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Dive Review of Donsol Eco Tour/Ticao Island Resort in
Philippines

Donsol Eco Tour/Ticao Island Resort: "Whale sharks at Ticao Island", Nov, 2015,

by Graham McGregor, Kilmacolm, GB (Top Contributor Top Contributor 35 reports with 17 Helpful votes). Report 8651.

Photos Submitted with this Report


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Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 3 stars Food 3 stars
Service and Attitude 5 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 4 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 5 stars
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 3 stars
Comments Ticao Island is a two hour transfer by boat from Donsol, one of the areas in the Philippines which has whale shark aggregations each year. The “season” is December through to February/March but for the past couple of years the whale sharks have arrived earlier, in November. We couldn’t travel any later than the second week in November 2015, so took a chance that the whale sharks would once again show up at that time. Ticao Island itself is billed as a reliable manta location. Everything in the Philippines was organised by our UK tour operator through Jessica at Donsol Eco Tour, who run the whale shark experience at Donsol and the accommodation and diving at Ticao Island. She was great.
This was quite a complex itinerary. We had to fly to Manila airport, arriving late in the evening and stay at a local hotel before going early the next day to catch a flight to Legazpi; then a minibus transfer to Donsol; have the 3 hour whale shark snorkelling experience and then get a two hour boat transfer from there to Ticao Island. All the transfers went smoothly – we were met at the airports and transferred to where we needed to be. On the return, our domestic flights got cancelled because of a big event in Manila. Jessica sorted out all the domestic flight changes, hotels and transfers. She did a great job.
As it happened the whale sharks had not arrived at Donsol when we got there, so Jessica flipped our itinerary such that we went straight to Ticao Island and would have our whale shark experience on our departure rather than arrival.
Ticao Island resort is small. They have 8 cabanas with twin beds; bathroom and balcony. The accommodation is pretty basic but clean and there is aircon. They also have a large “bunkhouse” which sleeps a fair number of people communally. There is a small restaurant and an “activities” desk – in addition to the dive centre. “Activities” included kayaking; horse riding and “fire fly watching”.
We were a group of 3 and the only guests during the week we were there. We were told November is low season.
The food was a bit limited but tasty – they do some local dishes mainly pork and chicken and pizza; pasta and sandwiches. All of the staff were very friendly and helpful.
The diving is from a traditional banka. It was fine for three of us. We were told each banka can take 10 divers – that would be seriously cramped!! Nitrox is available and they have 12 and 14 litre tanks plus a selection of rental gear which was fine.
There are only two dive areas at Ticao Island. The signature area is “Manta Bowl”. This is a large shoal in the Strait of Ticao about 30 minutes by banka from the resort. Although multiple dive sites are listed this is effectively one dive site, being a submerged shoal which at its shallowest is 14m deep but around 20m at the most productive manta cleaning stations. There is a rubble bottom with a few small coral patches but not much to see on them. We were told that manta are sighted on “around 80% of dives” – our experience was it was 50% at best and, for the most part, they are pretty skittish. That said we did have two or three dives where we had good manta encounters (out of 21 dives in total for the week). Visibility is the issue. When the current is running strongly then visibility is decent – 20m plus. When it is slack tide or weak current – the visibility is poor – 5m at best – and your chances of seeing anything is pretty remote. We had several dives like that! The dives at Manta Bowl were always the same – drop off the boat and drift (or fin if low/no tide) to the manta cleaning area, use a reef hook and hang around for the mantas. Depending on your air consumption and Nitrox mix you get about 30 minutes in the cleaning area. We experienced some interesting up and down currents in our drifts into the blue for our safety stop.
However, making up for the somewhat patchy manta encounters (and the odd whitetip reef shark) was the fact that we encountered whale sharks on most dives on Manta Bowl in our first two days of diving. On one dive we saw a group of 4 together. This was just awesome. Only at Darwin’s Arch in Galapagos have I seen more whale sharks while diving. They appeared to be on their way to Donsol, although they still hadn’t arrived there by the time we had to, leave.
The other dive sites at Ticao other than a very average house reef are at the top of the island at San Miguel which is about an hour away by banka. Most of the sites here are walls, with some caverns. Again the issue is visibility, local run off makes it pretty murky at times and never more than 15 to 20m. We saw a sea horse and some nice macro stuff, including shrimps and nudibranchs. We also saw a few sea snakes but no medium sized fish, nothing bigger than a damsel fish or small puffer fish. Historic and continuing fishing has ensured that there is nothing left to see!
It is a real shame because the dive guides, boat crew and resort staff were all really great, helpful and eager to please. There are so many places in the this part of the world where you will see mantas pretty reliably (Komodo for Palau to name two) and the sharks; fish and macro diving are much better (Sipidan; Raja Ampat; Malapascua). The whale sharks meant our trip was magical and memorable but we were really lucky – there must only be a week or so window each year when that will happen. If they had not appeared it would have been a very average dive trip indeed!

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 501-1000 dives
Where else diving Galapagos; palau; Sipadan; Malapascua; Komodo; Maldives; Red Sea; Caribbean; Hawaii; Folorida; Cozumel
Closest Airport Legazpi Getting There via Manila. Direct flights from Manila to Legazpi

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, cloudy, dry Seas calm, choppy, currents, no currents
Water Temp 24-28°C / 75-82°F Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 12-60 Ft/ 4-18 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile no
Enforced diving restrictions
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks 1 or 2 Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins None Whale Sharks > 2
Turtles None Whales None
Corals 4 stars Tropical Fish 2 stars
Small Critters 3 stars Large Fish N/A
Large Pelagics 5 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter N/A Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]
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Subscriber's Comments

By Jim Willoughbyin OR, US at Jun 06, 2016 21:31 EST  
having done this exact same itinerary I was surprised to see the feedback. We were at Ticao two years ago and had some of the most amazing dives I have ever been on. During the week we never did the same dive site twice and the coral and sea life was abundant and in pristine condition. I makes me wonder why your group was not taken to those dive sites. The group that I was in did take up the whole resort so we could pretty much dictate where we went. I am sorry to hear that you experience was not better as I rank Ticao as one of the best dive trips that I have been on. I recently came back from 3 weeks in Raja Ampat and given the two I would go back to Ticao before Raja. Funny how that works.
By report author: Graham McGregor in Kilmacolm, GB at Jun 07, 2016 02:55 EST  
Jim I'm glad you had a really great trip to Ticao. The resort was really quiet when we were there, we were the only 3 divers during the week. Maybe that stopped them taking us to more sites further away. The whale sharks were amazing and made the trip. The other sites were distinctly avearage and there was a complete absence of medium sized fish, which seems to be an issue in parts of the Philippines based on my experience elsewhere.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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