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Puerto Vallarta is one of the best spots in Mexico for whale watching! Nature lovers flock from far and wide to see these amazing creatures swimming in the calm waters that surround the beautiful resort town.
Going out on a boat to see whales up close is easily one of the best tours to do in Puerto Vallarta. You get out on the water for the day and the feeling when you see a whale is pure excitement – it’s like you’re a little kid again!
Every year, whales come to the Bay of Banderas to mate and give birth – meaning if you time it right, you could see adorable baby whales. The bay’s natural shape offers them protection from predators, while the warm waters are perfect for raising little ones.
Humpback whales are the most commonly seen whale in Puerto Vallarta, but you might also see blue and grey whales too if you’re lucky. Dolphins, turtles, and orcas are also sometimes spotted close to the bay, so you have a great chance of spotting some of them too.
We’re super passionate about whales and LOVE whale watching, so this was an incredible experience for us. Whale watching is one of the top things to do in Puerto Vallarta and it’s one of those activities I never get tired of.
Whether this is your first trip to spot whales or you’ve been before, we’ve put together this guide of 10 things to know before you go whale watching in Puerto Vallarta. It will help you get the best experience you can!
1. About the whales in Puerto Vallarta
While you’re out looking for whales, which ones can you spot? Humpback whales are the most common, but these are the top four types of whales you can see in Puerto Vallarta.
Humpback whales are the stars of the show! They’re the main species of whale that you will see on a whale watching tour in Puerto Vallarta.
Around 500-700 humpback whales visit the Bay of Banderas every year to mate and raise their young. The shape of the bay protects them from predators, and the warm waters are ideal for pregnant females to give birth.
Although humpback whales spend around half their lives in the cold waters around the poles, whale calves are not born with the layer of blubber that adults have to protect them from the cold. This is why whales migrate to warmer waters to give birth and raise their babies for the first few months of their lives.
Humpback whales generally range from 14-17 meters (46-56 feet) in length and weigh around 35 tons. This means that they’re roughly half the size of a blue whale, which is the largest mammal on Earth.
They’re popular with whale watchers because they breach more frequently than other types of whale, so your chances of seeing one are much higher.
In whale-watching terms, “breaching” means rising almost completely out of the water and then falling back in with a big splash. It’s quite a sight to see!
The name “humpback whale” comes from their unique body shape, because they have a small fin on their back that resembles a hump. It’s a fairly unimaginative name, but it fits!
Humpback whales don’t live in big groups. They tend to travel alone or in pods of two to three whales. It’s thought that they live between 50-80 years and they’re very gentle non-aggressive animals. We love them!
As mentioned, blue whales are the largest mammals on Earth. They’re also the loudest animals on our planet, with a vocal range that can reach up to 188 decibels.
To give you some context, that’s the same volume as a jet engine! They use these loud noises to communicate with other blue whales, and they can be heard up to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away.
Pretty impressive, huh?
There’s no guarantee that you’ll see a blue whale in Puerto Vallarta – in fact, the chances are pretty slim. However, it has been known to happen, so keep your fingers crossed and your eyes peeled!
Grey whales are slightly shorter than humpback whales, although they weigh roughly the same. Their bodies are also more streamlined, with no dorsal fin. They have a mottled gray coloring, which is where they get their name.
These whales are gentle giants, and they’re often seen close to the shoreline. They tend to travel in small groups, and can sometimes be seen “logging”, which means lying motionless at the water’s surface for up to 30 minutes at a time.
Every now and then, you might see a Bryde’s whale in Puerto Vallarta. These whales are similar in size to humpback whales, but they’re much less common. They’re also known as “tropical whales” because they prefer warm waters. In fact, they’re the only species of whale that spends its entire life in tropical waters.
This type of whale has two blowholes (instead of one, like most other whales), and they often travel in pairs. You’re not likely to see them breaching, but they are known to “spyhop”, which means rising vertically out of the water to take a look around.
2. When is whale watching season in Puerto Vallarta?
December to March is when the vast majority of whales come to the Bay of Banderas, so if you want to see them, this is the best time to do it.
The Mexican authorities regulate whale watching and determine the season. The official whale watching season in Puerto Vallarta is December 8 – March 23, although this may be subject to change.
So if you’re visiting Mexico in December, plan to go whale watching from the middle of the month onward for your best chances of spotting these fascinating creatures.
If you’re in Puerto Vallarta in March, try to go earlier in the month to ensure that you don’t miss out in case the whales leave the area earlier than expected.
The winter months are also the dry season in Mexico, so you’re less likely to experience rainfall, which is always good news when planning a boat trip!
Related read: If you’re here during peak season, watching for whales is one of my favorite things to do on the Malecon (Boardwalk) in Puerto Vallarta!
3. What is the best month to go whale watching in Puerto Vallarta?
You’re likely to spot whales in Puerto Vallarta from December to March, but the best months are said to be January and February. This is smack dab in the middle of whale watching season, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to see whales if you go during this time.
The government regulates whale watching season, so it’s important to check before you go to make sure that you’re not going outside of the exact dates from December to March. If you go whale watching within this time, many tour companies will provide a money-back guarantee if you don’t see any whales.
However, during January and February, the whale population is at its peak. The water is warm and the whales are most active, meaning that you’re more likely to see them breaching, spy hopping, and swimming close to the shore.
We went whale watching in mid-January, and it was absolutely incredible! The water was teeming with whales, and we even saw a few breaches. It was definitely an ideal time to go.
If you’re keen to see baby whales, then February or early March is the best time to come. This is when most of the calves are born, and you can see them swimming alongside their parents.
All in all, January and February are the best months to go whale watching in Puerto Vallarta. Not only are you guaranteed to see humpback whales, but you’re also likely to see their babies, too!
4. What time of day is best for whale watching in Puerto Vallarta?
Most tours tend to last between 3-4 hours and leave at either 9 am or around midday. The whales are active throughout the day, so it doesn’t really matter what time you go in that regard.
With that being said, we recommend taking a morning tour to avoid the heat of the midday sun. The water also tends to be calmer in the mornings, making for a smoother ride.
5. What are the best whale watching tours in Puerto Vallarta?
There are several excellent whale watching tours in Puerto Vallarta, so you can choose one that fits your budget and preferences. Whether you’re planning your honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta or a family trip, there’s a tour for you! We’ve listed some of the best options below.
Whale and dolphin watching with a biologist
This 4.5-hour tour allows you to see humpback whales up close, as well as a variety of other fascinating marine animals including orcas, giant mantas, and several different types of dolphins.
Your tour guide will either be a marine biologist or a professional wildlife photographer who has worked for National Geographic and Animal Planet, so you’re in good hands!
This tour company also runs research programs for whales and dolphins, and during the trip, you’ll learn more about their efforts and how you can get involved. This is a great option for anyone who is passionate about marine research and conservation.
The price starts from $87 USD per person, and the maximum group size is 15, so this is a pretty budget-friendly option as whale-watching tours go. The tour company guarantees that you’ll see whales, or they’ll give you your money back.
Private whale watching tour
This private tour gives you the chance to ask your marine biologist guide every question you can think of! It’s a really special experience for those who are passionate about whales and other marine mammals.
The price of the 3.5-hour tour is $654 USD per group, and the maximum capacity is 10. If you’re traveling with a group of friends or as a family, this is a great option as you’ll get to enjoy the experience together without having to share with strangers.
The great thing about this tour is that it also includes lunch, so your private boat turns into a floating restaurant with a view!
Small-group half-day whale watching tour
This is a budget-friendly tour with a maximum group size of 10. It’s ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to spend too much money but would still like a smaller group experience.
The tour lasts for 4 hours and you’ll learn all about whale behaviors and ecology from your expert guide, as well as how to whale-watch responsibly. It costs $98 USD per person, and it’s best to book in advance because these tours fill up pretty fast!
Whale encounter Puerto Vallarta
At $79 USD, this tour is one of the most wallet-friendly whale watching options in Puerto Vallarta!
There’s a maximum group size of 14, so the boat won’t be super crowded, and there’s a hydrophone on board that you can use to listen to the whales singing underwater! You’ll also be helping researchers identify whales for conservation projects to protect them – so neat!
Related read: Another top tour is the spectacular Rhythms of the Night Show in Puerto Vallarta! If you’re lucky, you might even spot whales on the boat ride over to the island where the show is held.
6. Are Puerto Vallarta whale watching tours eco-friendly?
Whale-watching tours are heavily regulated by the Mexican government. It’s not like just anyone can start offering tours. There are rules in place and only companies that follow these rules are granted an official license.
All of the tours we have listed above are eco-friendly, and the companies make a conscious effort to minimize their impact on the environment. Many of them also support research and conservation initiatives.
They also follow responsible whale watching practices, which include viewing the creatures from a respectful distance to avoid disturbing them.
The companies also do not chase whales or approach if another vessel is already nearby, since this can be stressful for the animals. If a whale seems distressed, the boat will slowly leave the area.
7. Can you see other wildlife on a whale watching tour in Puerto Vallarta?
Although whales are the main attraction, there are lots of other amazing animals that you can see on a whale watching tour in Puerto Vallarta.
Dolphins are another huge attraction. It’s possible to spot bottlenose, spotted, spinner, and rough-toothed dolphins in the waters of Banderas Bay, and you might even see an orca (killer whale) if you’re lucky!
You might also spot a false orca, which is a different type of dolphin that closely resembles an orca. These creatures are actually very friendly and are known to enjoy human contact. In fact, they often approach boats to say hello!
Giant manta rays are another type of animal that you might see while whale watching in Puerto Vallarta. These massive creatures can grow up to 20 feet (6 meters) in width, and they’re absolutely stunning to see.
You may also spot marine turtles swimming near the boat, which is a pretty awesome experience.
Your guide will help you to spot all of the different animals, and they’ll also be able to tell you more about their ecology and behavior. A whale watching tour is a super educational experience as well as a lot of fun!
Related Read: Sometimes you can also spot whales while on a catamaran cruise from Puerto Vallarta! Whales aren’t the main focus on these tours, but just an added bonus!
8. Are whale watching tours suitable for kids?
Children of all ages are welcome on whale watching tours. A whale watching tour is an amazing experience for all the family and kids will love getting up close to these incredible creatures.
All of the tours we have listed in this blog post are stroller-friendly, and infants must sit on an adult’s lap during the boat ride.
If you are traveling with kids, it’s probably better to book a small group or private tour because this will give you more space and flexibility. You’ll also be able to ask the guide lots of questions about the animals, and they can tailor the tour to your family’s needs and interests.
It’s also better to opt for a morning tour if you’re traveling with children to avoid the heat and enjoy the calmer waters.
Related read: If you’re looking for more fun adventures for the whole family, check out the best day trips from Puerto Vallarta for ideas!
9. What should you wear/bring whale watching in Puerto Vallarta?
Make sure to bring some cash with you, as some tours have a dock fee of 40-50 pesos (around $2.50 USD), which you’ll need to pay on the day.
It’s also important to wear comfortable shoes with rubber soles, as the deck of the boat may get wet and slippery. You’ll also spend quite a lot of time standing, so it’s best to wear shoes that won’t rub or give you blisters.
Hopefully, you’ll stay dry, but wear comfy clothes that you don’t mind getting wet just in case. A whale watching tour is not the time to don your fanciest outfit!
It’s also a good idea to bring a light jacket because the morning breeze can be cold.
If you’re prone to seasickness, it’s a good idea to take some medication before getting on the boat. The water tends to be pretty calm but you never know, so it’s best to be prepared. Dramamine is one of the most popular sea sickness tablet brands, and you should take this 30-60 minutes before you set sail.
The Mexican sun is strong, so wear a hat and sunscreen to protect your skin. And remember, you can still burn even if it’s cloudy!
You’ll also want to bring a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes, especially because the sun will be reflecting off the water. Polarized sunglasses are ideal when you’re facing a lot of glare because they reduce the amount of light that enters your eyes.
A camera is a must on a whale watching tour! There are plenty of opportunities to take really great photos and videos, so make sure your camera (or smartphone) is fully charged before you get on the boat.
Last but not least, if you own a pair of binoculars, bring them along as well. They’ll come in handy when you’re trying to spot animals in the distance.
10. Is whale watching in Puerto Vallarta worth it?
One hundred thousand percent yes.
We’ve been all around the world and this is honestly one of the coolest things that we have ever done.
Banderas Bay is filled with whales and we saw SO many that we lost count. Several times, we saw multiple whales breaching at once.
It was incredible.
We went in mid-January, which is one of the best times to go whale watching in Puerto Vallarta, and we highly recommend that you try to go during this time too if you can.
Other Activities to do While You’re in Puerto Vallarta
There’s a good reason why Dan and I keep coming back to Puerto Vallarta – not only is the whale watching here on a whole other level but there are a ton more fun activities to try too!
- Enjoy a swashbuckling show on a pirate ship – Ahoy landlubbers! Ever wanted to live out your dream of being a pirate, sailing across the seven seas? Or maybe you’ve got a little one who is swinging around their imaginary cutlass like a pro? This pirate ship cruise includes a dinner fit for a pirate king with cannons, fireworks, and all kinds of jolly entertainment to boot!
- Explore the jungle on an ATV tour – One of my all-time favorite activities in Puerto Vallarta was going on an ATV tour. Dan and I went on this half-day Jorullo Bridge ATV experience that takes you to some of the most scenic natural spots in the area, as well as over the longest suspension bridge in Latin America!
- Visit the Rhythms of the Night Show – When it comes to the best dinner shows in Puerto Vallarta, the Rhythms of the Night Show is a tough one to beat! It takes place on a secluded island with incredible dancing, acrobatics, music, and, of course, the food is amazing too. You also get to enjoy a beautiful catamaran cruise to and from the island! You can book your ticket online here.
- Walk the Puerto Vallarta Malecon – The boardwalk here is absolutely full of amazing museums, some of the best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta, and more shops than you can count! This is a great spot to pick up some souvenirs for the folks back home, have a go at making your own chocolate, or simply enjoy a drink at Señor Frog’s!
- Explore underwater – While there’s plenty to do on land, it’s like a whole new world beneath the waves! If you can, snorkeling or scuba diving in Puerto Vallarta is a must. This scuba diving tour is jam-packed with caves and more tropical fish than you can count. Or to stay closer to the surface, this snorkeling cruise visits the beautiful Marietas Islands.
Where to Stay in Puerto Vallarta
Now that you know when to go and where to go to see whales, it’s time to find a place to stay!
There are TONS of great hotels in Puerto Vallarta – no matter your budget or preferences. From luxurious budget resorts to cozy boutique hotels, deciding where to stay in Puerto Vallarta is super exciting, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite spots with you!
Oasis Hostel – $
Who said you couldn’t live the dream on a budget? The Oasis Hostel offers both dorms and private rooms, which all have air conditioning with traditional Mexican decor. It’s around 5 km (3 mi) to get downtown, but that’s really easy with a taxi, or you can also rent a bike straight from the hostel.
Rooms here are super affordable, starting at just $19 USD including breakfast! Whether you’re backpacking through Puerto Vallarta or prefer to spend your money on experiences over accommodation, this is a great choice. You can book your space on either Hostelworld or Booking.com.
Posada de Roger – $
Another superb budget choice is the Hotel Posada de Roger that’s right in the heart of the Romantic Zone. All rooms here have AC, and they even have an outdoor pool that gets tons of sun. If you fancy making up some packed lunches, they also have a shared kitchen which is free for guests to use. No wonder it’s our go-to place to stay in Puerto Vallarta!
A one-night stay here at Posada de Roger starts at $64 USD per night, but it is pretty popular, so I’d recommend making your reservation in advance on Booking.com. You can always cancel the stay for free if you change your mind, so it’s a win-win!
Amapas Apartments Puerto Vallarta – $$
The Amapas Apartments in Puerto Vallarta are a series of adult-only, self-contained apartments, located in my favorite area of town – the Romantic Zone. It’s really close to the beach, restaurants, as well as tons of shopping and nightlife options. They even have a pool, with all rooms being air-conditioned too!
With one and two-bedroom apartments available, a stay here typically starts around $96 USD per night, which I think is a great deal considering the size of the apartment and its location! This is another really popular spot though, so don’t forget to book your stay online in advance.
Hilton Vallarta Riviera – $$$
The Hilton Vallarta Riviera is one of the best resorts in town – it’s all-inclusive, so you’re free to have plenty of peaceful downtime. They also have 7 restaurants, a private beach, a pool, a spa, and a gym. Rooms have super comfy beds and can include a terrace, balcony, and a private jetted tub overlooking the ocean! There’s evening entertainment and a kid’s club to keep the little ones happy
Rooms here at the Hilton Vallarta Riviera average around $350-$650 USD per night, but you can often get a good deal (on the lower end of that range) if you book in advance.
Note: For more options, you can also browse all the hotels in Puerto Vallarta here!
Renting a Car in Mexico
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car.
I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Cancun in 2023, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically.
I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend.
The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too.
Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit.
Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your rental will be much cheaper!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
I never get tired of going whale watching in Puerto Vallarta! After living and visiting Puerto Vallarta, it’s one of my favorite places in Mexico, and seeing the whales here is ALWAYS a highlight. The tours are overall really affordable and you shouldn’t miss out if you’ve never had a chance to see these incredible creatures.
If you’re in the midst of planning a beachy getaway, make sure to check out our other blogs about Mexico. We’ve traveled across the country in search of the best experiences – from restaurants to tours to hidden gems. We’d love to help you plan your dream trip!