Every year, between December and March, humpback whales, blue whales, and sperm whales journey south from the Bering Sea to the warm waters of Mexico. Here, off the coast of Puerto Vallarta, they breed and raise their calves in Banderas Bay, one of the largest ocean inlet in the Pacific.
For travellers hoping to catch sight of them while visiting Puerto Vallarta, here’s what to expect:
Whale watching season
Most sighting begins as early as mid-November and starts to diminish by late March. However local government regulates whale watching tours to operate between December 8 and March 23.
Earlier in the season, adult whale sighting is more common. With the increased birth of baby calves over the months, you can expect to see more young calves swimming alongside adults toward February and March.
Watching from shore
With a good pair of binoculars, you can catch glimpses of the whales from the beaches of Banderas Bay or from the balconies of your hotel room. If you are lucky, you might see a cluster of whales swimming closer to shore. You can try and find a good vantage point from the beaches and boardwalks in El Malecón, but your best bet to see the whales clearly is up close with a boat tour.
Whale watching boat tours
Most tours set sail from Marina Vallarta or Vallarta Maritime Terminal. Types of watercraft used for the tours can range from catamarans to sloops, zodiacs, and motorboats. But beware of unlicensed and unauthorized privately charted tours, where operators ignore regulations and act aggressively toward the whales. Below are the standards of regulations for authorized operators:
Boat tours should follow these regulations
* Tour boats must carry an orange flag of certification from the Secretaria de Ecología de Mexico and permit.
* Only a maximum of two boats can be with the same group of whales at any given time.
* Boats should not spend more than 30-minutes with the same group of whales.
* Boats must keep a 30-m safe distance from the whales and approach in a non-aggressive manner.
* Boat travelling at high speed requires a crew member at the front to prevent possible collisions with the whales.
* Most tours have health and age restrictions, i.e. no pregnant women or children under a certain age are allowed onboard the vessel. Make sure to double check the tour operator’s guideline before booking.
What to expect
Most tours start in the morning and are guided by an onboard marine biologist or a local expert guide. The boats are usually limited to small groups, with a maximum of around 16 people on each tour. Passengers can learn about whale behaviours, diets, and habitats, along with local ecology and other marine creatures that you might also spot in the waters such as turtles, dolphins, and orcas.
Most tours offer complimentary refreshments, beverages, and lunch. Some provide breakfast and an open bar. It’s highly recommended to bring sunscreens and other sun protection, as well as weather appropriate clothing and most importantly – a camera!