If you’ve heard of Cebu, you’ve probably heard of the Oslob whale sharks experience, home of the whale shark selfie. It’s an iconic tourist attraction in the island’s south that attracts thousands of visitors every year, from all corners of the globe. Despite being a controversial topic, we’ve put together this ultimate guide to the Oslob whale sharks experience so you can decide for yourself if it’s something you want to add to your Philippines itinerary!
WHERE IS THE OSLOB WHALE SHARKS EXPERIENCE
The Oslob whale sharks experience is on the southern tip of the island of Cebu, around 4 hours from Cebu City or 2 hours from Moalboal. Most people combine the Oslob whale sharks with a few of the south Cebu waterfalls, so we recommend staying a few nights in Oslob or Moalboal to make the sunrise whale shark trip a little less brutal.
OSLOB WHALE SHARKS TOUR PRICE & HOW TO BOOK
In order to control the amount of people booking the Oslob whale sharks experience during the pandemic, the Provincial Government of Cebu require all tours to be booked online via their tourism portal, Discover Cebu (click here for more info). At the time of writing, it’s around $20 USD (1000 php) for both foreigners and locals, but there’s talk of it going back to $10 for locals soon.
OSLOB WHALE SHARKS EXPERIENCE FAQs
IS IT ETHICAL TO SWIM WITH THE OSLOB WHALE SHARKS?
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. Popular though it may be, the Oslob whale sharks experience is definitely controversial. To guarantee whale shark sightings 365 days a year, the sharks are fed shrimp in order to attract them to the same spot every day. It’s not yet fully understood what effects this has on the Cebu whale shark population, but the short answer is it’s probably not great.
In saying that, the Oslob local government has come a long way in enhancing the safety of the whale shark experience since its inception in 2011. We both visited in 2016 and back then it was pure chaos, with little rules and regulations, too many boats and tourists in the water at once, and not enough respect for these majestic creatures.
Now in 2021, it’s far more organised, with sea wardens present at all times and hefty penalties enforced for the breach of any rules. However, it can be a little difficult to maintain the 5 metre minimum distance from the sharks, as they swim a lot faster than you can get out of the way. Whilst it still has a long way to go to be considered ethical, it’s great to see the government making huge strides in the right direction. If you do decide it’s not for you, there are other ways to see whale sharks in a more natural setting around the Philippines, particularly in Donsol.
ARE THEY WHALES, OR ARE THEY SHARKS?
Their name might cause a little confusion, but to set the record straight, whale sharks are not whales (though they are whale-like in size), they are sharks. They’re the largest fish in the world, averaging from 5.5 – 10 metres long with a mouth span of 4ft.
IS IT SAFE TO SWIM WITH THE OSLOB WHALE SHARKS?
A lot of people wonder if it’s dangerous to swim with the Oslob whale sharks, but aside from the usual risk associated with water activities, it’s perfectly safe! This isn’t like swimming with Great Whites, whale sharks are very placid creatures who feed on plankton and small fish/shrimp. They have no appetite for humans, and their teeth are so tiny they couldn’t cause much damage even if they tried.
WHAT ARE THE PHOTOGRAPHY RULES FOR THE OSLOB WHALE SHARKS?
For everyone’s safety, both yours and the whale sharks, strict photography rules apply. Flash photography is strictly prohibited, only underwater cameras are allowed (no waterproof phones), and drones are, for the most part, banned. We were on a special media trip organised by the Provincial Government of Cebu, so were extremely lucky to be able to capture drone photos. We had to apply to the Oslob local government and show proof of a drone license beforehand.
OUR OSLOB WHALE SHARKS EXPERIENCE
The Oslob whale sharks experience starts early, around 6am. We arrived from Moalboal, checked-in at the front desk and had a short briefing where the rules were explained. We were then given our life jackets and were out on the water by 6:30am. The whale sharks are just a few metres from the shore, so you don’t have to go far on the boat!
There were already men out there feeding the whale sharks when we arrived, so we jumped straight in. This wasn’t our first rodeo so we knew what to expect, but it was still surreal jumping off the boat and immediately being surrounded by whale sharks. A few years makes you forget just how enormous they really are.
We went when tourism was just starting to recover domestically, so we were extremely lucky to have the place all to ourselves. This is not usually the case though. On crowded days, they restrict how many boats are on the water, so it’s not uncommon to wait an hour before you can even get out there. That’s why it’s best to get there as early as you can.
It was pouring rain with rough seas when we went, but it didn’t matter once we were in the water. You don’t do the Oslob whale sharks experience and expect to stay dry, so if you’re worried about bad weather ruining your time, it really doesn’t make much of a difference.
The typical Oslob whale sharks experience lasts only 30 minutes. It would be amazing if it was longer, but due to the sheer volume of people, it’s just not possible. So, with only half an hour to swim with the whale sharks, you better make the most of your time in the water! Get that selfie, but don’t forget to actually enjoy this magical encounter. Most people won’t get to do it again in their lives.
READ: 28 BEST TOURIST SPOTS IN CEBU
READ: 23 BEST WATERFALLS IN CEBU
If you haven’t planned your full South Cebu itinerary yet, keep scrolling for our top accommodation recommendations and more epic travel guides!
READ 19 BEST SOUTH CEBU TOURIST SPOTS
PIN IT FOR LATER
WHERE TO STAY IN OSLOB
Most people will stay in Moalboal and travel to the Oslob whale sharks in the morning, but if you want to extend your time in the south, you should definitely spend a night or two in Oslob. There are a range of accommodation options for all budgets, but here are our top 3 picks for where to stay in Oslob.
BUDGET/HOSTEL: WAY SHACK HOSTEL
The new kid on the block, Way Shack Hostel is the trendiest hostel in Oslob. Colourful rooms, good vibes and a social atmosphere can be expected at Way Shack Hostel, so you’re guaranteed a good time. Not to mention, it’s right across the road from the Oslob whale sharks! Click here to view more photos and availability.
MIDSCALE: DOWN SOUTH 118 BEACH RESORT
Down South 118 Beach Resort is one of our favourite spots in the south! It’s a charming little boutique resort right on the water with an awesome view and clean, comfortable rooms. The staff are out of this world nice, and the food is delicious. It’s a great resort for couples wanting some peace and quiet. Click here to view more photos and availability.
LUXURY: BLUEWATER SUMILON ISLAND RESORT
Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort is a private island oasis with luxurious villas, a white sandbar and incredible facilities. You can see this little gem from the mainland and while you’re swimming with the whale sharks. It comes at a higher price point than the other resorts in the area, but it’s worth every penny for the exclusivity it offers. Click here to view more photos and availability.
SEARCH ALL HOTELS & RESORTS IN OSLOB
MORE CEBU TRAVEL GUIDES
Binalayan Falls (Hidden Falls), Samboan
Balaygsawa Falls, Samboan