Close Encounters with the Whale Sharks

I’ve been dying to do this for years but I’ve never had the guts and chance to do it. Last February 2010 one of my best buddies invited me to travel and I didn’t think twice and suggested Donsol, Sorsogon as part of our ever-changing itinerary.

En Route to Donsol

Close Encounters with the Whale Sharks

We met up at Pasay Terminal of Philtranco and bought our tickets to Donsol. The tickets cost around P900 (AC bus per person) and the bus ride from Manila to Donsol was around 12 hours.

There are different ways to get to Donsol. The first one is via Legazpi City in Albay, you could either take an hour plane ride or a ten hour bus ride. From Legazpi City you could take an hour jeep or bus ride to Donsol via Daraga. The other option is the direct bus ride from Manila to Donsol.

We arrived around five in the morning in Donsol and asked the first tricycle driver we saw for a nearby cheap hostel. Most lodging houses were still closed when we arrived, the driver was kind enough to take us to some people he knows that are renting out some of their rooms. However, the price was way over our budget. We drove around the small town looking for a cheap hostel for a few minutes when an idea popped into my head.

The Legendary Filipino Hospitality

I jokingly asked Kuya Rigor (the tricycle driver) if we could stay in his house for the night and pay him instead. He humbly said that it’s ok if we don’t mind staying in a small nipa house. We said yes and then went to his estate.

It’s a small piece of land with two nipa houses, one for Kuya Rigor and one for his sister who’s a teacher at the nearby school. He let us into his house and advised that we should rest for awhile before we go to the Tourism Visitors Center for the Whale Shark activity.

I asked him if we could only pay him P200 for the space he provided us, and to our amazement he declined and offered it for free. He went back to the bus terminal to wait for more passengers and we rested for awhile. After a couple of hours, he came back with three cups of coffee and some local rice cakes.

The Gentle Giants
shale sharks
Flickr Photo by Christian

We left our bags in his house and went to the Visitors Center around 8AM. The Whale Shark Interaction Tour costs around P3500 per boat. This could only accommodate six people and the price includes the tour guide, the use of life vest and the boat ride itself. You have to rent the snorkelling gears and the fins or you could bring your own if you have.

Prior to the actual activity, you will be required to watch a video about the Whale shark and the conservation effort that is being done to save this creature.

Here are some facts about the whale shark from the tourism brochure.

“The whale shark is the world’s largest fish that feeds on planktons, krill, small fish, squid and invertebrate larvae. Whale sharks or butanding appear in Donsol waters in considerable numbers between December and May, taking advantage of dense food concentration. They are known to grow great lengths of up to 18m, weigh up to 40 tons and live up to 100 years.”

After waiting an hour or two for other visitors that we could share the cost with, we finally boarded the tour boat. Kuya Omar, our tour guide briefed us for some safety measures before we left the shore.

We were all excited as we cruise for our first whale shark. The boatman pointed the direction where he saw a whale shark and we hurriedly jumped off the boat. I was such a slow swimmer and I didn’t see the first whale shark except for its tail but it was already such a grand experience for me that time.

Kuya Omar instructed me to swim close to him so he could assist me on our next sightings. The boatman pointed again the direction of the next whale shark and we all jumped back into the water. I was looking straight and I couldn’t see the whale shark then suddenly the guide made a hand sign to look below. And to my shocked I was just above the whale shark’s head maybe about just a couple of feet away. I was such a wuss and let out a scream (imagine screaming with the snorkelling thingy in your mouth LOL). It was such a huge animal, probably the biggest I’ve seen in my life.

I went back to the boat after that with a huge smile in my face. Damn!!! Luckily they are just plankton feeders. Some stupid thoughts were running in my head like what if that whale shark decided to change its diet to meat while I was swimming close to it or what if the whale shark was on the verge of evolution and became a man-eater that moment.

We stayed on the boat for another hour looking for more whale sharks and swimming with them. It was such an unforgettable and magical experience to swim with the gentle giants of Donsol.


  1. Backpacker Boy says:

    I did this in Utila in Honduras Flip and it absolutely blew my mind! Swam with them and got so close i could reach out and touch them. Amazing experience to be so close to such a huge animal, it'll be tough to top it.

    Love the blog by the way, first time i've visited and feel like i've been missing out! I'm writing over at on the places i've visited, would love to hear what you think!

  2. ☮Pinay Travel Junkie☮ says:

    long time no post! good to see you're back flip. i'm not a good swimmer, and this is a long time dream of mine…

  3. flipnomad says:

    @ gaye: yeah i know, been trying to avoid the internet and keep busy with job hunting waaah… thanks for dropping by, it seems that you have a new layout huh, nice one 🙂

    @backpacker boy: thanks for dropping by dude, yeah it was such an amazing experience and i would love to do it again, i'll check your blog soon. thanks for dropping by.

  4. Flip – that sounds absolutely amazing! I hope to catch some off the Andaman Coast (fingers crossed).
    I don't worry they'll change to meat but that their open mouths will cause such a vacuum I would get sucked in! haha. Only 6 days to go and I'm off – ahhhhh! 😀

  5. flipnomad says:

    wow! time flies so fast huh! im excited for you Toni. don't forget to write about your travels…

  6. thepinaysolobackpacker says:

    huwaw Flip! You're really a backpacker, you even stayed at local's house for free! I've been wanting to do that for a long time. Aside from the scene, immersing withe locals is what I love most in traveling! I'm envious, I hvn't seen this gentle giants yet! Keep the posts coming! =)

  7. flipnomad says:

    @gael: thanks for dropping by. i agree with you, immersing ourselves with the local people in the places that we visit is the one of the most memorable expleriences.

  8. pinoy boy journals says:

    flip, a really great post you have here. i haven't been to southern luzon and wanting to swim with the whale shark. i am so excited to plan a trip to this province.

    do you know what's the local drink in donsol or bicol? hehe… alcoholic much? hahaha… i will read the rest of your posts…

  9. flipnomad says:

    you should see southern luzon, the place has a lot to offer to tourists and travelers alike. and it's not that expensive as well.

    sorry jerik but i dont know what their local alcoholic drink is.

    keep on traveling buddy


  1. Flip’s First Pit stop: 100th Article | says:

    […] also wrote about my recent trip around Visayas, Philippines. from swimming with the Whale sharks in Donsol, to trying the Zip Line and Chili Ice Cream in Legazpi, and making our way up to Boracay via […]

  2. […] Omar, our tour guide and boatman in Donsol, Sorsogon (swimming with whale sharks tour) is well travelled around the Bicol region and he encouraged us to go to Daraga to see the Mayon […]

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