A lot of people have mentioned to me that swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines 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 last Easter. Apparently, this is peak whale shark spotting season in Donsol, The Philippine’s self-proclaimed “whale shark capital of the world”
How to get to Donsol to swim with Whale Sharks in the Philippines
I booked flights from Manila to Legazpi with Philippine Airlines. This saved me from the torturous 10-hour bumpy bus ride. It was a splurge at $45 for the plane ticket. Worth every penny!
We arrived at 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 last Lonely Planet guide.
The taxi took a little over an hour to Donsol. After passing hoards of local buses travelling in the same direction, I could see they were crammed full of people. In 30-degree heat, I felt bad for them. I had booked an air-conditioned car with spacious seating from the airport for around $20
Where to stay in Donsol
We stayed at the Vitton Resort in Donsol. It is 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. I’d suggest booking a hotel with a pool so you can cool off during the day.
The whale shark interaction centre
The whale shark interaction centre displays the whale count for the month on a large whiteboard out the front. This is great because you can see at a glance how many sharks have been spotted recently. You can use it as a guide to predict the coming day’s shark numbers if they have noticed a pattern with the same whale sharks in the area.
I hired my snorkel and fin set from a local stall by the centre. It costs 100pesos for 1-day use. Or buy your own on Amazon before you leave if you think you will use them a lot during your stay in the Philippines. 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 1500 pesos 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 do 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 onto 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.
Will I see a whale shark?
There is no guarantee that you will see a whale shark. For this reason, 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 on 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 saw 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.
It was the opposite of me. I was floundering around in the water gasping for breath!
Book a flight to swim with Whale Sharks in the Philippines soon. They are such magnificent creatures and they are considered a vulnerable species with no known population numbers