Holy Week in Donsol! There are plenty of things to keep travelers entertained for a couple of days- a sandy beach, great food, nice locals, Holy Week festivities, firefly tours, and of course whale sharks. The only problem is that on top of all that, it gets seriously packed with visitors.
Donsol is a little bit like the guy who won the lottery, but becomes a victim of his own success. Locals have not yet found a way to manage the wealth of visitors who want to explore all the great things that Donsol can offer. Instead, of experiencing a peaceful stroll through Donsol’s wonders, crowds of visitors experience traffic jams and pushing mobs of other visitors as everyone vies for his or her own piece of the pie. Come back next year and you will find that they’ve paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. I’ll explain more on that later.
(above) I recommend that you stay at the Elysia Beach Resort. It has a nice courtyard, seen here, and it’s on one of the nicer stretches of beach. Not exactly budget lodging though. A huge bonus is that it is right next door to the BARracuda restaurant. Hands down the best restaurant in Donsol, and one of the top-five best restaurants I’ve eaten at in the Philippines. Go early (6pm) and have a reservation. The first night, we went early and had great service and food. The second night, we made a later reservation, and service and food were very slow, but the food was still great.
(above and below) Firefly tour – This is what a Nikon D700 with a 24 or 35/1.4 can do at iso 6400. Our guide told me that she had never seen anyone successfully take a picture of the fireflies.
While the Philippines loves Holy Week, Holy Week has to be the whale shark’s least favorite holiday. There are rules for whale shark encounters, but as you can guess, those all get thrown out the window. It’s pretty much guaranteed that if you do see a whale shark, it will have almost 30 boats and 50+ people swimming right on top of it. I can handle swimming with a crowd of people, but it really upset me to see people swimming up against the sharks, touching the sharks, or taking pictures from so close that the shark would have to change direction. Too see people stressing the animals out, and making them work just that much harder for survival really bums me out.
Secondly, because they are being treated so poorly, shark sightings during Holy Week go way down. Sharks have to go somewhere else, which puts even more stress on them. Boats will only take visitors on 3-hour tours, and every day at least 2/3 of the tour groups would come back without seeing any sharks! My group had to go out on two tours, just to be able to swim briefly with two sharks. When it’s not Holy Week, people report usually seeing about 5-10 sharks per trip, in uncrowded surroundings.
Donsol for Holy Week? – My advice is go elsewhere.