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, we'll enjoy a welcome dinner and toast, make general introductions, talk about the expedition and what to expect regarding safety and other trip details. Dusit Thani (D)
Tuesday, March 4: Manila / Donsol
A late morning flight will bring us to Legazpi on Luzon Island, where we'll make a short drive to the coastal fishing village of Donsol to begin our search for the elusive whale shark. Donsol, sometimes called the “Whale Shark Capital of the World,” has the largest numbers of recorded sightings of whale sharks anywhere in the world. The highest concentrations occur in spring of each year. Known locally as butanding, whale sharks are the world’s largest living fish, and are rarely seen in groups except in rare locations like the Bay of Donsol where they congregate in the shallow coastal waters to feed on plankton.
In the afternoon, we'll snorkel at a nearby coral reef teeming with tropical fish. Before dinner, our guide will give us an informal talk on the biology and behavior of whale sharks and international conservation efforts to protect these magnificent creatures. Tonight we'll dine on locally prepared foods and enjoy a sit-down beach barbecue. Elysia Beach Resort (B,L,D)
Please note, luggage restrictions are 33 lbs for flights within the Philiippines. It is about $2 USD charge for each kilo above the restriction.
Wednesday, March 5: Donsol
After breakfast, we'll spend the entire morning swimming with Whale Sharks in the Bay of Donsol. Our encounters with whale sharks will be via banca (Filipino outrigger boat). Although whale sharks are seemingly slow-moving, they sometimes require strong swimming to keep up with them. Fortunately, if we get tired, a quick time-out on the boat with refreshments can recharge us while we wait for the next whale shark to swim by.
In the afternoon, we'll embark on a boat-tour of the Ugod River where we'll visit local fishing communities as well as lush mangrove forests that line the river. Elysia Beach Resort (B,L,D)
Thursday, March 6: Donsol / Legaspi
With another opportunity to snorkel with whale sharks in the Bay of Donsol, we'll begin the day early so that we can take advantage of the morning feed, prime time for encounters with these fantastic creatures. In the late afternoon, we'll drive to Lignon hill to view Mt. Mayon, the world’s most perfect stratovolcano. We'll also visit Cagsawa ruins, the only evidence of a town that perished during an eruption in 1814. Then we'll drive one hour to our new location.
This evening, our guide will offer an overview of the geology, flora, and fauna of the Philippines and the Palawan archipelago in particular. Hotel Venezia (B,L,D)
Friday, March 7: Legaspi / Apulit
Our late morning flight will take us from Legaspi to Manila to connect with our afternoon flight to El Nido. From the airport in Lio, El Nido, we'll drive approximately one hour to the small coastal town of Taytay. From the small town of Taytay, we'll take a boat ride to Apulit Island, home of Apulit Resort. The entire island is owned by the resort and the spectacular reefs that surround it, many just a few minutes from the resort, are ours to explore. After lunch, we'll spend the rest of the afternoon snorkeling the house reef right in front of the resort. Here the protected bays and reef flats of El Nido will give us the chance to marvel at a multitude of juvenile and subadult reef fish. We'll transition to outer reef slopes and seaward fringing reefs of Taytay Bay where we'll have the opportunity to see the adult forms of many reef fish as well as many new species of fish and coral that are found on reefs associated with the seaward fringing reefs. Apulit Resort (B,L,D)
Saturday, March 8: Nabat Island / Apulit
In the morning, we'll embark for Nabat Island with the opportunity to snorkel one of the most vibrant and healthy reefs in Palawan. The reefs around Nabat Island are densely packed with Acorpora table and branching corals of all sizes and colors. From shallow reef flats to dramatic drop-offs, all of the special habitats around this island are home to thousands of reef fish. After lunch at the resort, we'll spend time on the house reef in front of the resort. This reef extends for over one kilometer (about half a mile) and is home to a variety of marine life including several species of sea turtles, spotted eagle rays, blacktip reef sharks and several large schools of Bigeye scad. The double reef system also has amazing coral gardens combined with pristine sandy habitats that add to the diversity of unique marine life. Apulit Island Resort (B,L,D)
Sunday, March 9: Lopez Island / Noa Noa Island
After breakfast we'll depart for the reefs around Lopez Island. Here we'll have the chance to snorkel amongst shallow reef flats that lead to vertical drop-offs containing a variety of techno-colord corals. Around Taytay Bay, hundreds of dazzling anthias and damselfishes crowd the upper reef margin creating a chaotic symphony of colors and movement. In the afternoon, we'll visit nearby Noa Noa island, a privately owned island where we have permission to explore it shallow coral gardens that have been under the strict no-fishing protection of its owner since the turn of the century. As a result, large groupers, sweetlips and schools of snapper and anthias all converge on this stunning reef. Apulit Island Resort (B,L,D)
Monday, March 10: Sharkfin Bay
Today we'll embark in Sharkfin Bay and snorkel on two amazing reefs located between the Palawan mainland and the majestic island of Imorigue. This large marble island sits several hundred meters away from the Palawan mainland and creates a channel between the two land masses. The swift currents attract a variety of soft corals and sea fans all located in relatively shallow water we can see as we float over the reefs. In the afternoon we will visit a shallow platform reef between the two islands but sheltered behind a mangrove island so that it is protected from any water movement. The calm water allows us the chance to see some very rare branching coral as well as colorful sponges and tunicates. Apulit Island Resort (B,L,D)
Tuesday, March 11: Apulit / Miniloc
We'll depart in the early morning and transfer by boat to the mainland of Palawan. Then we'll drive approximately one hour to the small town of Bacuit Bay, El Nido, where we'll take a boat to our resort. Travel time today will total about three hours and will take place in incredibly scenic environments—you won't be disappointed with the extraordinary habitats native to the island of Palawan.
In the afternoon, we'll snorkel the house reef which boasts hundreds of species of tropical reef fish including several large, resident schools of Big-eye Scad and Parrot Fish. For over 20 years, the reef has been afforded protection. The fish are approachable and seemingly unwary of their snorkeling admirers. A further benefit to this protection is the resident population of Giant Trevally, or Jacks, that patrol the local waters. Many species of coral and colorful invertebrates can also be found here as well as fish. Miniloc Island Resort (B,L,D)
Wednesday, March 12: Pinisil Cave / Miniloc
In the morning we will visit Pinisil Cave for the chance to snorkel on one of the most magnificent shallow coral gardens in Bacuit Bay, El Nido. This reef has some of the highest diversity of stony corals in Palawan and has several habitats including dramatic walls, steep overhangs and rocky shorelines. We may even snorkel inside the cave for the chance to see rare sponges and invertebrates that only inhabit shaded environments. After lunch at Lagen Island Resort—with the chance for an optional hike—we'll snorkel the house reef where lush, colorful coral gardens await our admiration. Giant blue-lined groupers, boomerang-shaped juvenile batfish and mixed schools of rabbit and parrotfish are regular inhabitants of this reef and, with luck, we might even spot the rare and elusive coral cat shark, one of the smallest members of shark found in tropical locations. Miniloc Island Resort (B,L,D)
Thursday, March 13: Simuzu Island / Miniloc
Our morning snorkel takes us to Simuzu Island where an narrow, 100-meter (over 300 feet) long channel hosts an incredible variety of fish species. The habitat is mixed coral, sand and rubble. Due to its shallow orientation as well as the steep drop-off at the north end, a variety of micro-environments are within a relatively small area. Clown Triggerfish, Yellowlined Goatfish, rare red anemones and green carpet anemones can all be found here. We take the afternoon off to prepare for our night snorkel on the house reef. The shallow, protected area provides a great opportunity to explore the reefs at night. Octopus, squid, and other nighttime denizens like Bluntend sea hares and Spanish dancers can be seen here only at night. We will provide lights but it is recommended that each guest bring their own. We will also give an extensive briefing for first-time night snorkelers. This area is perfect for this activity. Miniloc Island Resort (B,L,D)
Friday, March 14: Secret Beach / The Corner / Abdeens Reef
Today we'll visit the islands that make up the western perimeter of the bay. First we'll visit Secret Beach, a marine lake located on the island of Matinloc. This intimate salt water lake is filled with hard corals and a variety of colorful invertebrates such as nudibranchs, sea cucumbers and sponges. We usually see juvenile snowflake moray eels and juvenile angelfishes as well. Our next stop is The Corner, a submerged angle of reef that juts out into Tapuitan Straight and attracts a wide diversity of fish that feed on plankton in the water column. This area concentrates some of the water flowing in the channel and, thus, concentrates the fish into this small area of reef. Large schools of damselfish, anthias, and silversides can be found here, as well as frequent visitors such as orange-spotted trevally, crocodile needlefish and mackerel. The area also has one of the largest concentrations of feather stars many displaying unbelievably bright colors of red, yellow and green. In the afternoon, we will visit Abdeens Reef, one of the best shallow reefs in the area where fields of branching corals stretch out for hundreds of meters and patches of lettuce coral create amazing gardens that support dozens of groups of jewel-blue damsels. This area also has the highest diversity of butterflyfish in Bacuit Bay. In the past, we counted nearly 20 species in a single snorkeling session! Miniloc Island Resort (B,L,D)
Saturday, March 15: Miniloc / Manila
We'll fly back to Manila this afternoon with time to relax at our hotel for the night. For those departing this evening, you'll have a day room at your disposal. Dusit Thani (B,L)
Sunday, March 16: Depart
Transfer to the airport after breakfast for flights home. (B)