If truth be told, we arrived in Cebu without any real idea of what there was to do there or how we were going to spend the next few days. This is pretty much how we spend most of our time travelling. Just get to the next place and work it out when you get there.
Having stated in Cebu City, we noticed that one particular attraction seemed to be referenced by more of the locals than any other: “Are you going to swim with the Whale sharks in Oslob?”
Well, we are now.
How to get there?
From Cebu City we cause the bus down to the town of Oslob, which is close to the southern tip of Cebu island. The bus ride takes about 4 hours and the ride is beautiful, mostly following the coastal track south. Tickets are available at the bus station and it seemed like there were several bus companies fighting for your business once you get there.
One thing that you need to know about Oslob in advance is that there is no cash-point there. Well. there wasn’t when we went. We didn’t know this in advance and nearly got stuck. Luckily, we found that there is one hotel where you can get use PayPal to send them money and then they will give you cash, but there is an 8% fee. However, when we visited in early 2017, they were building a 7/11 in Oslob, so this may have an ATM. But don’t count on it! Try and hit the ATM before arriving in Oslob.
Where to stay?
As our main concern was our budget. we stayed at the Pedz Cing Mango Lodge. Rooms here are only about £13 a night. It is a budget guesthouse, but the rooms are very cheap for the area and it is run by a super lovely family. They have wifi, air con and free tea and coffee. As the whale shark swimming starts at 5 am, they even woke up early to make us breakfast and arranged for a trike to take us to the location. If you are just in Oslob to see the whale sharks, then this place is perfect.
The guesthouse also arranged our tickets for the whale watching and sent someone down with us to help out. This really is helpful as your guide will get your ticket whilst you watch the orientation video. This saves you having to spend ages waiting in line. Even at 6 am, the whale shark watching place was heaving.
Rather than write a long story about the experience, I thought I would break it down into a few key bullet points. Anyway, here are some tips on what to expect and how to prepare for diving with whale sharks in Oslob:
- If for some reason you are not travelling with a GoPro, there are some places in that will rent them to you. I really would advise that you do this because the photos are amazing.
- Do not put on sunscreen or Deet. These chemicals can harm the whale sharks and you will need to wash them off before getting in the sea.
- Expect an early start. You will be leaving your hotel at around 5.30am. Once the whale sharks are full they swim off back into the ocean. So get there early.
- Your trike will then drive you to the whale watching centre. Be prepared that even this early it is manic.
- Get your driver to get you your tickets whilst you watch the orientation video.
- Pay attention to this video. It teaches you about how to interact with the whale sharks.
- After this, it is time to grab a snorkel and head down to the beach. Your ticket will have a boat number on it. Find the line for the boat with your number.
- Wait for your number to be called and get into a small boat. Expect to be with up to 4 to 5 people.
- You are then rowed out to your position in a line of boats. Get into the water and prepare to be amazed.
The whale sharks are then basically walked up and down the row of boats by men in tiny row boats. The rowers throw food into the water and the whale sharks slowly follow them sucking down gallons of water at a time. There are usually 3 or 4 whale sharks at any one time depending on how many people turn up that morning. They are usually youngsters, about 5 to 10 m long.
As the sharks swim past you, they get within 4 or 5 feet of you. The water wasn’t super clear due to the time of year we visited, so they suddenly emerged out of the gloom. It was amazing. Words honestly can’t describe what it is like to be in the ocean with a creature of this size.
You spend about half an hour in the water, but honestly it feels like 5 minutes. When whales have enough they just leave and swim back to the ocean. It is somewhere between captive dolphin shows you see and a totally wild animal experience. The animals here are wild, but it is clear they just turn up for the food. But honestly, can you expect anything else? These are wild animals and being able to see them in the wild was a truly bucket list moment.
Bonus: See Tumalog Waterfall on your way home
Afterwards you can head to the Tumalog waterfall, which is nearby. Your trike will drop you on the main road and then need to take a drive down to the waterfall on back of a moped, before having to walk the last part on foot. Honestly, this is a bit of a scam as there is no reason that the trike couldn’t drop you down, rather than having to take the moped, but its only a few dollars and the ride is awesome.
The real highlight, however, is the waterfall. It is 100s of feet high and totally alive. The rock face under the flowing water is alive with plants. Tiny swallow fly through the water to their nests and butterfly’s and dragon flies circle over head. Its like something from a Jurassic Park movie! Check it out!