Whether you prefer to kayak alongside a killer whale, watch a humpback breech from the safety of a very big boat, or get in the water and snorkel with a sperm whale, there is a whale experience out there for you. Spotting whales is a seasonal sport so it’s always best to check the migration timing before you make plans. In winter months destinations such as Cabo San Lucas and Virginia Beach are in prime viewing time–and for the planners out there, look to South Africa, Alaska, and Panama for summer experiences.
Swim with minke whales Down Under with Pelorus: Book the explorer yacht Beluga for an opportunity to participate in reef conservation and swim with local marine life. The Queensland based Minke Whale Project, an organization that carries out research into dwarf minke whale biology and behavior, supports sustainable management of swim-with-whales tourism. During the expedition, you’ll be joined by a guest researcher from the Minke Whale Project who you’ll have the opportunity to assist with gathering data, tagging and identifying individual whales. You’ll also be accompanied by dive masters who specialize in encounters with minke whales and who strive for their protection.
Every fall, humpback, gray, and blue whales make the area around Los Cabos and Baja’s Pacific lagoons their home, with Ojo de Liebre the lagoon with the highest concentration of whales – around 400 whales. New this year, Montage Los Cabos brings a once-in-a-lifetime excursion to witness gray whales, via Compass Sports, the resort’s outdoor adventure outfitter. Travel by boat to Ojo de Liebre for intimate whale encounters, afterwards enjoy a Baja style picnic and then visit one of the biggest salt mines in the world and enjoy the incredible views of the natural salt deposits.
Swim with sperm whales in Dominica in partnership with sister hotels Secret Bay and Fort Young Hotel & Dive Resort. During this immersive, in-water whale experience, which requires a specific permit regulated by the maritime authorities, you’ll work with a team of licensed and experienced guides who have spent decades studying and becoming intimately acquainted with Dominica’s resident sperm whale population. Leveraging the expertise of this team who are skilled at how to behave in the presence of a sperm whale, guests enter the water and swim with the world’s largest predator.
Swim with the stunning whale shark at Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal. Situated on a private slice of 24 acres at the southernmost tip of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, the award-winning resort offers close encounters with the whale shark—the world’s largest fish and harmless to humans. Set out on a panga boat toward La Paz for a day of swimming alongside these marvelous creatures. If swimming is not your speed, you can always park yourself at the beach or pool and watch them breech from shore.
South Africa is one of the best destinations worldwide for whale watching if you time your visit correctly. The annual southern right whale migration begins in June and goes through September—they come to give birth, which is a spectacle some guests have witnessed from shore (the water is so deep just offshore that the whales can come in very close). You’ll also see Bryde and humpback whales. Hermanus is the center of action for viewing. Maximize your chances of seeing whales with a boat-based tour from Hermanus, or book a luxurious five-star stay at the newly renovated Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, just a short drive away. The expert team at Grootbos will manage all of your whale watching desires—and you’ll get three Michelin-quality meals a day plus total and complete immersion in one of the world’s most biodiverse floral kingdoms.
The Relais & Chateaux Sonora Resort in Canada takes guests by helicopter over the forests and waterways of Vancouver Island and Johnstone Strait to Port McNeill, where a 55ft passenger vessel awaits. During this extraordinary excursion expect to see orca and humpback whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, dall’s porpoises, harbor seals, steller sea lions, and even bald eagles. Wilderness guides and safety equipment, binoculars and hydrophone headsets are provided. On their return journey to Sonora, guests have the option to extend the tour and touch down on a glacier or remote mountain top to take in the 360° view and enjoy a light snack.
At Maui’s Hotel Wailea, the scenery is serious competition for the whale watching. Book their private Hawaiian Outrigger Canoeing Adventure to get up-close-and-personal with the majestic humpback whales. You’ll paddle along Maui’s southern coastline past black lava outcroppings, golden sand beaches and the Haleakala volcano. Book travel December through April for best sightings.
Martinhal Sagres on Portugal’s Algarve coast is located at the tip of southwest Europe in a protected natural park just steps from its own beach. Prime whale viewing is from May through September and hotel guests can enjoy a boat tour for best views of killer whales, pilot whales, minke whales, fin whales or humpback whales, during their annual north-south migration.
Virginia Beach is better known for summer activities such as surfing and parasailing, but the area is also home to marvelous winter whale wathching. Each year, the North Atlantic population of humpback whales (around 15,000 each year) migrates from New England, Canada and the Arctic Ocean to the warm Caribbean Sea for the Spring breeding season. The best way to witness this remarkable annual phenomenon is via boat tour, many of which are offered by several Virginia Beach tour providers.
Panamá is one of only two areas in the world that hosts Humpback whales from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. And while more than 30 species of whales and dolphins can be found in the Panamá coast, it’s the humpbacks that put on the best show. Whale watching takes place at several locations along the Pacific coast, specifically Taboga Island and the Pearl Islands, both in the Gulf of Panamá, closer to Panamá City. Other prime locales are Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge in Pedasí in the Los Santos Province, the Gulf of Chiriqui near and around Boca Chica, and Coiba National Park, one of the 50 UNESCO Marine World Heritage Sites.