Bucket List: Swim with Whale Sharks in the Philippines
A lot of people have mentioned to me that swimming with whale sharks is on their bucket list. When I heard I could swim with the whale sharks in the Philippines for a fraction of the cost of doing it in Australia, I jumped at the chance and booked flights for last Easter. Apparently, this is peak whale shark spotting season in Donsol, The Philippines self-proclaimed “whale shark capital of the world”
I booked flights from Manila to Legazpi with Philippine Airlines, saving myself from the torturous 10-hour bumpy bus ride and splurging on the $45 plane ticket. Worth every penny!
We arrived into Legazpi airport in awe, as we noticed Mt Mayon rising up in the distance. Mt Mayon is Legazpi’s infamous volcano. It has a near perfect cone and is framed with lush green trees, it really does deserve its spot on the cover of the current Lonely Planet guide.
The taxi took a little over an hour to Donsol, and after passing hoards of local buses travelling in the same directing, crammed full of people and in 30-degree heat, I knew I’d made the right choice, with our air conditioned car, and spacious seating.
We stayed at the Vitton Resort in Donsol, located right next door to the Whale Shark Centre. It was the perfect location for the day trips out whale shark spotting. There are only a handful of resorts in Donsol, and they are all very similar- basic but clean and tidy. I chose the Vitton because it was located right next door to the whale interaction centre and it had a gorgeous swimming pool out the front. It’s worth noting that the beach in Donsol is nothing to write home about, so try and stay somewhere with a pool so you can cool off during the day.
The whale shark interaction centre displays the whale count for the month on a large white board out the front. This is great because you can see at a glance how many sharks have been spotted recently and you can use it as a guide to predict the coming day’s shark numbers.
I hired my snorkel and fin set from a local stall by the centre, It costs 100pesos for 1-day use. You will need fins to help keep up with the fast swimming whale sharks when you jump in the water with them. A 3-hour trip costs around 1500pesos for the boat. You can either book a boat for yourself, privately. Or you can wait around until other people show up and split the cost of the trip. Included with the boat fees are generally 3 staff. A captain to drive the boat and 2 eagle-eyed whale shark spotters.
The staff are all well trained and speak decent English. They put an emphasis on sustainability and conservation, so you will notice they will be cautious around the sharks, and limit the number of swimmers in the water. The staff will also call people back on to the boat if they have been swimming with the whale shark for too long. This is to ensure the sharks do not get distressed. They care a lot about the whale sharks and are doing everything they can to ensure the sharks keep coming back to Donsol every season.
There is no guarantee that you will see a whale shark, so it’s best to come to Donsol for at least 3 days. That way you can go out on a boat multiple times in the hope of swimming with a whale shark. I was lucky in that my first boat trip out, I swam with a shark and spent a lot of time in the water with them. The next day, I hired another boat and went out, and seen nothing. It really is the luck of the draw.
Swimming with whale sharks felt amazing. I could tell how big and powerful it was, yet, it also seemed so graceful and calm. The opposite of me, floundering around the in the water gasping for breath!
Book a flight to the Philippines to swim with whale sharks soon, they are such magnificent creatures, and they are considered a vulnerable species with no known population numbers.