group of friends were having dinner by the bonfire.

There we were, two souls silently walking, still hungry, thinking of ways how to keep the spirit up even if we only get to spend 3 hours of island tour out of the 20 hours total travel time to-fro Donsol, and probably wishing we can set up our own bonfire too while eating our pride a good beach meal.

It was unexpectedly far and totally spontaneous, but with the photos below.. persistence can really get us places this fine!  😉

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How to get there

  1. From Donsol terminal, take a Van going to Legazpi (1.5hrs).
  2. Once in Legazpi central terminal, you can either take a bus or van going to Naga (2.5 hrs).
  3. From Naga central terminal, you can either take a bus going straight to Caramoan (will take 5hrs) OR take a Van to Sabang Port for about 1.5hrs then a boat to Guijalo Port (2hrs) where you can take a tricycle to Caramoan town proper (20mins).

IMPORTANT NOTE: There are limited trips to and fro the places mentioned above. Take for example: last trip of the boat from Guijalo port to Caramoan is at 2pm while last trip from Caramoan to Guijalo port is at 12nn. Likewise, Vans in Legazpi terminal en route directly to Donsol is until 5-6pm only. Make sure to be informed and to check with local operators on timetables especially if you are on a very tight travel schedule.. like we were.

Accommodation

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View of Residencia de Salvacion as we approach the shore from our island tour.

With all the luck and (my) charm in the world, we got the last available room at Residencia de Salvacion! Rated with a ❤ on Lonely Planet, we stayed a night at their very cute but comfortable Mini Cabana.

Boat Rental

For a short trip or tour to islands nearby, rate is at Php 1,500 while long trips to sandbars and farther islands will cost Php 2,500. A  standard-size boat can accommodate up to 6 adults.

Ergo, 5 days spent in this region was unbelievably great, albeit short and fast. Even if half the time we’re in transit, we could learn a thing or two about patience (or silence) to salvage any sanity that’s left for companionship to remain status quo until, like the waves, all’s washed out.

Distance is always worth it,

Charlene

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