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Oslob: Swimming with gentle ‘giants of the sea’—sans sun block

But there’s more: a beautiful waterfall, forest trekking, and snorkeling in marine sanctuary

The author swimming with the whale sharks

Sumilon Sandbar

Another sought-after adventure away from the city was checked off my bucket list recently after I experienced Oslob, a small town in the southeastern tip of Cebu province.

Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort

One-bedroom villa with private dipping pool

We stayed at the Bluewater Sumilon Island Resort, situated on the 24-ha coral island that is Sumilon. I stayed in one of the premier deluxe rooms, overlooking the ocean, with a private veranda and a panoramic view of the majestic southern Cebu mountain range. The environmentally responsible resort also offers luxurious deluxe rooms, and villas with private dipping pools.

Sandbar dinner with media team

Guests can explore multiple activities within the resort. On our first night, we were served a lavish dinner at the famous sandbar of Sumilon island. I visited the sandbar the next morning, when the long stretch of sand can be best viewed alongside the crystal clear water of the island. Take note that several tour operators offer a visit to the sandbar without the need to check in at the resort. According to one of the staff of the resort, the sandbar changes shape, depending on the season.

Oslob is known for the appearance of whale sharks just a few meters from shore. Despite Oslob’s being visited by more or less a thousand tourists on weekends, it is obvious that the local authorities implement strict protocols to protect the giants of the sea for continuous tourism. We were required to attend a briefing on several precautionary measures before having our interaction with the whale sharks. No sunblock is allowed; people wearing sunblock are required to wash it off before diving into the water, as the chemical content would not be good for the fish. Maintain the 4-m distance, as tourists are not allowed to touch the fish to avoid unexpected physical impacts. For safety purposes, we were required to wear life vests and swimming masks.

Oslob’s whale shark

Under the blazing sun, I jumped into the water and swim with the gentle giants. The water was the saltiest I’ve experienced so far, and that’s how the animal likes it, according to the local guide. It might be scary at first, considering how big they are, most especially when they open their mouths—but they’re harmless and won’t eat you.

It might be scary at first, considering how big whale sharks are, most especially when they open their mouths—but they’re harmless

I requested one of the guides to take photos and videos of me with the whale sharks using my phone in a waterproof case. I had to remove my life vest so I could dive deeper, and another guide had to push me down for a more cinematic video of my encounter. It took me around three attempts to have my social media-worthy video with the whale sharks.

Tumalog Falls

A close second to whale shark watching is another wonder of Oslob, the Tumalog Falls. Upon reaching the car park, we were required to ride a habal-habal and pass a very steep road going to the falls. This was another heart-stopping ride for me, since no safety gear was worn, not even a helmet to protect my head; the only thing I could do was to pray for safety and entrust the driver with my life. Well, I learned that the driver was really seasoned, and I just shouted to conquer my fear until we reached the falls.

It was mesmerizing. It was my first time to see such a huge cascading waterfall, with a turquoise pool ideal for swimming. Unlike other falls, Tumalog’s pool has shallow portions, but is still deep enough for safe swimming. The cold and fresh water of the falls was so ideal for us who just came from a salty encounter, very relaxing as well as therapeutic. According to some, the best time to visit Tumalog Falls is during the summer.

The so-called “human drones” are found not only in Siargao, but also, it turned out, among the habal-habal drivers of Tumalog Falls. They were very good videographers and photographers, their shots of such  professional level that our group was amazed at their output. That skill really deserved a tip.

Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Conception church

Cuartel ruins that used to house Spanish Army soldiers

Unknown to some, one of the oldest churches in Cebu is in the town of Oslob, the Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Conception, more popularly known as Oslob church, which began construction in 1830 and was completed in 1848. Just across from the church is the Cuartel ruins that used to house Spanish Army soldiers, but ceased to be used upon the arrival of the Americans in 1899. It was made of coral stones from the remnants of the collapsed floor of the church bell tower. Just a few meters away is the baywalk, ideal for taking photos.

The lighthouse in Sumilon Island

Inside the Baluarte

We headed back to Sumilon Island after lunch to discover other activities in the resort. After our snack was served in Pulo Beach, we planned to trek to the old watchtower and a baluarte (look-out) built during the Spanish period. We were not in the right clothes, however, and just had our slippers on. The pathway is a lush forest, and I would certainly have lost my way without someone to lead the way—that’s how important a guide is. Another thing we forgot was insect repellant to protect us from mosquitoes; I ended up with several bites after the trek. Proper trekking shoes are important, as the trail goes uphill and downhill, and coral stones are sharp enough to wound the feet. Guests should inquire from the staff about the trekking schedule which depends on the availability of the guides.

One of the oldest churches in Cebu can be found in the town of Oslob, the Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Conception, which was completed in 1848

After the trek, I passed by the grotto of Our Lady of Fatima and the short and seemingly man-made Yamashita’s Cave. I had to bend to pass through the cave’s narrow entrance and to avoid the sharp stones.

Sumilon Island Resort’s lagoon-shaped infinity pool

Overlooking the breathtaking sea and the Cebu mountain range was the lagoon-shaped infinity pool, It’s something I made sure not to miss, as the view was picturesque. The lights at night made the experience even more romantic.

The marine sanctuary

On our last day, we went snorkeling in the marine sanctuary, where hundreds of marine flora and fauna species thrive. It’s just a few meters from the sandbar, and there’s no need to ride a boat to reach it. I was really amazed at how the area has remained protected and preserved despite the number of tourist arrivals. Corals and fish of varying colors and sizes can be seen, and I could have watched them all day. I also experienced kayaking in the calm lagoon teeming with mangroves, where my paddling skills were tested. One of the staff told us that guests could feed the fish; we just have to get their food from the restaurant.

It’s very Filipino, and it made me proud to see the staff of Bluewater Sumilon Island resort waving at us after our boat started moving away from the dock of the island. Oslob and Sumilon Island were my dream paradise, so I’ll be back soon.

The fastest way to get to Oslob is via Dumaguete City. Cebu Pacific flies to Dumaguete from Manila 24 times a week, and from Cebu 10 times weekly. The airline continues to offer its guaranteed low fares to stimulate travel across its network while it implements a multi-layered approach to safety, to encourage “everyjuan” to fly once more. Visit to learn more about their latest offerings, safety protocols, and travel reminders.

A few minutes from the airport is the Sibulan port going to Liloan port. Another vehicle will have to take you to the port in Bancogon, Oslob, where the ferry going to the Sumilon Bluewater Island Resort is located. Both land and boat travel will take approximately two hours.

About author


He is a 27-year-old Speech Communication and Broadcasting graduate of the University of the Philippines. A former creative writing instructor, he is working as research lead in a publishing company.

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