Donsol

Donsol, in the province of Sorsogon, is popular among local and foreign tourists in the Philippines for being one of the places where one can swim with whale sharks in an eco friendly way (as opposed to the infamous Oslob in the island of Cebu).

Its proximity to Legaspi, and the neighbouring islands, make Donsol the ideal location for those looking for something a little different from your regular tourist destinations.  Mayon Volcano, Cagsawa Ruins, Vera Falls and diving with Mantas off the coast of Ticao Island are only some of the things one can do while in and around Donsol.

Swimming with whale sharks in Donsol

If you are in the area to swim and interact with whale sharks, you will need to head down to the Whale Shark Interaction Centre and book the boat outing from them directly.  Once you have made the necessary payments, you will be required to watch an orientation video explaining all the dos and don’ts.

Season goes from December/January to April/May.

There are 3 trips daily (excluding the private boat charters which can leave at any time) and a maximum of 30 boats are allowed every day.

The price is as follows.  Note that there is a maximum of 6 persons allowed on each boat.

php 3,500.00 per boat

php 300.00 registration fee (per person, valid for 5 days)

Island hopping in Donsol

Island hopping tours in Donsol will take you to San Miguel Island, Haleya Beach resort where you will most likely have a chance to swim with small black tip sharks, and visit the most amazing waterfall in Ticao Island which cascades from the top of the island right into the sea. The price of the island hopping tours will vary depending on how many people are in the group.  There is a maximum of 6 allowed in each boat.

Php 7500 per boat

Php 500 per boat docking fee

Php 200 per boat docking fee at Haleya Beach

Php 25/person entrance fee to Haleya Beach Resort

Php 100/person registration fee

Php 300/person for snorkelling gear rental

Scuba Diving in Donsol

Some times this may be the better option to see and swim with whale sharks.  During the 2018 eruption of Mayon Volcano, there were few sightings of the whale sharks in the Donsol area, while they were seen almost every day by visitors who went diving in Manta Bowl, some while diving and others during the surface interval.

There are a number of dive centres in the area that organise these dive trips, packing a minimum of 3 divers and a maximum of 6 to 10, depending on the bangka (boat).  These trips can seem disorganised, the boats are small and it appears as if one is told maximum of 6 to 10 divers per boat depending on the boat, but it is usually as many (up to 10) as possible regardless of the boat.

Visibility is not great and currents can get strong, so if one returns without seeing mantas or whale sharks, it might end up being a little disappointing.  However, if one is successful, the experience can be quite an unforgettable one.

Php 4500 per diver for 3 dives (1 in San Miguel Island and 2 in Manta Bowl)

Php 1500 per snorkeler (you can only jump in the water in Manta Bowl if there are whale shark sightings.  Otherwise the snorkelling is done in San Miguel Island only).

In and around Donsol

Wile in Donsol, one can opt to go fire fly watching at night, about 7km away from town.  A loud bangka will take you down the river mangroves to see the spectacle of these insects that populate a number of trees along the way.

The ridse to Legazpi to see Mayon Volcano takes roughly 1 and a half hours (57km) through a beautiful twisting road.  Once there, one can head over to the geothermal plant in Tiwi, Vera Falls in Tabaco City, ATV tours to the Volcano from Cagsawa Ruins or dine around the Embarcadero de Legazpi.

If you are chasing waves and feel like having a go at surfing, Gubat, on the eastern coast of Sorsogon may be what you are looking for.

To and From Donsol

Donsol is accessible by road from Manila in a 12 hour ride (518km).  The port of Matnog is roughly 2.5 – 3 hours south (133km) and connects the island of Luzon with the ports of Allen and San Isidro in Northern Samar through the PanPhilippine Highway (AH26).  The Port of Pilar connects the Bicol Region to Masbate, another beautiful and underrated tourist destination from which one can then go to Cebu.

Where to stay in Donsol

There are a number of resorts lined up along the coast of Donsol.  Vitton and Woodlands offer a great value for money, close to the Donsol Butanding Interaction Centre and a number of dive centres with whom you can head over to Ticao Island.

Some of the resorts in Donsol close during the northern hemisphere summer months, so check before you show up unannounced.

Where to eat in Donsol

While most resorts have restaurants, if you find yourself in Donsol and are looking for something unique and very tasty, head over to Bar Acuda.  This classic of the area has been serving fresh fish, cooked to perfection for a more than reasonable price and the owner Juliet will definitely add to the entertainment value of your dining experience.

Note that Bar Acuda only opens for dinner (5pm onwards).

Book a ride with us to Donsol.

Siargao

Siargao is a tear-drop shaped island in the Philippine Sea and is part of Surigao del Norte and the Mindanao group of islands. It’s known for surfing and for the beautiful white sand (smaller) islands that surround it. Siargao ,although a less well known fact, boasts the largest mangrove forest reserves in Mindanao and is home to some 3,000 Indo-Pacific saltwater crocodiles. Don’t let its size fool you either, it will take a good part of your day ride around the island and you will need more time than you may think to see everything.

Surfing is probably the top reason why people go to Siargao and surfers of every skill level have plenty of spots to choose from. There are those who say there is surfing all year round, however, the more experienced surfers and local residents will agree that from March to August it is more or less flat and that the real period to surf falls between September to March, with the peak falling on the months of November and December.  Some international surfing competitions are held in Cloud 9 during this time. There are a number of different surf spots around the island, some of which are accessible from the shore and others by bangka.

Cloud 9, the most popular break on the island has a coral bottom and powerful waves and most ideally surfed a couple of hours after the tide has started to rise. This spot is best for advance level surfers and should be avoided by beginners, who can surf in Quicksilver, which is a stones throw away from Cloud 9.

Another spot for the highly skilled is Pacifico located in the northern part of the island and away from the crowds of General Luna, here the waves can get big and crazy but also a lot less crowded than Cloud 9.

Worth a mention, are the offshore breaks of Daku Reef and Cemetery, for beginners and experts, which are accessible only by bangka. The bangka ride costs about Php 250 per person.

Some other activities that can be enjoyed while in Siargao inlcude:
Island hopping to Daku, Naked and Guyam Islands. A less well known option is Mam-on Island, located a bit further out but this means less crowds while having full access to a beatiful beach.

The clear waters of Magpupungko Tidal Pools in Pilar, are another favourite among visitors, and is best during low tide.

A quick ride from General Luna brings you to Del Carmen where boats go to Sugba Lagoon.  The 30-minute ride takes you through mangroves which are the home to saltwater crocodiles but once past this the sea color changes from brown to aquamarine. Entering a natural enclosure of jagged rocks, the lagoon has a floating structure which houses a restaurant, SUP and kayak rental and plank to jump off from.

Food is another thing that Siargao has a good handle on. The small island is filled with restaurants that can cater to anyone’s palette. Vegetarians and vegans will also be happy as some places give this option for their dishes. Bravo, is a resort with a very good restaurant offering some tradional Spanish dishes such as Albondigas (Meatballs), Tortilla de Patata, Boquerones and more. Kermit serves some pretty mean authentic wood-oven baked pizzas, really good pasta and some amazingly tasty desserts. Another place serving authentic Italian food is La Carinderia which can be found along the main road across from Mama’s Grill. Healthy shakes and breakfast options are available in Shaka Siargao  located across the street from the entrance to Cloud 9. A little distance from the other restaurants is CFC which serves big sized burritos and australian beef hamburgers.

Hotels occupy most of the prime properties along the beach. There are more than a few to choose from and depending on your budget and preference. Seaside properties usually mean higher rates as well, resorts along the coast are Bravo, Isla Cabana, Arka Hayahay, Siargao Bleu, Romantic Beach Villas to name a few. Kawayan and Kermit are also good options for places to stay although not along the beach. For the budget conscious Paglaom Hostel offers very clean accommodations and the opportunity to make new friends. Pacifico Beach Resort in Pilar, which has it’s own surf spot right in front, is the perfect hideaway from the noise and crowds.  If money is not an issue, then Dedon is a little slice of paradise and exclusivity.

Siargao used to have a super laid back and backpacker feel to it with unpaved roads. Now, with paved roads, exploring areas outside of  the very busy General Luna, one can stil find peace and quiet among towering coconut trees along the shore of virgin beaches.

At the time of writing, Loose Keys Moto Culture were about to open their shop, right next to La Carinderia.  Check them out if you want to grab a bite, a drink, or if you need a surfboard or even get new items for your wardrobe.  Did we say they have a really nice fleet of small motorcycles built by the guys from 3B Customs in Surigao City???

Baler

Baler is the capital of the province of Aurora, in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines.  It is mostly known for being the shooting location of the famous surfing scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “Charlie don’t surf!” are 2 lines that may sound familiar, especially if you are a film buff.  Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore played by Robert Duval said these lines at Charlie’s Point, now one of the most accessible and popular surf spots in the area.  But if you are an avid surfer, or just want to give it a try, know that this is only the beginning of what Baler has to offer.

Located a, roughly, 7 hour ride from Manila (it took us 12 hours from Santa Ana, Cagayan), Baler is not only ther birthplace of the Philippines Surf scene, but also home to some beautiful white sand beaches and waterfalls.

Digisit, Ditumabo, Cunayan and Paltic falls are all within a reasonable distance and are a must if you wish to combine a little hiking with a little dip in fresh water.

Head over to Dinadiawan or down to Dicasalarin Cove if you want to avoid the crowds and relax on a white sand beach sorounded by beautiful coconut trees.

Baler is also motorcycling paradise.  Its twisting roads are fairly quiet and there isn’t much traffic outside the town propper.  The ride will reward you with great sea views and coconut trees, beautiful muntains and rivers.  Road conditions are good, but watch out for certain sections where the pavement disappears and the roasd becomes a dirt track.

If you are looking for a place to stay, we really like Kahanamoku Bed & Breakfast, which is super clean, well decorated and has very tasty and healthy breakfast options which you need to order before 5pm the previous day.  Even though this place does not have T.V. or wifi, it is one of our favourite lodging options in the Philippines.  It is also the home of Salty Dog Customs and also offer yoga classes and retreats.  If you are in Baler for surfing, Cemento beach and Cobra Reef are literally across the road.

While some claim to be able to surf all year round, surf season in Baler runs from September to March, having best waves from December to February.  Do check out Sabang Beach, Charlie’s Point, Lindy’s Point and Cobra Reef in Cemento Beach if you want to catch some waves.  Charlie Does is the perfect all in one stop iuf you are hungry, need a board and even if you need some lessons before jumping in the water.

Pagudpud

Pagudpud lies in the Ilocos Norte province in the northern-most point of the island of Luzon (Philippines).  It Is a popular destination among local tourists and kite surfing enthusiasts.  Its location and generally windy conditions make Pagudpud the ideal place for wind surf and kite surf, having a long season that goes from October to May.  This 4th class municipality of the Ilocos region, also offers some great surfing opportunities and as opposed to most other surfing destinations with seasons defined by the Amihan (neortheast winds) or the Habagat (southwest monsoon), due to the different orientation of its various breaks, it is not strange to encounter a good swell, almost any time of the year.

Pagudpud is, however, not only a haven for water sports lovers.  Just 2 hours to the south (and about an hour and a half north of Vigan), one can find the Paoay sand dunes and Suba beach.  Here, one can ride a 4x4 through the dunes and also have a go at sandboarding for around php2500/hour.

Also in the vicinity of Laoag, the St. Augustine church is a must if you are looking to learn something about the history of the Spanish colonial era.  Built in the early 1700’s, St Augustine church stands as one of the few remaining Baroque structures in the Philippines.

If you are looking to lose yourself hiking and admiring the breathtaking natural sights, Pagudpud counts with a great number of amazing waterfalls (around 18 in Adams alone) and some unforgettable sunsets.

Where to eat in Pagudpud?

Kingfisher is tucked away along the coast in between Saud beach and the Blue Lagoon and not only is an amazing place to stay, but also a great place totaste some of the local delicacies.  Staff is friendly and the place is just gorgeous.  Not to mention it is THE PLACE if you want to throw a kite in the air and be literally blown away by the experience.

The Blue Lagoon is somewhat a little bit of a cocktail of feelings.  The horrible eye sore that is called Hannah’s Beach resort, makes you want to turn around and ride away as fast as one can go.  However, once one turns to the sea and avoids the ridiculous statues of superheroes and Egyptian pharaohs, it is possible to enjoy the beautiful colours of the bay.  Ride up north past Hannah’s and get to Casa Consuelo, where you will be able to enjoy a great, fresh, local meal with very nice views of the sea (and an amazing wifi connection).

For a healthy option, head to Adams for a dining experience around sustainable farming and eco friendly farms.

Pagudpud is the perfect place for those looking for something a little less travelled than your usual destinations in the Philippines, and in addition too the countless activities available in the area, to ride through the famous Patapat viaduct and the grand wind farms in the area, will make your ride, a difficult one to forget.

La Union

San Juan is a small surfing town in the province of La Union in the Ilocos Region of the Philippines.

It is roughly a 5 hour ride from Manila, depending on traffic, and is a very popular destination for locals to spend their weekends and ride the waves in its various spots.

There are 2 surfing seasons in La Union, the north swell (October-April) and the southwest monsoon (habagat) (July-September), during which one can expect consistent waves.  If in La Union between July to September, know that it is also rainy season.  But if you are going to be in the water anyway… who cares?

If you are in La Union to catch some waves, you have a good selection of spots availabble no matter your level.  Beach break is where you will find most surfing schools and is beginner friendly.  Monaliza Point is on the north end of the beach and is a very enjoyable right hander over a rocky coral bottom and a little further south of the beach, about a 5-10 minute ride, you will find Carille/Jesus Point, another very long right hander.

If surf is not your thing, lazying by the beach is not in your plans and you are in the mood for hiking, you can check out Tangadan Falls which are located aproximately 20km east of San Juan in San Gabriel.  Alternatively, head over to Tapuakan River, just over 50km south from San Juan, in Pugo, where you’ll be able to go for a dip in it’s shallow stream, relax and enjoy the scenery.

If you are out for some great coffee or if you have a sweet tooth, we highly recommend El Union Coffee.  Friendly staff, nice atmosphere and its really close to Monaliza Point, if you feel like catching some waves before or after.

If you are up for a good ride, Bessang Pass is one of our favourite roads in the country.  Nice winding mountain roads which twist up the mountains on the way to Sagada.  It has absolutely stunning views and you will pass innumerable waterfalls and very little traffic.

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