Looking for a whale watching paradise? You’ll find it in the Azores. Migratory species spend their summers here, year-round residents frolic in the bays and there’s a beautiful backdrop of volcanic islands and marine birds. Whale watching tour operators are ramping up their eco-credentials, lending a helping hand with crucial research and piling up top notch packages for you to pick and choose from. The item everyone wants to tick off their bucket list? Seeing a blue whale in the Azores. While you’re looking for the big one, there’s a chance you see a whole lot more.
When to go
Spring. It’s always the ultimate time to see any destination – and the Azores is no different when it comes to whales. Technically, you’re in with a solid chance of seeing sperm whales year-round. And there’s four species of dolphins that call the islands’ waters home all year too. But in spring, the biggest species swim in to hoover up the krill. Still keen to set your eyes on sperm whales? The best time to head out on the water is through the summer, when the tour operators clock up the most sightings.
Species to spot
By far the most sought-after species to spot when you’re whale watching in the Azores? The blue whale. Swinging by in spring, they are the cetaceans everyone’s here to see. While your eyes are on the horizon, keep an eye out for humpback whales, fin whales and sei whales too. There are around 28 species of cetaceans in total, which probably explains the high sighting rate most tours can boast. Do keep in mind they’ll consider a trip successful if you spot dolphins though. Striped, bottlenose, Risso’s and common dolphins are the regulars in these waters – though Atlantic spotted dolphins can sometimes appear in early summer. False killer whales are an interesting spot if you’re lucky enough.
Hop on to one of the Ocean Emotion boats if you’re staying on the island of Terceira. Their speed boats deliver that up close and personal experience we’re all after. But there’s a couple of things to note. Not the comfiest rides, the ribs tend to knock you about a bit in the swells. Children and travellers with aches in places they’d rather not jolt about will want to opt for the cabin cruiser. The onboard bathroom and partially covered deck is a big plus. Facilities aside, Ocean Emotion pride themselves on their responsible whale watching, take part in research projects and partner with conservation specialists locally. They also do a rather nice line in whale watching packages. You can combine whale watching, swimming with dolphins, snorkelling for wildlife, a sunset cruise and a poke around the inlets in the Azores for €215. Bargain.
Basic whale watching tour cost: €50 in winter / €55 in summer – 3 hour tour.
Orbzii tip: Considering hopping in the water with dolphins or seeing the seabed through your snorkel? Help Ocean Emotion keep the seas safe with reef friendly sunscreen.
Staying on Pico? There’s another whale watching opportunity in the Azores that doesn’t involve island hopping back to São Miguel. CW Azores are the full package. Whale and dolphin spotting trips running year-round isn’t enough for this cetacean-loving crew. Full whale watching packages are available for you to max out on boat trips scouring the seas for your spots of choice. Add in their swimming with dolphin packages, shark diving, scuba diving and snorkelling tours and their catalogue is impressive enough. But they don’t stop there. A legit part of the Azores approach to non-commercial research. The facts the team gather all go towards protecting the whales, dolphins and sea life in the nearby ocean. And, to add another gold star to CW Azores’ rather impressive CV, they are striving to be eco-friendly, transparent and sustainable. Just what you’re looking for in a responsible whale watching operator.
Basic whale watching tour cost: €69 – 3 – 4 hours.
Orbzii tip: Really set your heart on spotting Blue Whales? Take a peek at CW’s Blue Whale Migration Package. 10 days, 5 whale watching trips, accommodation and more.
By now you might be wondering where the intel is on the São Miguel whale watching tours. Look no further. Terra Azul are the team to take you out. You’ll be hopping on board the team’s Zodiac for a 3 hour whale watching tour. On board biologists clue you in to species facts and the wider eco-system off the coastline of the island. On land lookouts scan the horizon for the crucial blows that clue the captain in to where the whales are hanging out. As part of the basic package they include a tour around the Islet of Vila Franca do Campo. The stunning volcanic crater – and the surrounding wildlife are worth a look. As with the other top tour operators, there’s a few packages to choose from. The one that will likely catch your eye? A full day tour which combines a full 3 hour whale watch in the morning, a slap up seafood lunch and an afternoon of volcanoes, craters, island history and the chance to hop in a thermal spring.
Basic whale watching tour cost: €55 in winter / €64 in summer – 3 hour tour.
Orbzii tip: As beautiful as the whale watching in the Azores is, your eyes should also be on the skies. The islets are the perfect refuge for rare migrant marine birds and Terra Azul can pop you on one of their vessels for a 3 hour tour of the region’s birds. Be on the lookout for Madeiran Storm-petrels, Manx Shearwater and Great Skuas.