How to Optimize Your Whale Watching Experience

It´s just after 8am on Saturday and I’m racing across the Bay of Banderas in a RIB, wind destroying any chance I have of looking sophisticated. The sun has just poked over the Sierra Madre Mountains and its light dances on the morning waters of the Pacific.

Our boat is searching for signs of life: a tell-tale plume of dense air or a large splash of water. It doesn’t take long. One of the passengers spots a spray rising from the surface, around 200 meters away. She hollers and jabs a finger towards the gently rising mist. The captain opens up the engines, and we make the short sprint across the bay for our first sighting of a humpback whale. For 10 minutes or so, we sit, engine off, admiring the beast as it recollects its breath before returning to the depths.

The first whale of the whale-watching trip

And so began a magical morning cruising Puerto Vallarta’s waters on a whale watching tour. I learned many things that morning about the whales and their fascinating lives. But I also learned a thing or two about how to optimize your whale watching experience. If you’re thinking of going on a whale-watching trip, here are a few helpful tips I learned.


5 things I learned whale watching

The whales do what they want

The humpbacks of Puerto Vallarta are (gratefully) wild and pay no attention to which way you’re looking or whether you have your camera ready – as I learned to my cost on Saturday. Looking back towards the coastline at what could have been a whale in the far distance, a cheer went up from a boat near to ours. Seeing nothing of interest, I quickly turned around. But too late. All I could see was a white foam on the surface left by a previously airborne humpback. Lesson learned. The best you can do is always to be prepared for something magical to happen during your whale watching trip.


Read more: Whale Watching in Puerto Vallarta: Everything you need to know


Experts make all the difference

Humpbacks are endlessly fascinating. It’s difficult not to fall in love with their grace, playful behavior, and complex social practices. Which means you’ll be dying to find out more. I can highly recommend choosing a tour with a real expert leading the discussions and answering questions. If you’re booking the tour yourself, make sure to do some thorough research into the guides. Alternatively, book your vacation with an end-to-end luxury travel company like Journey Mexico, who can do that work for you.


A whale slaps its tail against the surface


Preparing well maximizes enjoyment

Being comfortable is the key to making the most of your whale watching experience. Although the days are mostly gorgeous in this part of the world, a morning on the water can be chilly – especially if you’re moving across the water at some speed.

Here are a few things I would want on a whale watching tour:



Easily removable sweater or coat


You may also want to bring a hat (make sure it doesn’t blow off) and a camera.


A humpback cruises near our whale-watching boat


Choose your tour operator carefully

In the Bay of Banderas, and across Mexico, several laws protect the well-being of the whales. You can’t leap over the side of the boat and swim with them, for instance. Nor can you try to feed them. The laws are there for a very good reason – to ensure the long-term well-being of the animals and to keep the bay and its other inhabitants healthy. Make sure to choose an operator that always has the welfare of the animals in mind.


Go private if possible

There’s nothing more annoying that a miracle of nature happening right in front of you, only for the back of a head to block your view. If you can, go private. You will have more freedom to move about the boat, more time to ask questions of your guide, and will be able to enjoy much more flexibility to extend your stay on the water.


To find out more about whale watching in Puerto Vallarta, head over to our blog piece dedicated to the subject here.

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