DON'T MISS: How to go whale watching in the Azores

How to go whale watching in the Azores? Did you know that the Azores in Portugal are one of the best places in the world for whale watching? You can see some species of whales throughout the entire year in the Azores. Other species are only present during certain months when they pass by the Azores Islands on their annual migration.

In addition to whale watching in the Azores, you can also spot many different dolphin species here. You can even swim with these curious and funny animals.

In this whale watching Azores blog post, you can find out about the best time for Azores dolphin and whale watching, which whales and dolphins can be seen here, the best Azores island for whale watching and the best organizations that offer tours.

So definitely keep reading.

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Which whales and dolphins can be seen in the Azores

In the fertile waters of the Azores, there are no fewer than 25 different species of whales and dolphins.

During your boat ride, you can see everything from common dolphins like bottlenose dolphins to sperm whales and even blue whales. The latter are the largest existing whale species. They can get up to 30 meters long and sometimes weigh 173 tons.

You can occasionally also spot orcas here, although these animals are less often seen.

Read also: What to do in the Azores.

So, your chances of seeing whales on your Azores vacation are quite high.

Note, however, that not all whale species are present throughout the whole year.

Below, we’ll provide more information about the best period for whale watching in the Azores and we’ll also specify which species can be seen when.

Whale tail

There is a chance you see a whale lob-tailing during your whale watching tour in the Azores.

What is the best time for dolphin and whale watching in the Azores Islands

Unfortunately, or luckily I’d say, these are still wild animals. So, no one can offer you a 100% guarantee that you will see whales during your Azores trip. That’s just the way it is in nature.

There are certain months that the chance of spotting the animals is higher, though.
That’s the case from April to October.

Read also: The perfect Azores itinerary for first-time visitors. 

April and May are good months to see the so-called bigger whales, such as fin and blue whales.
You can spot sperm whales during the entire year, but your chances are best in the summer months. Summer is also the best time to spot dolphins.

In October, on the other hand, you’ve got a better chance to see a humpback whale.

But winter is also a great Azores whale watching season. This time of year provides some excellent opportunities for whale watching in the Azores because common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and sperm whales are year-round residents in the Azores.

Azores Whale watching

We saw this dolphin during our whale watching tour.

Which Azores Islands offer the best dolphin and whale watching opportunities

Whale watching in Pico, Terceira and São Miguel is typically considered the best. 

Of course, the whales don’t only circle around these Azores islands. They should be visible from all islands. However, these are the islands that are home to 1 or more well-organized operators offering professional Azores whale watching day trips and tours.

For this reason, these three islands are known as those that offer the best whale watching experience in the Azores in general.

If you’d like to see blue or fin whales, it’s best to plan an excursion from São Miguel. Whale watching in São Miguel offers the best chances to see these truly massive marine mammals. This map shows the most recent locations where the animals were last seen.

By the way, did you know that the current whale watching Azores tours have their origins in the whaling industry?

Active whale hunting was a common practice in the Azores up until quite recently.
Today, the same methods to find and spot whales and dolphins are still used.
Luckily, the only way whales are hunted and shot nowadays is with a camera, while the harpoons are now safely stored in museums.

What to take with you when going on whale watching trips in the Azores

Here are a few things that you should take with you on Azores whale watching day trips:

  • athletic and warm clothes: especially when you choose a boat ride with a zodiac.  These boats accelerate quite fast, which can make things feel a few degrees colder.
  • sunglasses
  • sunscreen
  • A camera or a smartphone because you’ll obviously take lots of pictures 😉 A drybag is not required but make sure you can cover your camera or phone with the provided waterproof jacket when the zodiac rushes from one place to the next.

The organization will provide a waterproof jacket, and also a pair of waterproof pants if you’d like. If the excursion is on a zodiac, you’ll get a life jacket, too (You can also get a life jacket on the catamaran if you’d like).

Dolphins Azores, Porgugal

A dolphin with calf

What does the dolphins and whales tour look like

There are numerous organizations that offer Azores whale watching tours. We booked our own tour with GetYourGuide and went whale watching with TerraAzul.

They organize whale watching tours from São Miguel.

We had booked a second trip with Espaço Talassa on Pico. Whale watching in Pico is popular as well, and we wanted to compare boat tours.  We attended the informative session that precedes the tour but we had to cancel our tour at the last minute due to weather conditions.

Read also: A practical guide to the Azores hiking trails.

We noticed that the approach of both companies was pretty similar.

Both were very concerned about the environment and acknowledged the irony of protecting the environment while at the same time organizing several daily boat tours.  However, they did their utmost to disrupt the environment as little as possible with their tours. They both tried to compensate for their tours by cleaning up the ocean while doing them.

For example, during the boat ride, they’ll ask you to also keep an eye out for litter so that they can scoop it out of the water.

Azores Whale watchingBefore the tour

After we got registered, we were divided into 2 groups. While we waited for every one of our group to arrive, we picked out a waterproof jacket and a pair of pants.

When the group is complete, it’s time for the briefing. As we said, both Espaço Talassa and TerraAzul are very committed to the environment. Both companies start the briefing with a film about the importance of the ocean. We need the ocean, but the ocean doesn’t need us… that’s the clear message of the film.

The introductory film is followed by a presentation about the animals that you may see during the tour.  This explanation is given by the biologist who will also act as a guide to the group.  The briefing is ended with some important aspects about the safety onboard. The captain or biologist will tell you what you can and cannot do during the excursion and demonstrates how to put on the life jacket.

Both organizations were multilingual. The information was typically provided in English by default, but both teams were surprisingly large and also included members who spoke Dutch, French, German and Spanish.

During this briefing, we learned that the teams still use the same methods and techniques to look for whales as they did during the whaling age.

On the island are various little huts, from which so-called vigias scan the horizon looking for spouts (a whale that shoots water into the air). From the moment these spotters see something, they’ll notify the boats so that they know where to go.

Of course, time hasn’t stood still. In the meantime, the equipment has gotten more modern and our boat also had an underwater microphone, through which we could hear the whales even if we couldn’t see them.

Once everything’s taken care of, you’re ready to board and the real fun can start.

Azores Whale watching

The zodiac boats that are used for the whale watching tours.

During the tour

After all that information, it was time for action.

Some organizations use zodiac boats. These are pretty small rubber boats that are quite fast and agile. Other organizations use larger boats.

Further down in this article we’ll list the pros and cons of both.

Our excursion was with a zodiac boat.

Participants get asked beforehand whether someone is pregnant or has back problems. In that case, it’s best for you to sit further in the back because of the boat’s possible sudden shakes and jerks. They take that into consideration when assigning seats in the boat.

Once everyone’s taken their seats, the ropes are released and the adventure begins.

While we ease out of the port, we receive some last tips, but then it’s pedal to the metal and our zodiac flies across the waves onto the ocean.

The first stop is at a school of common dolphins. These funny animals are so curious it seems like they might just jump into our boat.

We see them jumping out of the water on all sides.

They’re clearly not scared of our presence and stay close to the zodiac, while our captain slowly and carefully maneuvers the boat so that everyone has plenty of time to see and photograph these playful animals.

Striped Dolphin Azores Whale watching

A striped dolphin

We then continue on further into the ocean until we arrive at a small group of striped dolphins.

While we wait among these dolphins, Marylou, our enthusiastic and knowledgeable biologist, talks about the differences between these dolphins and those we saw earlier.

This school consists of many mothers with calves. They’re not afraid either and they also get close to the boat, but you do notice they’re less interested in us than the previous school.

After we’ve taken an insane amount of photos of these dolphins, we continue our search for whales.

Filled with hope, everyone scans the horizon for a spout of 1 of these gigantic mammals.

A short while later, we stop at another boat where people are swimming with dolphins. We watch as they enter the water 1 after the other to spend a few minutes in the water with the dolphins.

Azores Whale watchingHoping that we’re still able to track down some whales, the underwater microphone is lowered into the water. This device can pick up the communication of the whales up to 15 kilometers away. However, we’re out of luck, there don’t appear to be any whales around at the moment.

A little disappointed we start retracing our route. On the way back to the port, we’re able to scoop up a plastic bucket from the water, a good deed that makes the ocean a tiny bit cleaner.

TerraAzul finishes every tour with a trip around the small island of Ilhéu de Vila, which lies just off the coast of Vila Franca do Campo.

The island is the result of a volcanic eruption and the nearly perfectly round crater creates a well-protected bay, which provides delightful swimming opportunities.

Additionally, this island was also the location of the 2019 Red Bull cliff diving world championship.

During our short cruise around the island, we noticed the preparations for this world championship.  The island is also home to many sea birds and that is the real reason for which TerraAzul circles it at the end of every trip.  In addition to many birds, we also saw many large red crabs.

Azores Whale watchingAfter the tour

Upon our entry into the port, Marylou tells us again about what we saw on our tour.

We were really unlucky because people on all previous excursions were able to see whales.

We also see that confirmed on a sign at the entrance to TerraAzul, where one neatly records which animals were seen and when.

Would you like to see which animals have been spotted lately? This website has an overview of all animals seen during the tours.

No reason to be sad, though, because seeing all those dolphins from up close was totally worth it for us.

The tour is completed with a cup of tea offered by the company, which gives us some time to chat with the organization and the other travelers.

Conclusion

Despite seeing only dolphins, we still thoroughly enjoyed our excursion.
The playful dolphins that entertained us during almost half of the trip really brought a smile to our faces.

We’d seen dolphins before, but rarely from so close and for so long.
And honestly, we’ll never get tired of seeing wild animals.

humpback whale

A humpback whale

What you need to know before booking Azores whale watching day trips

No 100% guarantee

Of course, everyone would like to take a photo like the one above. We were lucky to see a whale that was giving a true show several years ago in Alaska. We also saw them during our Antarctica trip. 

Unfortunately, nevertheless that the chance here is very high, we didn’t see any this time.

Since these are wild animals, no organization can offer the 100% guarantee that you’ll actually see something.

Still, despite that whales will always remain the highlight of the tour, animal lovers, will always have the time of their lives thanks to the many dolphins that can be seen.

April to October is the best Azores whale watching season providing the highest chance of seeing whales.

Don’t wait too long to book

The weather is the Azores is unpredictable and that does influence these boat excursions. If the ocean is too rough or the weather too bad, the excursions are canceled.

Moreover, there’s only a limited number of seats per day.

This is why it’s best to book your excursion online in advance for one of the first days of your vacation so that you can push your plans forward by a day in case the tour is canceled due to weather.

So, don’t wait too long to book to make sure there are still spots available on those days.

We often book through GetYourGuide. This way, you can secure your spot, but, might your plans suddenly change, you can usually cancel for free up to 24 hours before the trip.

Choosing between a morning or afternoon whale watching tour

All organizations offer you the choice of a morning or afternoon excursion. We asked the organizations if there’s a difference between the 2 excursions and whether there’s a higher chance to see whales in the morning or in the afternoon.

The response was that there’s no difference at all. So, which moment you choose for your whale safari doesn’t matter.

Which type of boat suits you

3 different types of boats are used for these excursions.

Zodiacs

This type of boat is the most common one. These boats are fast and agile. An excursion in a zodiac is clearly the most adventurous option. You’ll be sitting on a sort of sawhorse (see the image above).

This type of boat is not very suitable if you have back problems or if you’re pregnant. In that case, you can sit in the back, but because the boat does shake and jerk a lot, we would recommend against it.

You always have to wear a life jacket on a zodiac.

Fiberglass boat

A fiberglass boat is a bit larger than a zodiac. Besides that, the experience is similar to a zodiac. It feels adventurous and you’re close to the water so you can see the animals from up close.

The benefit, when compared with a zodiac, is, however, that you’re able to walk around when the boat isn’t moving.

Catamaran

A larger boat feels less adventurous, but it’s a good alternative if you have back problems or if you’re pregnant. The benefit of this boat is that you can walk around freely the whole time and, therefore, can take beautiful photos on all sides.

These boats also have a bar (although it’s not always open) and a toilet.

You’re also less likely to get seasick on a larger boat, even though Kris told me that he’d still always take a seasickness pill just in case.

Seasickness

If you know you’re prone to seasickness, it’s best to take precautions.

Kris suffers from seasickness fairly easily and he took some preventive medication to make sure he’d be able to fully enjoy the trip.

If you’d rather not take any medication, the following tips might also help:

  • Don’t look at the water near the boat. Instead, try to watch to the horizon as much as possible.
  • Eat a big breakfast, but only food that digests easily (no coffee, eggs or bacon).
  • Wear plenty of warm clothes to prevent hypothermia.
  • Make sure you’re well-rested at the start.
  • Don’t stare too much and too long through your camera’s viewfinder.
  • Actively look for the whales and dolphins. If you focus your thoughts and think about the animals, you’re automatically less likely to get seasick.
Azores Whale watching

The harbor in Vila Franca do Campo

Overview of the best Azores whale watching tours in the Azores

Below, we discuss the best Azores dolphin and whale watching tours.

Dolphin and whale watching São Miguel tours

Viewing whales with a zodiac boat

This is the tour we did.

It’s a 3-hour-long whale excursion that departs from Vila Franca do Campo. This city is about 30 minutes by car from Ponta Delgada.  If you come from Furnas it will take you about the same time since the city is located halfway between these two major cities on the island.

On a zodiac, you’ll look for dolphins, whales, and turtles.

During the return trip, the zodiac takes you around the island of Ilhéu Vila Franco, also known as Princess Ring Islet thanks to its nearly perfectly round bay.

  • Smaller boat.
  • International team. English is the official language but members of the team also speak Dutch, French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.
  • A marine biologist joins the tour
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the start of the activity.

 

  • If you quickly get seasick we advise you to take precautions.
  • Less suitable if you have back problems.
  • Not recommended if you are pregnant.
  • Not for children under 4 years old.
Conclusion

Despite being really unfortunate during our excursion and not seeing any whales, we still totally recommend this organization. Everything was arranged perfectly and Marylou, our biologist, managed to entertain us along the way with various facts about the animals.

Read reviews and book: Azores whale and Dolphin watching Tour 

Whale watching from Ponta Delgada with a catamaran

If you’d like to go searching for whales on a slightly bigger boat, this tour is ideal for you.
The catamaran tour feels a bit less adventurous.

You don’t have to wear a life jacket and are able to move around the boat freely.

Just like the TerraAzul tour we talked about above, you’ll first get a briefing, after which you get on board and the whale searching trip begins.

  • A larger boat, so a slightly smaller chance of getting seasick.
  • A marine biologist joins the tour.
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the start of the activity.
  • Suitable for pregnant women and small children.

 

  • The bigger boat is less fast and agile.
  • You’re a bit further away from the animals, so you see the dolphins from above instead of from the side.

 

Conclusion

If you have an adventurous nature, we’d recommend a zodiac tour. This tour is, however, not suitable for everyone.

Children younger than 4 aren’t allowed on zodiacs and if you’re pregnant or have back problems, it might not be best to take the risk. In that case, it might be better to choose this safe option.

The benefit of this boat is that you can walk around freely and can take unobstructed photos on all sides.

This is the perfect excursion for you when you’d like to see whales and dolphins, but can’t or won’t get on a zodiac.

Read reviews and book: Whale and Dolphin Tour 
Azores Swimming with Dolphins

Swimming with dolphins

Swimming with dolphins from São Miguel

You can also go swimming with wild dolphins on São Miguel. These are wild dolphins, so the experience is different from what you might have done before, or have seen in pictures.  These dolphins won’t push you forward and they won’t come to give you a kiss either.

Despite the fact that you are not allowed to touch the dolphins, it remains incredibly cool to be so close to these animals in their natural environment.

To fully enjoy this excursion it’s best to already have some experience in snorkeling in open water.

This tour departs from Ponta Delgada.

  • A unique experience to swim so close to wild dolphins.
  • A marine biologist joins the tour and shares interesting and fun facts about these cute animals
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the start of the activity.

 

  • If you quickly get seasick we advise you to take precautions.
  • Less suitable if you have back problems ( the excursion is done with a zodiac boat).
  • Not recommended if you are pregnant.
  • Not for children under 8 years old.
Conclusion

Dolphins are incredibly fun animals and they’re also unique in their interactions with humans. There are many known cases of dolphins helping people and even saving their lives. Therefore, it’s a fantastic experience to able to swim among these animals.
The activity happens in a responsible way. It’s not allowed to touch the animal in order to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for both the dolphins and yourself.

Read reviews and book: Swimming with dolphins São Miguel 

Azores Whale watchingDolphin and whale watching Terceira tours

Terceira is another place where you can go dolphin and whale watching and they also offer tours to go swimming with dolphins.

Whale watching from Terceira

Whale watching is slightly less popular in Terceira, but there still are opportunities to head out and scan the horizon for whales and dolphins.

If you look at the map and see the statistics of recent years you will notice that there’s a smaller chance to see these animals here.

The organization that organizes the tours here does, however, guarantee that you will see at least 1 dolphin or whale. If that’s not the case, you’re offered a second trip and if that doesn’t suit you, you get your money back.

The tours depart from Angra do Heroísmo.

  • Small groups.
  • The excursion is done with a zodiac boat so you can get closer to the animals.
  • A marine biologist joins the tour.
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the start of the activity.
  • Guarantee to see at least 1 animal. Otherwise, you will get another tour offered or you will get your money back.

 

  • Fewer chances to see animals. It’s good to have a guarantee but if you have to make a second excursion, this can ruin your other plans. 
  • If you quickly get seasick we advise you to take precautions.
  • Less suitable if you have back problems ( the excursion is done with a zodiac boat).
  • Not recommended if you are pregnant.
  • Not for children under 4 years old.
Conclusion

This excursion is a good alternative for people who won’t visit Pico or São Miguel.

If you’re also visiting those islands, I’d recommend a trip starting from one of those islands because you’ll have a better chance of seeing the animals.

Read reviews and book: Whale watching Terceira island 

Swimming with dolphins in Terceira

In Terceira, it’s also possible to swim among dolphins.

  • A unique experience to swim so close to wild dolphins.
  • Small groups.
  • A marine biologist joins the tour.
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the start of the activity.
  • Guarantee to see at least 1 animal. Otherwise, you will get another tour offered or you will get your money back.

 

  • Fewer chances to see animals. It’s good to have a guarantee but if you have to make a second excursion, this can ruin your other plans. 
  • If you quickly get seasick we advise you to take precautions.
  • Less suitable if you have back problems ( the excursion is done with a zodiac boat).
  • Not recommended if you are pregnant.
  • Not for children under 10 years old.
Conclusion

This tour is comparable with what you can also do on São Miguel. 

If you’re only visiting Terceira, this is a good alternative, but otherwise, our advice would be to do this from São Miguel.

More information and booking: Swimming with dolphins Tereceira 
Pico volcano Azores, Portugal

Pico volcano

Whale watching from Pico

Together with São Miguel, Pico is known as the best Azores island for whale watching.
This tour departs from the village of Lajes do Pico. The tours take place only from April to October and they’re done with the small and fast zodiac boats.

  • The excursion is done with a zodiac boat so you can get closer to the animals.
  • Marine biologist on board.
  • Free cancellation up to 24 hours before the start of the activity.

 

  • If you quickly get seasick we advise you to take precautions.
  • Less suitable if you have back problems ( the excursion is done with a zodiac boat).
  • Not recommended if you are pregnant.
  • Not for children under 4 years old.
Conclusion

Considering you’ll spend most of your time on São Miguel, that island is our first choice for a whale-watching excursion. It offers the most opportunities to fit this into your schedule and also the best chance for a 2nd or 3rd attempt if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Pico is, however, a good alternative. Here, you’ll also have a decent chance to see the animals and furthermore, the excursion is totally similar to the excursion as offered on São Miguel.

More information and booking: Whale and Dolphin Tour on Pico 

Conclusion

When visiting the archipelago, definitely make sure to free up some time to go whale watching in the Azores.

Read also: Island hopping in the Azores: a practical guide. 

Even if, like us, you only see dolphins during your excursion, it’s still an unforgettable experience.  One you’ll remember for a long time.

Have you booked your spot yet?

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Categories: Portugal

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