Witnessing a Whale shark swimming in front of your eyes is one of the most awe-inspiring sights your have in your life. It’s also one of the Highlights to any trip to the Philippines. Therefore the popularity of the activity is exceptionally high. The locals of Oslob have responded by offering guaranteed sightings by feeding the giants. This is having a negative effect on the endangered species, disrupting migration patterns, and physically harming each shark. Fortunately these an additional location within the Philippines where you can witness the giants without being inflicted with a moral dilemma. I’ve been fortunate to visit both locations Oslob and Donsol; therefore, I can generate a guide and a comparison between the locations.
The first thing to note is that each location possesses two very different experiences. To participate in whale shark watching in Oslob, one would have to wake up within the early hours of the morning. You can go later although guarantee sightings are significantly lower. Locals feed the animals in the morning, and therefore sharks get full and swim away during midday. Additionally the later you leave the bigger the queues you’re encounter, I’ve heard tourist queuing for several hours, amongst hundreds of Filipinos and fellow tourists
Photo courtesy of Janey, Flickr
My experience entailed a wait of one hour before encountering a 20-minute safety briefing, which led to a boat of minuscule proportions. Each boat carries ten passengers and then these 12 -14 boats. Two rules of boats are formed (6 boats per role )10 minutes out to sea. Once you’re in the water, a boat goes pass feeding the sharks.
This means the beasts swim pass at no more than an arms width away from you and these no swimming involved. The whole experience should last for 30 minutes. On both occasions, I managed to see between five to seven Whale-sharks within that time. It could have been the same one swimming around though you could never tail.
Excursion costs = £20
Where to Stay
These now many little hotels located within the small town of Oslob. The town is centred around the main road and is easily accessible by bus. I stayed on the doorsteps of the venue a 2-minute walk away. Paying £13 for three nights in a non air condition room at the beginning of May. Beer in mind I visited the area in 2016 Before the Philippines became so big within the tourism scene.
Getting to Oslob
Oslob is on the island of Cebu is easily assessable from Cebu city, Moalboal, Dumaguete and Siquijor. I would personally Recommend coming from Siquijor all Dumaguete and afterwards travel to Moalboal and then Cebu City.
Travelling from Cebu City is potentially problematic, during peak times, city traffic is capable of delaying your journey by two hours. Before encountering the cities infrastructure issues, it’s likely your encounter an hours wait to enter Cebu’s southern bus terminal. This entails a possible journey time of seven to eight hours instead of four.
The Donsol experience is very different from Oslob, is classified as a more ethical and authentic way to swim with whale sharks in the Philippines. Due to the area being more protected, swimmers witness a whale-shark within its natural environment. The boat operates, and swimmers have to follow several rules that aren’t imposed at Oslob. These key rules include
1. No feeding sharks
2. it is a protected area for the whale sharks and therefore Only 1 boat per whale shark and 30 boats within the bay
3. Six swimmers per boat
4. Only 3 people are allowed to swim with the sharks at once
5. Swimmers are required to stay 4 meters away from the tail and 3 meters away from head and body
6. No touching the whale sharks, oils and bacteria on your skin are very harmful for whale sharks
Donsol Whale Shark Season
I didn’t see a whale shark during my time at Donsol in early January, I read too many blogs stating the season is between November to June. However, even though that’s true, it’s not likely a snorkeler will be able to see a whale shark between November and February. Whale sharks during this time rarely make surface due to the plankton being located deeper in the bay. It’s not until March sightings begin to improve, with the best chances being in April and May when the plankton has been reduced, and water visibility improves. Diving remains the best chance of seeing a Whale Shark between November to February.
Since I didn’t see a whale shark, I’m probably not the best person to tell you about the Donsol experience. However, I am capable of saying that I’m happy for trying a more ethical stance, even though I didn’t see a shark, it was worthwhile. I can’t go back to Oslob, knowing what I know now, and just seeing all those whale-shark souvenir T-shirts, makes me feel sick. However, these still ethical issues with Donsol, due to its remote location from the main tourist areas. Additional flights and transportation will be required, increasing ones carbon emissions. Additionally, trip-adviser and bloggers have noted concerns that some of the rules are being ignored.
An early morning start is not necessarily essential as no feeding is involved; however, you may want, to arrival at a reasonable time. Donsol charges per boat and not per person, therefore upon arrival, you may want to wait for other travellers to share the cost of boat hire.
I arrived at an empty interaction centre midday after flying from Manila, a 90-minute wait followed, for an additional two participants. The earlier morning boat seems more popular. It arrived back full at the same time we departed. Even though they failed to spot a whale shark, I was still hopeful; however, my experience entailed a similar fate.
300php (£5) registration fee
3,500 php (£57) boat rental, fee (can be split with six people)
100 php snorkel hire
100 php flipper hire
50 php tricycle ride from Donsol town centre, 9km away
I would highly recommend doing your Padi Open Water course in Donsol. You will be able to witness whale sharks and possible Manta Rays while you are learning to dive. Additional Donsol is the perfect first diving stop within your Philippines itinerary. It’s easily accessible from Manila and after Donsol these an excellent opportunity to travel south to Malapascua where divers can witness thresher and hammerhead sharks. Bicol Dive center offers Open Water Diver Course for php 21,000
Getting to Donsol
Donsol is a small town located on the southern tip of Luzon’s coast. It’s more remote and off the tourist path than Oslob. However these still several travel options from Manila,
1.flying to Legapzi
If flying early, It’s possible to arrive into Donsol, and have a whale shark adventure within one day. Both Cebu Pacific and Philippines airlines fly to Legazpi, with regular services throughout the day, expect flight time to last for an hour.
From Legazpi airport take a tricycle to Legazpi jeepney terminal it should cost about 70 pesos. I got my driver to take me via Cagsawa ruins (pictured below) for an extra 50 pesos. Cagsawa Ruins offers the perfect vantage point to admire the Mayon Volcano
2. Bus via Legapzi
Buses depart hourly from Manila to Legazpi with journey times lasting between 13 and 14 hours. These also four additional daily services with a reduced travel time of 12 hours and 30 minutes. Tickets cost between £8 for the slower service and £18 for the faster route. Once in Legapzi, take a tricycle to the Jeepney terminal where a 90-minute journey on Jeepney will get you to Donsol.
3. Manila to Donsol
These a daily overnight bus service from Manila Pasay to Donsol. The 14-hour journey is operated by philtranco and costs between £12-£18.