Saturday-Monday, March 1-3, 2014: US / Manila, Philippines
Depart the United States on a recommended group flight or independently. You’ll cross the International Date Line and “lose” a day. Upon arrival at the airport in Manila, proceed to the arrival hall where you’ll be met by your guide and transferred to your hotel. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner and orientation. Dusit Thani (D)
Tuesday, March 4: Manila / Donsol
A late morning flight takes you to Legazpi on Luzon Island. Drive a short way to the coastal fishing village of Donsol. Take your first dip into the water during an afternoon snorkeling outing. Join your guide for an informal talk on the biology and behavior of whale sharks and international conservation efforts to protect these magnificent creatures. Dinner tonight is a beach barbecue. Elysia Beach Resort (B,L,D)
Wednesday, March 5: Donsol
Rise early to go out in search of whale sharks in the Bay of Donsol. Often called the “Whale Shark Capital of the World,” the bay has the largest numbers of recorded sightings of whale sharks anywhere on Earth. Known locally as butanding, whale sharks are the world’s largest living fish. They are generally solitary creatures except at rare locations, such as the Bay of Donsol, where they congregate in the shallow coastal waters to feed on plankton. Morning is prime time to snorkel in search of whale sharks as they cruise the bay, mouths wide open, filter-feeding on plankton.
In the afternoon, embark on a boat tour of the Ugod River to visit fishing communities and explore mangroves that line the river. Elysia Beach Resort (B,L,D)
Thursday, March 6: Donsol / Legaspi
Immerse yourself once again in the clear waters of the Bay of Donsol to snorkel with whale sharks. As they gently glide past, it becomes clear why these huge fish are revered as possessing divine or magical properties in many of the world’s cultures.
In the late afternoon, drive to Lignon Hill to view Mt. Mayon, the world’s most perfect stratovolcano. Also visit Cagsawa ruins, the only evidence of a town that perished during an eruption in 1814. Hotel Venezia (B,L,D)
Friday, March 7: Legaspi / Cabilao Island
A one-hour flight brings you back to Manila, where you’ll connect with a short flight to Bohol. From there, travel to the tiny island of Cabilao, your home for the next four nights. After lunch, spend the afternoon snorkeling among some of the densest stands of hard coral in the Philippines. Incredibly large Acropora table corals, techno-colored brain corals and fields of staghorn corals are widespread here. Thousands of colorful reef fish swarm the reef margin. Polaris Beach Resort (B,L,D)
Saturday-Monday, March 8-10: Cabilao
A renowned spot for diving and snorkeling, the waters surrounding Cabilao are now a marine protected area, providing even more conservation to a region that has some of the healthiest corals and fish in the Philippines.
Snorkel at South Point, known for its huge table corals—some measure more than 10 feet in diameter. Massive schools of purple anthias and horse-eye jacks are common. Looc Point is a great locale to see large schools of barracuda swimming above fields of soft corals and lush sea grass beds, and a spot called the Lighthouse harbors an incredible diversity of hard and soft corals.
Other spots in our sights at Cabilao may include Talisay—home to a large variety of nudibranchs—and the shallow reefs at Fallen Tree.
A night snorkel at the house reef will likely reveal species of marine life not commonly seen during the day, including octopus, scorpionfish, eels and dozens of other unusual fish and invertebrates. Stretch your legs during a daytime hike at the bird sanctuary at Lake Lanao. Polaris Beach Resort (B,L,D daily)
Tuesday, March 11: Tarsiers Sanctuary / Panglao Island
Take a break from snorkeling today to see some special spots on Bohol Island. Hundreds of perfectly shaped, freshwater-carved limestone mounds (some more than 400 feet high) make up the richly colored Chocolate Hill. A view from above shows off the landscape’s undulating texture.
Also visit a sanctuary dedicated to preserving the critically endangered tarsier – an endemic species that’s among the world’s smallest primates. In the late afternoon, arrive at your cliffside resort on Panglao Island. Bluewater Panglao (B,L,D)
Wednesday, March 12: Dauin / Poblacion Marine Sanctuary
Via fast ferry, travel to Dumaguete and then drive the coastal town of Dauin. Our resort sits on a lush, seven-acre former coconut plantation nearby.
In the afternoon, we head to the local marine sanctuary, Poblacion, to explore its shallow reefs. This was one of the first official marine sanctuaries in the Philippines and was developed by the local community of fishermen, scientists and government officials; it’s often viewed as the country’s flagship marine protected area. Years of protection and follow- through with management and enforcement protocols resulted in an incredible abundance of fish and healthy corals. And it provides sustainable resources to the local fishing community, making this arrangement truly a win-win situation. Atmosphere Resort (B,L,D)
Thursday & Friday, March 13 &14: Dumaguete / Apo Island
Apo Island is one of the oldest and most successful marine protected areas in the Philippines. Once a region where destructive fishing practices were the norm, local fishermen and scientists banded together to create a marine protected area in the early 1980s; today, they continue working together to protect and monitor the reefs.
As a result, Apo has become one of the country’s premier snorkeling and diving destinations, with a staggering abundance of corals and fish. Spend two days exploring its shallow hard and soft coral gardens, elaborate mazes of coral canyons and deep-plunging walls. Turtles, blue spotted sting rays, blacktip sharks, unicorn fish, groups and nearly every species of butterfly fish in the Philippines are frequent visitors to the reefs. Atmosphere Resort (B,L,D daily)
Saturday, March 15: Dumaguete / Manila
Fly back to Manila in the afternoon. Enjoy a farewell lunch and have the remainder of the day and dinner at your leisure. Dusit Thani (B,L)
Sunday, March 16: Depart
Transfer to the airport after breakfast for flights home. (B)