With over 7107 islands in the Philippines there’s an amazing amount to see and do here. One of the greatest experiences you’ll have is without doubt swimming with Whale Sharks. These gigantic creatures are a breathtaking sight and something you’ll never forget. February is the perfect time of year to see them as the plankton they eat peaks around this time of year. So here’s our guide to swimming with Whale Sharks in the Philippines and some useful information to book your travels.
What are Whale Sharks?
Are the Whales or are the Sharks you might ask? Well they’re actually sharks but they’re nowhere near as scary as other types. For a start they don’t have razor-sharp teeth but rows of bristles much like some Whales. The most impressive thing is their size, growing up to 12 metres long and weighing up to 21 tonnes! Unlike Whales which are mammals the Whale Shark is a fish, the largest fish in the world in fact. It really is a record-breaking animal and completely harmless to humans too, their own interest is in eating Krill, a form of plankton that grows in abundance along the shores of some islands of the Philippines.
Where to see Whale Sharks
The best spot to view Whale sharks in the Philippines is the town of Donsol, situated in the province of Sorsogon. It’s around an hour away from the city of Legazpi and it’s airport that can fly you in from all areas of the Philippines. You can also get a 12 hour bus ride there from Manila if you want to see more of the countryside and have a day spare.
Donsol is a relatively quiet little town with not much happening for tourists. The real action is at the Whale Shark Centre that has a number of resort hotels next door. It couldn’t be easier to see Whale Sharks here as the setup is professional.
How to see Whale Sharks
The conservation of the area and the Whale Sharks is important to the centre so numbers are restricted each yea. Firstly you register at the Whale Shark Centre and watch a short video on their conservation work. Your transport to see the sharks is small local fishing boats run by local fishermen. During the early hours of the day they will be busy catching fish but from mid morning onwards they ferry you and your guide out just 5 minutes or so from the shore.
There will usually be around 5 boats out by a sighted Whale Shark and the guides on the boats will be looking out for tell tale signs of a shark nearby. Once spotted the boat moves into position and you jump in to the water with your snorkel gear on. It’s then a mad swim to get a good spot and peer into the murky plankton filled water for a view of these huge fish!
You have a full 3 hours to search for these amazing creatures. Sometimes you’ll only have 1 or 2 sightings in a session, other times you’ll have 6 within the first 2 hours and be exhausted from all the swimming. Either way it’s ample time to search for these gigantic fish and fingers crossed you’ll see them.
How much does it cost?
Registration is 150 Pesos each with snorkel gear on hire for 300 Pesos. The biggest cost is the boat which depends entirely on how many people there are to fill it. A typical boat holds around 6 – 8 people so the more people in your boat the less you pay each. The boat is 3500 Pesos so a full boat will only cost around 500 Pesos each.
Where to stay in Donsol?
There are a number of options near the Whale Shark Centre with some nice resort style hotels. The Vitton and Woodland beach resort is a popular choice along with the AGM beachfront resort. Both have ample space to relax while being a short walk away from the centre for all your snorkeling needs. Most resorts here also have snorkel gear you can borrow, sometimes for free.
If you’re looking to dive in the Philippines as well then I recommend the only hotel in the town centre. Giddy’s Place is a PADI diving certified dive school as well as a cute little hotel with great staff and a sociable bar area. They have daily dive sessions and even have a pool for you to train in if you’re a beginner.
There’s not much else in Donsol to see other than the local way of life and the excursions out to see the Whale Sharks, but the sharks alone are more than enough reason to visit this part of the Philippines and you’ll leave with a great sense of discovery and wonder. Your time with the Whale Sharks will definitely be a memorable one.