Amongst the depths of the oceans, a peaceful and mystical creature surfaces to feed on small fish. These creatures are known as whale sharks. The Philippines is one country where these gentle giants can be found. Two main areas of the Philippines are accessible for tourists. You can see whale sharks or Bingkintde in the local language, at Cebu and Donsol Bay.
Choosing a whale shark tour company
During my travels, I think about how my actions and choices impact the local community and environment and this was no different when researching whale sharks in the Philippines. Cebu is more famous for seeing these beautiful creatures but I found the animals were impacted more than at Donsol Bay. From a beach near Cebu, small canoes and boats line up to pick tourist up and drop them in the water 50-100 metres off shore. The whale sharks are fed to encourage them to come closer to shore. This is not a real interaction. Firstly, the whale sharks are losing their instincts to hunt and feed for themselves. Second, the lack of regulations allows tourists to impose too closely on the whale sharks space.
This leaves Donsol Bay. The region become famous around the world during the 90’s as diving ventures showcased the animals in their natural environment. A tourism board was created with regulations set to ensure sustainability. Before you sign up for a whale shark interaction, you must pay a 300 PHP fee and watch an induction movie.
How to get to Donsol Bay
Donsol Bay is on the mail island of Luzon. The nearest airport to fly into is Legazpi, only an hour and a half away. There are daily flights from Manila on Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. Legazpi is famous for being at the foothills of the Mayon Volcano, one of the world’s most perfectly shaped volcanoes. As you fly into the airport, the volcano towers over the runway. The main town in Donsol Bay is Donsol and has beach front resorts scattered along the shoreline. A private transfer is best to be booked directly through your hotel and should cost between 1300-2000PHP for a minivan. During my stay, we booked a room at the Vitton and Woodland Resort. Check out the Vitton and Woodland Resort review here.
How to see whale sharks in the Philippines
Donsol Bay offers two ways to see whale sharks. The first option is for a boat trip to a dive site. You will need the whole day for this trip and be prepared to travel on a boat for 6-7 hours. Only experienced and qualified divers may take part in the scuba. These trips will also allow you to snorkel at the surface. The second option is to hire a boat for 3 hours and cruise the Donsol Bay area until you see the whale sharks. The likelihood of seeing the animals is low, so ensure to ask your accommodation on when the last sighting was. Hiring a boat will set you back 3000 PHP, it is charged per boat, not per person.
Other attractions in the Donsol Bay area
Do you like caves? Do you like waterfalls? Ever been on a bamboo raft? Well you can do all this with a half day trip to Quitinday and its underground river.. About 45 minutes to an hour drive from Donsol Bay, you will find a fresh water stream which has carved its way through a hill. If it is only a couple of people, you can travel on in the side car of a motorbike or hold on tight as a pillion passenger. Be sure to read your insurance policy as some may not cover you for mopeds or motorbikes. Alternatively you can hire a mini van for the trip. Ask your hotel to organise a tour guide to come along with you. Prices are about 1500 PHP per person.
Your journey will start with a pick up of your group and then begins the drive to the waterfalls. The roads weave their way over the hills before arriving at the entrance to the park. If you organised the tour through a guide, your entrance fees will already be included. A local guide will walk with you up the path for about 200 metres. Here you will see the waterfalls tumble into the river and hide the entrance to the cave. Climb down the bamboo ladder and wait for your ride. The locals will pass out life jackets and have 6-10 people on the raft before pulling on the rope to descend deep into the cave. It’s not all dark though, a torch will light up the way and point out the highlights. After you have reached the end, only about 5 minutes into the cave, its time to head back to light and try a coconut drink.
On your way back to Donsol Bay, you will stop off at a grassy hill and hike 10 minutes to view the Quintinday Grass hill formations. The hills are not as famous as the chocolate Hills in Bohol, but are as impressive. When you arrive back to your hotel, head to the Vitton Resort Spa and enjoy a massage. Feel relaxed as your open massage room faces the ocean. Massages start from 300 PHP ($8AUD) for 30 mins and 450 PHP for 1 hour. During the evening, you can watch the sunset and then take a river cruise and see the fire flies dance the night away.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding the Philippines. I am available through Facebook, Instagram or the Itchy Feet Escapades Contact page!