Road Trip to Bicol: Swimming with the Butandings

Among the many road trips that Tin and I had done over a span of four years, our Bicol trip would be one of my favorites:  swimming with the whale sharks, getting the chance to view the majestic Mt. Mayon, exploring the islands of Caramoan, taking a dip on the hot springs of Mt. Isarog, visiting Penafrancia Basilica in Naga, and enjoying the company of Tin and Flaj and her family.

We were supposed to do it with a couple of our friends but they backed out a few days before the scheduled trip.  But, because we’ve already filed for leaves and I was really looking forward to doing this out-of-town-trip, Tin and I pushed through with our plan.

We left very early in the morning.  Since I don’t drive, she did all the driving and I was in charge of navigating.  I promised her, though, that I wouldn’t sleep on her.  And, I didn’t!

After an almost a 13-hour drive, and stopping for a couple of hours in Naga to pick up my friend, Flaj, we finally arrived in Donsol.  You can find a lot of rooms to rent for an overnight stay within the area.  In our case, we rented a fan-room near the beach for Php 750.00, which housed the three of us.

In the morning, we took a trike to the beach.  And, the search for the butandings (whale sharks) began!

From Albay Tourism Website:

“Albay’s neighboring province to the south, Sorsogon, is host to one of the highest concentration of Whale Sharks in the world.  These creatures have been frequenting the waters off Donsol, Sorsogon for generations and in 1998, the Philippine Department of Tourism declared this area an official sanctuary for the Whale Shark, thus protected this fascinating species.

Although Whale Sharks, or “Butanding” as they are locally known, are enormous in size and power, reaching lengths greater than 15 meters, they are remarkably gentle and docile enough that it is generally safe to swim among them.  Swimming among the whale sharks is a captivating experience.  If you are not comfortable swimming in the waters, then it is just as amazing to experience them from the boat.  The Butanding swim alongside the boat all the time.

Generally, the whale sharks at Donsol swim very close to the surface of the water.  Some basic snorkeling gear (mask, snorkel, fins and a water vest) are just about you’ll need in the water to be able to experience swimming among them.”

Monica and Flaj

Since Tin and I already have masks and snorkels, we just went ahead and rented fins.  We also rented a boat with about four other people and we paid Php 500.00 each.  It was a bit pricey but definitely worth every penny.  Plus, from what I heard, it would have costed us way more than that if we had done it some other place.

Snorkels and fins


The first sighting that I had of the whale shark was on our first jump onto the water.  I saw spots and I thought that it was just my goggles fogging up.  Haha!  And, then, a few minutes after, I saw the tail of a whale shark swimming away from me.  That was sooo cool!


We did several more jumps but failed to see them closer because, errrr, we were too slow.  We were already quite bent on staying on for another night to fully experience swimming with the butandings.  So, we agreed that we would do it if on the next jump we still wouldn’t be able to get a good swim with them.

Monica and Flaj



Then, the guide called to us, “Jump!”  We all jumped right away (quite fast this time) and it was so amazing.  Some of our companions swam alongside the butandings and we watched from near the boat.  I was quite scared going deep the water but the experience was all the same so surreal for me.  They were beautiful and friendly, as if doing a show for us!



We had a disposable underwater camera with us then but it took very unforgivable pictures.  So sorry, no visuals for this one.  But, please consider this an invitation to experience swimming with the butandings yourself.  I promise, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. 🙂

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