Swimming with Whale Sharks
If this isn’t on your bucket list, you need to reevaluate your life.
Okay, but seriously. Swimming with whale sharks is an indescribable experience, and the main reason Cebu was a ‘MUST GO’ on the Philippines itinerary.
Just off the beach near the sleepy fishing town of Oslob in southern Cebu, is one of the only places on earth where you’re pretty much guaranteed to spot whale sharks year round.
Getting to Cebu is a quick, budget friendly 90 min flight from Manila. Getting to Oslob is a bit more of a mission, and takes around 4 hours by private taxi, or even longer by public bus. The hangover struggle was real after a big night out in Manila, so we chose to shell out about 3000php for the direct private taxi transfer, complete with a quick stop for McDonalds. (Can’t get that on the public bus!)
TIPS FOR THIS ADVENTURE
Trust me, take enough to pay for your accommodation, transport, food and activities for at LEAST 5 days. Nowhere in regional Cebu accepts credit card. We learned this the hard way, after arriving to our accommodation in Oslob with zero cash to pay for the room or even dinner that night.
We thought, no problem, an ATM must be just around the corner. We thought wrong.
Long story short, we ended up using our passports as collateral to rent a scooter and rode for over 2 hours and through 4 villages until we found an ATM that worked. With no phones and hardly any people in sight, the anxiety was creeping in at about the 90 minute mark as the reality of the situation started to creep in. With not enough fuel to get back and no money to buy more, we were riding in pretty much darkness due to the remoteness of these areas and searching.
The Filo Gods were smiling on us that night, because after over an hour of riding, we were finally able to withdraw some moolah and head back to Oslob. Insert clap emoji here.
Family run cheap and cheerful guesthouses are the go to in these parts! Booking online is easy enough. While the more adventurous travelers simply show up and ask for a room and negotiate rates, I wouldn’t recommend this option during summer – rooms anywhere near the whale shark jump-off point book up fast.
Getting to the Sharks
From Oslob, or one of the surrounding villages, rent a scooter and make your own way to the jump off point at Tan-awan. Once you arrive, the process is simple. Pay for your ticket, and wait until your number is called.
In groups, you’re then taken by boat in the sea, about 15 meters from the beach, and told to jump in as the sharks swim by! Each group gets 30 mins in the water swimming with and watching these majestic creatures glide by. They pay you no mind, cruising along beside, under and around you, before swimming back out to sea to feed.
Go first thing in the morning, around 7am before the crowds flock in. You will get your turn more quickly, and be less interrupted by other travelers trying to get a look. The majority of tourists clung to their boats and simply watched the sharks swim by. If you’re a strong swimmer, ditch your life vest and snorkel along with the sharks.
Just so you know…
Whale shark tourism has brought a means of income to otherwise impoverished and untraveled areas of The Philippines. To guarantee sightings in Oslob, the whale sharks are fed daily from 630 am to 12pm, then they swim back into the sea. A protected species, the animals are not held captive, they come and go as they please. Half the time the “feeders” are just splashing water to get the sharks to swim by, not actually putting any food in the water.. Tricky? Yes. Effective? Also yes.
It’s true this makes them come back in search of food, which some see as negative because it could be a disruption of their natural migrations and ultimately the ecosystem in which they feed. But there is no way humans could feed them nearly as much as they need in a day, so once feedings are done, they swim off back out to sea and carry on as they do. If you wish to see them in the wild, where there are no sighting guarantees you can go during migration season in northern Cebu or Donsol.
Be respectful of the sharks. No touching is allowed, don’t wear sunscreen, and keep a few meters distance while swimming along or you’ll be yelled at by the boatmen!
Like what you’ve been reading? Contact Travel Writer and STA Travel Agent Ana James directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her bucket-list travels on Instagram, @Ana_Lebron.
Tune in next Tuesday for more Cebu Travel from Ana!