Having the privilege of seeing animals in their natural habitat is one of the most magical parts of travel. The opportunity to see whales either along their migration path, or where they come each year to mate or give birth is a spectacle travelers will cross the world to see firsthand. Like scouting the northern lights, seeing a shooting star, or passing a giraffe on safari, spotting a whale in the wild is pure chance. But you can tip the odds in your favor by seeking out the right destination in prime whale-watching season. From the national parks of Chilean Patagonia, to the shores of Portugal and everywhere in between, these are the best whale-watching destinations in the world.
Francisco Coloane Marine Park, Chile
From December to May, visitors can spot several types of whales in the waters around Patagonia during their journey from the tropics to Antarctica. Humpback whales love the fjords, canals, and the surrounding native forest of the Francisco Coloane Marine Park near Punta Arenas, Chile. A trip to this park, in the Chilean region of Patagonia, will practically guarantee you a sighting of one of these giants. There are a number of dedicated whale-watching cruises and boat trips (like the Viator, Inc. whales, penguins, and glaciers cruise) that take you there for the day. Stay at Hotel Dreams del Estrecho. This modern hotel is characterized by its glassy architecture and bustling, large hotel feel. There is a clear emphasis on fun, with live evening performances, a fantastic Sky Bar at the eleventh floor, and the southernmost casino in the world. Guests can also relax in the hydra spa and swim in the infinity swimming pool, which flaunts the hotel's privileged views of the Straits of Magellan, and, beyond, Tierra del Fuego and the Mirador Hill ski slopes.
Los Cabos, Mexico
Every year more than 1,500 humpback and California gray whales migrate from Alaska’s cold waters to the warm Pacific water off the coast of Mexico’s Baja peninsula. They begin arriving in late November, and from December to the end of March, there’s plenty of opportunity to see these amazing creatures. At Solaz, a Luxury Collection Resort, Los Cabos, the resorts’ Artisan Concierge team offers an elevated whale-watching cruise for guests. The experience involves an afternoon of whale watching aboard a private vessel through the Sea of Cortez, a Baja-inspired meal arranged by Solaz’s culinary team, and a professional technician who will place hydrophones in the water to capture the sounds of the whales.
The Azores, Portugal
Whale watching is a regular occurrence in the Azores—due to the whales’ migration routes, more than 25 species pass the destination. In fact, these Portugese islands are deemed one of the world's largest whale sanctuaries; 30% of all whales types worldwide pass through, including blue and sperm whales. The best season for Azores whale watching is April through October, the latter of which is best for spotting humpbacks. Popular tour operator Azores Getaways offers half-day tours in Sao Miguel island for travelers looking to take part in whale watching responsibly. And while visiting the Azores, stay at Azor Hotel, a luxury hotel that showcases and respects the area's stunning natural surroundings.
Hermanus, South Africa
Hermanus, located on the southern Atlantic Ocean, is a quintessential whale-watching spot because it’s where the southern right whales come to have their babies from June to November. Touted by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the best whale-watching destinations in the world, the best spot to see the whales is from Walker Bay in September, October, or November. Stay at African Pride Arabella Hotel & Spa, Autograph Collection, set right on the water and simultaneously in prime whale-watching and wine-tasting country.
Whale watching in Bermuda might sound oxymoronic, because most people don’t expect to see whales in this part of the world. But March and April is the prime time to witness the northern parade of humpback and other whale species right off the coast of Bermuda, as they migrate north to their feeding grounds in Canada, Greenland, and Iceland. While they can be seen from various vantage points on shore, the best way to get the full humpback experience is to head for the open seas (you can tour with BUEI, the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute). It’s been reported that the island is becoming, once again, a breeding/calving ground for the humpbacks. That means lucky whale watchers may have the rare chance to see just-born humpbacks frolicking near Bermuda.
Dubbed “The Valley Isle,” Maui is the second largest Hawaiian island and a perfect spot to scout migrating humpback whales from December through April. For a high-end Hawaiian whale-watching experience, Destination Residences Hawaii, recently launched a collection of bucket-list Hawaiian adventures, including whale watching. Exclusive to guests of their Maui properties, Wailea Beach Villas being their premiere upscale hideaway, the Destination Kohola experience brings guests to the most common sighting locations of the whale migration from Alaska to the North Pacific Ocean via a 64-foot luxury sailing catamaran. Onboard the catamaran is a well-known whale naturalist and a personal photographer to document the whole experience.
Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
Perhaps taking the cake for under-the-radar oceanic wildlife destinations is Myanmar—specifically, the Mergui Archipelago. However, it should be noted that this isn’t your average whale-watching destination—it’s a spot to see dugongs (a mid-sized mammal often compared to whales) and whale sharks. Mergui is a chain of nearly 800 islands with exquisite coral reefs and beaches. The archipelago is a sought-after diving destination, because the crystal-clear Andaman Sea waters lend themselves to spotting rare underwater creatures. Diving to see dugongs and whale sharks is like whale watching with a bit more funk. Stay at ultra-high-end resort Awei Pila Mergui Archipelago—they’ll organize your dives for you.