So today I will share about my whale shark experience in Oslob, Philippines. A trip that my girlfriend had prepared for my 26th birthday! Maybe after reading it, you’ll also consider to swim with whale sharks!
PSST! I reckon it’s time to write about another travel experience. I personally believe I have a lot of really cool travel experiences from all around the world to tell about, but I’m not really good at blogging about them. First of all, I’m much more confident and better suited for blogging about various self-help related stuff that have direct relevance to you all, and I don’t want to be the type of “look-at-me kinda guy”. Secondly, I don’t really write vididly enough to take you through the experience in an elegant manner. But, I will seek to improve. Practice makes perfect, that’s what’s beautiful. So, let’s give it a go then shall we.
I’ve written a few personal travel articles before, but not many, such as the visit to Neuschwanstein, flying stunt plane, being an elephant owner for a day and the world’s highest bungee jump. Yet, as you may know or if you check my 1000+ bucket list, I’ve done a whole lot more, and hopefully in the future I’ll be able to dish out more valuable and inspiring travel content to you guys.
Why is “Swim with Whale Sharks” on my bucket list?
Whale sharks are amazing, they are the world’s largest fish, but they’re not even close to dangerous. They can grow up to 4-12 meters in length, weigh up to 23 tonnes and got enormous five foot wide mouths! For many people, swimming with a whale shark is the ultimate underwater experience, and it’s definitely among the top water experiences on my list. In general I just love anything “ocean-related” and to be able to immerse myself in their natural habitat is just awesome.
If you’re going to Philippines then swimming with whale sharks is a thrill of a lifetime. Simple as that.
First thing first — Be responsible
Before the trip I had read by some critical reviewers that one ought to reconsider whale shark experiences due to the commercial exploitation of and potential detrimental effects on the animal. Therefore, I made proper research and opted for a tour I believed was both professional and serious about the whale shark’s wellbeing. Among others when they clarified that no touching was allowed and that there was a minimum distance of 4 meters I was actually kind of happy to hear that — although that of course would limit the chances of a decent photo. But, let’s be honest — yes you might think it’s cool to get up very close and perhaps kiss or touch the big creature — but what you might not think about is how those human germs can impact the fish or how it may affect the animals that it gets used to such interactions by humans, and so forth. So, that was good.
There are a number of places you can snorkel with whale sharks in the Philippines and two of the popular destinations are in Donsol and Oslob. As we stayed in a resort in Cebu, we opted for the activity in Oslob. At the bottom of this article I’ve compared those two places in more detail, and highlighted key takeaways for you should you also want to swim with whale sharks.
“Jon, seriously, wake up. We have to go!”. Come on I thought to myself, just give me 5 minutes! Having went to bed 4 am the days before due to various skype meetings with co-founders on a startup project in Europe, that day I suddenly had to wake up at 4 am. That was rough, really rough. But my girlfriend managed to get me up, and once my mind was clearing I became awake simply by the excitement of what was gonna play out the rest of the day.
From Cebu to Oslob, where the whale shark experience is, it takes about 3 hours to drive, so we had ample time to sleep in the car as well if we so wanted. I’m not able to sleep sitting up whatsoever though, so I was gonna be the chatty one with our driver and guide.
Thankfully we had two funny guides with us who, like most Filippinos, were very friendly and outgoing. And as a curious soul I kept them occupied with all kinds of tricky questions about life, the cities we passed through and more.
Raul, the chaffeur, among others shared plenty about his travels and previous work in Japan and Saudi Arabia. Whereas the guide, Geoffrey, told us he was doing this guided trip every day all year around from Cebu and that he had two girlfriends near the whale shark area. Haha. Good for him I guess.
As we arrived Oslob, Raul and Geoffrey took us to our dedicated mini-hut by the beach where we could leave our belongings. Thereon, the two of them would take care of everything and among others prepare lunch while we were out with the whale sharks.
We then had a briefing about the ridiculously big fish and what rules that applied to the excursion.
- First of all it was strictly not allowed to touch the whale sharks. That could result in fines and prisonment.
- You were not allowed to feed the animal whatsoever.
- You also couldn’t wear any sun screen as the chemicals could hurt the whale. Good luck to my pale “lobster-colour tendencies” skin… (It went okay though!).
- You also were not supposed to use flash cameras and obviously don’t throw garbage in the ocean.
- And you generally was told to maintain a distance of 4 meters.
Those guidelines made perfect sense. But as we got there I saw several overcrowded boats and I was worried if we even were gonna be able to enjoy the magnificent creatures without randoms swimming around and ruining the intimate experience.
Luckily, it turned out that we had our private boat with three helpers — that would ensure we got heaps of attention as well as more people maintaining our security. That was great and made us really focus on animal experience itself.
The boat rowed out about 100 meters or so before arriving the dedicated spot. There, in crystal blue water, I quickly jumped out the very moment the boat docked. Not a single second of these 30 minutes were going to go to waste.
What met me once I put the snorkeling mask on was beyond my expectations. There, straight under me was this humongous creature gracefully gliding through the water. As I looked down it felt like it was never ending. It literally felt like it was the size of a school bus. I thought to myself that it possibly couldn’t be any better than this, but then I looked to the left and there was another one. Then I looked to the right and there was a third one!! I was basically surrounded by three whale sharks in their natural habitat. I was overwhelmed.
After losing track of time and place for God knows how long I went up the surface and noticed Elaine still grabbing onto the boat. Hehe poor thing, she got terrified as the whale sharks were so close — and I had left her out my sight. Shame on you Jon.
So I grabbed her hand and then we snorkelled around together, with occassionally popping our heads out of the water to scream out obvious things such as “Awesome!” and “Did you see that?!”.
Here’s also a tiny video about the matter as well. It’s not really anything of high-quality and such, but it might help illustrate the experience.
Overall, it was a magnificent experience that I would love to do again. As a lover of everything “ocean” I would also imagine that I would want to do similar experiences with humpback whales, dolphins and more in the future.
The 3-hour drive back to Cebu felt like 5 minutes. I was so happy. This birthday gift from my girlfriend, Elaine, was simply the best. If you’re ever heading to the area, feel free to contact me for additional information and tips. I’d love to help you out. And I’d love for you to try this.
- Transport. If you have the chance and time do consider to stay the night in Oslob as opposed to using a total of 6 hours on transport back and forth from Cebu. However, if you stay in Cebu, there’s usually offered complimentary transport for the whale shark packages, and at least some of the resorts offers cars with Wi-Fi etc.
- Camera. If you have it, bring your own camera. If you don’t then you may rent one for 500 pesos.
- Price. Snorkeling with whale sharks for 30 minutes was around 1,000 PHP — about $22 US Dollars.
- Duration. In Donsol they often offer longer experiences up to 3 hours, whereas in Oslob it’s generally 30 minutes.
- Water clarity. According to my research, the water tends to be clearer in Oslob than in Donsol.
- Whale sharks. It’s harder to swim with whale sharks in Donsol as they tend to be quite fast and also dive deep, whereas the opposite is the case for Oslob. The whale sharks are also generally bigger in Donsol.
- Recommendation. Based on my research (since I haven’t been to Donsol myself), many recommend Donsol for the quality time with these gentle giants, whereas Oslob is supposedly better for great photos.
That’s it. Hope you got something out of this. And perhaps you wanna go yourself one day. Cheers.