10 of the World's Best Whale-Watching Holidays

Right whale in South Africa // Photo by John Fader/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

by Nick Trend, The Telegraph, May 1, 2019

From blue whales in California and humpbacks in Mexico to the magnificent orcas of Iceland, here are 10 of the best places in the world to see these mesmerising marine mammals in real life.

1. Right whales in South Africa 

Heading out to sea isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – and you don’t have to if you go to the small fishing village of Hermanus, overlooking the Atlantic two hours east of Cape Town. Southern right whales come to calf and mate off this coast between June and November, performing their acrobatics incredibly close to the shore. Tailor-made specialist Turquoise Holidays includes a visit to Hermanus on its 10-day South Africa itinerary.

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Wine Trails and Coastal Treasures from £2,165 for 10 nights, including flights, transfers and some meals. Departs June to November. Turquoise Holidays (turquoiseholidays.co.uk).

2. Blue whales in California

The deep waters around northern California are among the favourite haunts of elusive and unpredictable blue whales, most likely to appear in the late summer. From a family-run hotel in the Carmel Valley, close to Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, wildlife specialist Naturetrek arranges at least four half-day whale-watching trips for a chance to spot the world’s largest creatures, which can measure up to 80ft in length and weigh 100 tons.

Whales and Dolphins of Monterey Bay from £3,595 for eight nights including flights, transfers and all meals. Departs August and September. Naturetrek (naturetrek.co.uk). 

3. Whale cruise in the Canaries

Wildlife experts from Orca, a European whale and dolphin conservation charity, will be accompanying a cruise to the Canary Islands offered by over-50s specialist Saga. They will help passengers identify the marine and bird life from the deck of the newly launched Spirit of Discovery cruise ship. Ports of call include Lisbon and Funchal, plus the islands of Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and Fuerteventura.

Spanish Islands of the Atlantic from £3,199 for 14 nights including transfers from home to Southampton and all meals. Departs Nov 4 2019. Saga (saga.co.uk).

4. Killer Wales in Canada

Kayaking with killer whales may sound risky, but the pods of orcas that visit the Johnstone Strait, between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland, from July to October are friendlier than their name suggests. Frontier Canada combines an adventurous itinerary based in a tented wilderness camp for sea kayaking close to the pods in the company of an experienced guide, with a couple of days to explore Victoria, the region’s capital.

Orcas and Wilderness Camping from £2,395 for eight nights, including flights and some meals. Excludes transfers. Departs June to September. Frontier Canada (frontier-canada.co.uk)

5. Humpbacks in Mexico

Places on expert-led whale-watching trips are in high demand and you may need to book a year in advance. Escorted tour specialist Wildlife Worldwide already reports limited space on its spring 2020 departure to the Pacific coast of Baja California from San Diego. Sailing on The Searcher, a 90ft vessel with 14 cabins, you are likely to spot humpbacks, blue whales and sperm whales. A trip highlight is the San Ignacio Lagoon, where female grey whales congregate with their young.

Great Whales of Mexico’s Pacific Coast from £5,295 for nine nights, including flights, transfers and most meals. Departs April 6 2020. Wildlife Worldwide (wildlifeworldwide.com).

6. Orcas in Iceland

Shoals of herring, which make their winter home in the waters around Grundarfjorour in western Iceland from December to March, attract hungry orcas. Tailor-made specialist Regent Holidays offers a week-long, self-drive itinerary departing from capital Reykjavik, which includes a boat tour of the fjord to witness the feeding frenzy. The itinerary also includes three nights near Thingvellir National Park for a chance to view the northern lights.

Everything you need to know about whale watching: the ultimate guide

Orcas and Auroras Fly-Drive from £1,380 for six nights’ B&B including flights and car hire. Departs December to March. Regent Holidays (regent-holidays.co.uk).

7. Minke whales in Australia

June and July may be winter months Down Under, but temperatures around Cairns in Queensland reach about 77F (25C) and the seawater is still warm. At this time of year, dwarf minke whales migrate to the northern Great Barrier Reef in search of krill. Diving specialist Dive Worldwide includes a seven-night “minke whale liveaboard adventure” within a longer three-week itinerary for a chance to spot these mammals and help to monitor their numbers.

Minke Whales and Mantas from £6,345 for 21 nights B&B, including flights and transfers. Departs June and July. Dive Worldwide (diveworldwide.com).

8. Cetaceans in the Azores

The Azores archipelago, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the best places to glimpse sperm whales and short-finned pilot whales among many other types. Long-established operator Sunvil includes four three-hour boat excursions from Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel, organised through the Monicet research project, which monitors and records whale sightings. Stay in self-catering cottages in nearby Vila Franca do Campo.

Whale and Dolphin Watching on Sao Miguel from £1,465 self-catering for seven nights, including flights and car hire. Departs March to October. Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk).

9. Sperm whales in New Zealand

The coastal waters of New Zealand are home to a rich variety of seals, dolphins and whales. Wildlife specialist Discover the World offers a self-drive itinerary from Auckland in the north to Christchurch on the South Island’s east coast, taking in many of the country’s highlights, including a whale-watching cruise from Kaikoura – an area frequented by sperm whales with their distinctively large, square-shaped heads. 

Whale and Dolphin Explorer from £2,376 for 20 nights, including car hire and some meals. Departs year round. Discover the World (discover-the-world.com). 

10. Pilot whales in Madeira

The warm Gulf Stream currents that encircle the subtropical Portuguese island of Madeira create a year-round refuge for pilot, humpback and short-finned pilot whales. Small group specialist Artisan Travel offers a week-long discovery tour of the island’s wildlife, based at a four-star hotel in Funchal. The whale-watching excursion, escorted by a marine biologist, is an itinerary highlight, with a chance to snorkel alongside the boat if conditions allow.

Active Wildlife Week in Madeira from £1,185 for seven nights including flights, transfers and some meals. Departs April to October. Artisan Travel (artisantravel.co.uk).

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This article was written by Nick Trend from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

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