As a full-time traveler, I’ve been fortunate enough to plan many of my adventures around the migration patterns of some of my favorite creatures—including whales! Over the last few years, I’ve spotted these gentle giants around the globe with the help of responsible tourism operators and a bit of good timing. These are the five best whale watching destinations for seeing whales in the wild.
As a Uruguayan myself, I’d be remiss not to give my country a shout out. Our whale season is one of our best-kept secrets, but savvy travelers should know that Uruguay is one of the easiest places to spot whales. You don’t even have to go out on a boat! Whales like the deep, warm waters just off the coast of Uruguay, so you can see them from the shore during their breeding season between June and November. Uruguay has been a sanctuary for whales since 2013, so you must adhere to strict rules that include staying 300 meters away from the whales in the protected water.
Beach towns in the departments of Maldonado and Rocha are the best places for whale watching, but you may also be able to get a glimpse of whales in the capital city, Montevideo. Book a hotel on the Rambla such as the eco-conscious SORO Montevideo, Curio Collection by Hilton so you can walk out to the beach and see these beauties breach after breakfast. There are also free viewing points along Uruguay’s 400 KM of coastline.
Dominica is the best place in the Caribbean to go whale watching, as they can be spotted year-round. In Dominica, there are resident pods of sperm whales—the largest of all of the toothed whales and the famous creature in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Other pods of sperm whales that also migrate through Dominica are frequently seen on whale-watching excursions during the peak season between November and June. The short-finned pilot whale makes an appearance, too.
Dive Dominica offers whale watching tours leaving every Sunday afternoon from Roseau on the south end of the island. They are highly professional and conducted with the whales’ safety as a highest priority. Learn more about the cetacea population around the island by checking out the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.
Costa Rica is home to 6,700 unique marine species including gigantic mammals like the humpback whale. They can be spotted along the western coast of Costa Rica, from the Osa Peninsula up to Coco in Guanacaste. Female southern humpback whales migrate to Costa Rica from Antarctica to birth their young from August to October. The female humpback whales migrate alone to protect their calves, while pilot whales, Bryde whales, and orcas can also be seen in Costa Rica.
One of the best places to watch this natural phenomenon is in Uvita, where the famous whale tale beach is. You can book a whale-watching boat ride with responsible tourism operator Tucanes Tours for fantastic viewing even towards the end of the season. I was able to see three massive female humpbacks with their calves frolicking in the sea—one even breached right in front of my boat which was a magical moment I’ll never forget.
The waters surrounding the Indonesian archipelago are often graced by a variety of whales. One of the best places to spot various species is the MahaRaja Eco Dive Lodge in Raja Ampat. The waters surrounding the island eco-lodge were bought by the accommodation protected to make it a sanctuary for aquatic life. During my 10-day stay on the island in May, I saw orcas and Bryde whales in the channel in front of the resort, while other species like sei whales are known to pass through the area as well.
Whale spotting can be done from the dock in order not to disturb the creatures. If you do spot a whale while out on a boat don’t fret, MahaRaja uses electric boat motors that prevent polluting the sea with fuel or noise. Throughout the year whales can be seen in the serene waters that surround MahaRaja.
My first encounters with whales breaching the water and blowing air came while visiting family in Oahu, Hawaii. Northern Pacific humpback whales make the longest migration of any mammal in the world, making their way from Alaska to Hawaii to raise their young in the winter months. The peak months for whale spotting in Oahu are between February and March on the south-east side of the island.
The whales can easily be seen from the shore, but there are many catamarans and sailboat whale watching excursions too. The captains use their eyes to spot whales as sonar is strictly forbidden. For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can whale watch from the sky with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters Heli-Whale Experience Tours on Maui and the Big Island.
Do you have a favorite spot for seeing whales in the wild? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!