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Philippines

Snorkeling with the Whaleshark in the Philippines

29 March 2020
walvishaai

Whalesharks are a delicate subject. On the one hand it’s one of the most beautiful fish on earth and on the other hand it’s considered a showpiece for those who want to pimp their Instagram feed. The whaleshark can be seen in Thailand, Australia and Mexico. Since 2011, the Philippines are also part of this list because of their unexpected appearance in Oslob.

Oslob

It must have been a mad moment for the Philippines to see the whaleshark appear for the first time. The splendor and beauty of the animal must have stunned them. On top of that, the financial opportunities such a tourist attraction brings. Despite the beauty of nature, Oslob has become a factory. Tourists pay €30 and get a guarantee for a beautiful photo with a beautiful, exclusive animal.

In short, Instagram likes for sure!

whalesharks oslob

The dark side is that the so-called guides feed the whale sharks with frozen shrimp. This allows them to guarantee the presence of the whaleshark for a full year. However, a whale shark migrates from place to place in search of the most tasty meal. To do this, it travels all over the world. People interfere with their ecosystem. As a result, the whaleshark remains in one place and finally becomes dependent on tourism. Moreover, the whaleshark shows abnormal behaviour in Oslob. Floating vertically in the water to fish for food from the surface is a good example of this.

Ignorant tourists who only go to Oslob to create a cool photo have no idea what it means for the biggest fish in the world.

  • Check your ego
  • Think
  • Don’t go to Oslob

Leyte

A real traveler realizes that blood, sweat and tears must be sacrificed in order to experience something unique. A beautiful beast like the whaleshark must be a reward after a long crusade, right?

How to get to Leyte?

From Cebu you can take a ferry to Hilongos or Maasin. The ferry takes about five hours and the ‘tourist ticket’ will cost you 495 php or 8.5 euros. The ‘tourist ticket’ gives you a bed, a blanket and air conditioning. In our opinion all this ‘luxury’ is not necessary and you can just as well buy a ‘deck’ ticket. Moreover, we spent most of our time in the cafeteria and when it closed, we moved to the deck. If anything, our backpack was at least comfortable on the bed.

cebu boot

Upon arrival in either Hilongos or Maasin you will see vans. Depending on your accommodation you get on the bus. Got an Airbnb? If so, ask your host to pick you up. Since tourism is virtually non-existent in Leyte. Airbnb hosts are the most welcoming people on the planet.

If you want to get to Leyte quickly you can fly to Tabaclan. However, keep in mind that you have to drive another 3.5 hours from the airport to get to your destination. Because the airport of Leyte is located in the north of the island.

Where to stay in Leyte?

Do I still have to answer that? As you’ve read above, I only recommend this Airbnb. Our hosts were from another planet:

  • They came to pick us up at the ferry
  • Took us to a take-away tent
  • Then they took us to the resort where the whaleshark tour began
  • To conclude they came to get us after the tour was over
  • Besides, they took us to the bakery
  • They even bought us food for a whole day
  • Finally, they dropped us at the bus terminal

airbnb leyte

This was our last experience with humanity before the COVID-19 crisis. We can say we ended on a high note:

If you don’t already have an Airbnb account, you can use this link to get a $30 discount on your first stay. Is Airbnb not for you? If so, you can stay with the organizers of the whaleshark excursion. The Padre Burgos Castle Resort. Despite the whaleshark’s popularity, the choice is very limited on both Booking and Airbnb.

Where to book your whaleshark tour?

We booked our excursion at the Padre Burgos Castle Resort. The cost for a full day tour is 3750 php or about 70 euros. Although the price is expensive, there is a guarantee that you will only be with a maximum of six people in the boat. So in principle a private excursion. Moreover, there were only three of us on the boat.

Purely as a measure, in Australia such an excursion costs 350 AUD or 195 euros and then you are with about ten people on the boat.

Protip! The Padre Burgos Castle Resort leaves a maximum of six people on their boat. This means that even with a Full Booking you will have a fun experience.

walvishaai padre burgos

A second option is to book your trip at Peter’s Dive Resort. This organization is cheaper and costs 2750 php or about 50 euros. During our excursion we were in the water with the boat of Peter’s Dive Resort and they had 16 people on board.

Your third option is to go directly to Pintuyan. There you can hear behind someone with his boat willing to take you to the ‘spotters’. This option is not recommended. Since you get no briefing here, no insurance, no equipment and you’re off the record. I can only recommend this if you’ve already done a whaleshark tour in Leyte and you want to do it a second time. That way you’ve already been briefed and you know perfectly well what’s expected of you. You’ll just have to bear the cost of your boat and a few spotters. About 1000 php or 18 euros.

Spotting Whaleshark!

Regardless of which option you choose your day is going to look similar. In the morning, your day starts at 8:00. You will be briefed on some important matters:

  • Don’t touch the whalesharks
  • No flash on your camera
  • Keep 4 meters distance at all times
  • Jump with your fins facing down (for the noise)
  • NO guarantee to see them

You get your snorkel and you jump on the boat. One straight line to the bay of Pintuyan. There’s a chance that you’ll see the whalesharks right away so always be ready to jump into the water. We got a different kind of show. A whole school of dolphins decided to swim with us. Underneath, next to and in front of the boat they happily jumped around. It must have been about twenty of them. Our tour was already a success!

dolfijnen leyte

Upon arrival in Pintuyan you have a beautiful view of the bay. The hills full of palm trees run steeply down to the beach where the whalesharks are only a hundred or two hundred meters from the mainland. All around you see smaller boats with ‘spotters’. They keep an eye on the current and stick their heads in the water to look for whalesharks. We thought it was a joke at first, but that’s how they do it.

whaleshark spotter

The boats must not be here for more than three hours. This is the law. Don’t get confused, you’re not going to swim with whalesharks for three hours. After about ten minutes, that’s it. Our captain is signaling us to go to the front of the boat. Fins flapping everywhere and snorkel isn’t even on my head yet, and we’re already jumping into the water. Three big gulps of seawater almost drown me and we see him pass by.

Magnificent!

There are only three of us in the water and the whaleshark floats gracefully through the water. It doesn’t care about our presence and just floats. The peace and quiet is only for a short period of time when a family also jumps into the water, causing the whale shark to speed up and dive down.

Our first interaction with the whaleshark.

We want more!

Soon the boat from Peter’s Dive Resort arrives and we realize that the next interaction will be a bit busier. About twenty minutes later the spotters in the distance signal us to come. Here comes round two with the whaleshark!

walvishaai leyte

During this swimming session, a tourist from Peter’s Dive Resort decided to touch the whaleshark. The marine biologist (who is always present) gave him a fierce lecture and he was restricted to staying on the boat for the rest of the day.

That’s how we like it!

Protip! Patience! Most tourists try to swim with the whaleshark. A better tactic is to watch the spotters. They give signs where to swim or where to stay in order to have the best view.

Like I said, there were three of us on the boat. Our other tourist was a French diver who travels all over the world to create the most beautiful underwater experiences. Below you can see his video of our daytrip with the whaleshark.

 

All our blog posts about the Philippines can be found here. Are you going to Cebu? There’s all sorts of things to do and see there. You can read more about it here. Don’t forget to put the waterfalls on your list.

 

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