Slideshow: Best Destinations for Whale Watching
Bay of Biscay, Spain
Although you’ll find various cetaceans here all year long, whale watching is best from June through October. The list of whale species found in the area range from orcas to sei whales, fin whales, sperm whales, and pilot whales. The Bay of Biscay is a rough body of water, so it’s not a recommended destination for those that are easily seasick.
Hermanus, South Africa
South Africa’s self-proclaimed whale-watching capital is Hermanus, where you can spot whales from land overlooking Walker Bay. The most widely seen cetacean in this area is the baleen southern right whale, which comes close to the shore, making it easy to view from land. June through August is the best time to catch a glimpse of these marine giants, but they can appear off the coast up until November. A few great spots for whale watching in Hermanus include Cliff Path, Dreunkrans, Siever’s Point, and Old Harbour.
From May until September you’ll be able to see whales such as humpbacks, orcas, and belugas in Juneau’s waters — in fact, some of the largest gatherings of humpbacks in the world are spotted here. You can sometimes spot these whales from the comfort of your balcony if you’re on an Alaskan cruise, but to be sure you’ll see them, take a boat tour from Juneau’s coast with a guide who will bring you closer to these massive beauties than any cruise liner could. Unsure where to eat after? Depending on where your tour leaves from, make it a point to try one of these great restaurants.
Kaikoura, New Zealand
Kaikoura, New Zealand, is special in that you can see sperm whales here year round. However, if you want to see a variety of other whales and can bear some chilly weather, you should visit sometime between June and August. During this time species such as the pilot whale, blue whale, southern right whale, and humpback whale can be spotted as they come to feed off the water’s nutrients from the nearby Kaikoura Canyon. Once you’ve taken a few photos and are done with your winter whale tour, warm yourself up with some of New Zealand’s first-rate wines from the country’s Marlborough Region.
A majority of the U.K.’s orca sightings happen to be off Scotland’s Northern Isles of Orkney, and many minke whales can be spotted here too. The best time to see these species is from May through September, and you’ll likely see other aquatic wildlife as well during this time (or in some cases year round), such as dolphins, seals, and porpoises. Orkney is an archipelago made up of roughly 70 islands, but the Mainland (the largest island) is where you should stay, since it is also home to UNESCO World Heritage sites that are worth a visit like the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.
Much like those around the Azores, Iceland’s waters host more than 20 types of cetacean during the summer. Those that have done the tour before warn of choppy waters, but if you can stomach the waves, take one of several incredible tours offered from Reykjavik’s Old Harbor. Not sure what to do with the rest of your time in Reykjavik? Discover the food and culture of Iceland’s capital or take a mini-trip to some of the other wonderful cities in Iceland and see beautiful mountains, volcanoes, and geothermal spas.
San Juan Island, Washington
The best way to see whales from San Juan Island is by taking a guided boat tour, but you can also try your luck from land at outlook points such as Lime Kiln Point State Park. You’ll have the best chance of spotting orcas, humpbacks, and gray whales if you visit anytime between May through September, and you can also visit the Whale Museum on the island for the complete whale-watching experience.
Santa Barbara, California
From May through November you’ll find a variety of whales passing through the Santa Barbara Channel, the most notable being humpback whales and blue whales (the Earth’s largest animal). The best tours to take for sightings of these incredibly massive creatures are aboard the 75-foot Condor Express or aboard the more private Sunset Kidd, which only seats 15 people. Spend a few days in the area staying at the Belmond El Encanto Hotel, enjoying the hotel’s alfresco restaurant, and tasting wines at local estates like Grassini Family Vineyards and Happy Canyon Vineyards.
The Azores, Portugal
The whale watching season in the Azores — an autonomous region of Portugal made up of nine volcanic islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean — spans most of the year, from March through October. During this time, over 20 cetacean species can be seen off the coast, so you’ll never know which kind you might see when you head out on your tour. While you’re on the search for migrating whales, you’ll also see plenty of dolphins swimming along. Once you’ve seen these majestic mammals, book a short flight to explore the mainland of Portugal and enjoy foods like bacalhau and pastel de nata.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Whales such as orcas, humpbacks, and minkes will migrate near the Vancouver waters from March until October, making it a great whale watching destination for the summer. Because orcas travel in the hundreds, you’ll likely see these whales the most. If you’re planning an entire vacation around your tour, stop by the 55 acres of Butchart Gardens and check out Vancouver’s 1927 Lobby Lounge at The Rosewood Hotel Georgia for some classy cocktails and luxury dining.