Swimming with whale sharks is a popular bucket list idea. Whale sharks sound that little bit more thrilling compared to the cliched swimming with dolphins. These amazing creatures aren’t whales but they are sharks. And they are massive.
They swim very slowly and aren’t at all aggressive. It is quite safe to swim alongside them. I even saw our guide mistakenly jump into one’s mouth. He was fine because whale sharks only feed on very small sea life.
The itinerary is simple, you get in a boat with a small group of other adventurers and ride around until the guide spots a whale shark. Then everyone scrambles to get their snorkel gear on and jump into the water. It is often a mad rush to catch up to the fish.
Initially the experience is rather shocking as you realise just how large this fish is. Then you quickly realise that this is a peaceful and majestic creature. The group swims alongside until the whale shark swims off or dives down into the deep water.
The experience may just last a minute or so, but there are plenty more in the area. So it is back into the boat and the hunt continues for a few more hours. It is a great way to spend a morning and an unforgettable experience. I went around 5 years ago but it still comes up in conversations about travel and experiences.
Whale Sharks are known as butanding in the Philippines
How To Get There
Donsol is best reached by flying to Legaspi Airport from Manila or Cebu. The flight is probably less than an hour from Manila, perhaps a little longer from Cebu. If you don’t want to fly there are buses from manila but it takes 12-14 hours. From Legaspi airport you will be greeted with an attractive volcano which reminded me of Mount Fuji in Japan.
Once outside the cheapest way is to get a taxi or trike (motorbike taxi with side cart) to the van shuttle bus station, less than 5 minutes away. From the station (which resembles a car park) there are regular mini vans to Sorsogon. Just ask the guys who will be shouting out destinations next to their vans. Everyone speaks at least half decent English here.
The journey isn’t too far (30 miles), but it takes about one and a half hours due to the winding roads. You will need to wait for the van to fill up with 11 people. If you want the comfort of your own car you will be able to hire a taxi for the journey, be sure to negotiate after checking the price with airport staff, or aim for around 2,500 PHP. If taking the van you will be dropped off in Sorsogon, then you need to get in a trike to take you to Donsol, this should be 50 PHP or so and take 10 minutes.
Where To Stay
There are a few resorts in Donsol which cater to the whale shark crowd. We stayed in one next to the boat station which was clean and functional for around 1,500 PHP per night. There is not much going on in the evening so one or two nights is enough here.
If staying for a few days you could stay in Sorsogon. It is a small town and I can recommend staying in AguLuz Homestay. This place is a family home and more pleasant than staying in a hotel. I think we paid 1,000 PHP per night. There are a few other places in Sorsogon but we didn’t see any as nice. If you are staying for a few days this is the better option as there is more going on. Many people just stay for a night or two, in which case it would be better to stay in Donsol next to the boats. In Sorsogon you can hire a motorbike (will need to ask around) and then enjoy exploring the surrounding countryside.