Skip to Content

10 Things to KNOW about Whale Watching in Vancouver +the BEST Tours

10 Things to KNOW about Whale Watching in Vancouver +the BEST Tours

This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.

If you love coastal cities and marine life, you must visit Vancouver, Canada! The city lies on a peninsula with access to beautiful inlets and seas nearby. These cold Pacific waters are full of life, from seals to dolphins and even a few different kinds of whales.

As such, one of the best things to do in Vancouver is to go whale watching. Since this requires a boat and a knowledgeable guide, tours are the best way to see these animals. Whale watching in Vancouver will have you exploring the Salish Sea, an area with a long whale-watching season. You’ll be able to get up close to these playful giants, an experience you’ll never forget.

Whale watching is one of my favorite activities in Vancouver in the warmer months. But if you’ve never been, there are some things you should know. Below, I’ve listed everything you need to know about whale watching in Vancouver, plus the best tours available! 

Our TOP Whale Watching Tour in Vancouver

Orcas swim through the waters near Vancouver, Canada

My all-time favorite tour on this list has to be this sunset whale watching catamaran cruise, where you’re treated to a gorgeous sunset with the chance to see whales playing at the end of the day!

Mornings and evenings are also when whales are the most active, so you also have a much higher chance of spotting them. Tickets for this tour cost $226 CAD per person, and you can secure your spot online here.

1. About whales in Vancouver

Two Orca swim off the coast of British Columbia near Victoria and Vancouver on a tour

One of my favorite parts of whale watching in Vancouver is the diversity. The Salish Sea is home to many types of whales, such as humpbacks, killer (orcas), gray, and minke. In Vancouver, you are most likely to see humpback whales and orcas. Closer to Vancouver Island and on whale watching tours in Victoria, you can find more gray and minke whales.

Humpback whales are a common sighting in these waters and are present year-round. However, they’re most commonly seen in the warmer months between April and November. Humpbacks are the largest type of whale found in these waters and travel in small to medium pods of 2-15 whales.

The number of humpback whale sightings in the area has increased recently. This is great news if you’re hoping to spot some! Humpbacks are very social and playful whales, and when we saw some, they were playing at the surface. It was absolutely incredible to watch such large animals jumping and displaying their fins – and all within their natural habitat.

Orca whales, also known as killer whales, are also very common in Vancouver waters. You may be lucky enough to come across a pod of orcas hunting for food. One of my favorite parts of seeing orcas is that you rarely see just one or two. They travel in large pods of up to 30 whales, so if you see one, you’ll probably see a bunch! 

Some orcas near Vancouver are just passing through, while others are based here. Both the transient and resident orcas are drawn to this area for its large volume of salmon. This means the best chances to spot orcas are during salmon spawning season, between May and October. When fall hits, orcas migrate south, looking for warmer waters to mate. 

Both gray whales and minke whales are also found in the waters in the area. However, both of these whales are more likely to be seen closer to Vancouver Island. Gray whales can be seen between February and April but typically stick to the west coast of Vancouver Island, around Tofino. Minke whales are also found in the coastal waters of Vancouver Island but are pretty shy and not often spotted near the water’s surface. 

Related Read: If you can’t get enough of marine life, you can also visit the Vancouver Aquarium. It’s a must-see destination within the city and has over 65,000 animals!

2. When is the best time to go whale watching in Vancouver? 

A whale watching tour in British Columbia follows an Orca on a tour
The experience is surreal!

The best time to see whales in Vancouver’s Salish Sea is in the warmer months between late April and October. During these months, you will see both resident and transient whales passing through the area. Orcas, humpbacks, gray whales, and minke whales are all common at this time of year. 

Vancouver is home to a lot of whales, and tour guides are confident you’ll spot them! In fact, most whale-watching tours advertise a 95% chance of seeing whales during peak season. Luckily, we didn’t have any issues spotting whales on our tour, and we doubt you will either.

Whales are out and about throughout all hours of the day and don’t have specific “active hours.” Whether you choose a morning, afternoon, or sunset cruise, your chances of seeing whales are about equal. We’ve taken a few tours, but I particularly loved the sunset cruise. There’s nothing quite like seeing whales while watching the beautiful sunset over the sea.

Related Read: If seeing the city in that golden sunset light is your pick, you can also join this Vancouver sunset dinner cruise for amazing views and stellar food!

3. What are the best whale watching tours in Vancouver?

A lone orca swims through the water between Vancouver and Vancouver Island
It’s hard to believe how many we saw!

Half-Day Whale Watching on a Catamaran

This Half-Day Whale Watching Tour aboard the Salish Sea Dream is one of the best tours in all of Vancouver! Sailing through the Howe Sound on this 80 ft (24 mt) catamaran, you’ll have stunning views of the Gulf Islands and the San Juan Islands. The expert crew guides your experience, telling you all about the areas and animals you’ll be seeing. 

The tour is operated by one of the area’s most well-known whale tour companies. We found this tour extremely comfortable because there were two bathrooms on board plus multiple viewing decks.

On our tour, we saw many seals and sea lions sunbathing on the rocks. But the best part was that we had multiple whale encounters, both with a pod of orca whales and two humpback whales. The tour also includes photos so you can put away your phones and enjoy the moment. Trust us, this makes a huge difference!

The tour runs from April to the first week of November, and you can choose between morning or afternoon departure times. We took a morning tour, and while it was certainly chilly on the water, we enjoyed the free coffee and tea onboard. The tour lasts about 5 hours, and you’ll want to check in at the meeting spot 30 minutes beforehand.

This tour costs $226 CAD for adults and includes a lifetime whale-watching guarantee. If you don’t spot whales, you can take another tour for free. This tour is available to all ages, so it’s an excellent option for families. Youth (13-17 years) cost $182 CAD, children (2-12 years) cost $140 CAD, and infants cost $23 CAD.

For a stress-free tour with knowledgeable guides, choose a date and book your spot online here!

Sunset Whale Watching Catamaran Cruise

This Sunset Whale Watching Adventure Tour is one of my favorite ways to take in all the beauty of Vancouver while getting up close and personal with the whales. Sail aboard the Salish Sea Dream through the Howe Sound towards the Georgia Straight, admiring the stunning city and mountain views.

This is another tour with the whale-watching company mentioned above. So, you can expect a quality experience and guaranteed whale spotting (or a future whale tour voucher to be redeemed anytime). When we went, our crew instantly made us feel comfortable and explained all the beauty of the ecosystems we were passing. They also take amazing photos, which are included in the tour price!

The ship is built for sightseeing with multiple viewing decks. And if the weather is cold, you can enjoy your experience from inside the heated cabin (featuring floor-to-ceiling windows providing unobstructed views of the water).

While whales are active at all hours, I’ve always found tours in twilight hours have the best success at spotting whales. Plus, you get to see the beautiful sunset from the water! However, you’ll want to bring some extra layers since it can get quite cool around this time.

These sunset tours run from June to the beginning of September. They pick up from Granville Island and start at 4:30 pm. It costs $205 CAD for adults, $161 CAD for youth (ages 13-17), and $140 CAD for children (ages 2-12). Infants are just $23 CAD.

Whether you are going with family or friends, this is a great deal. So check availability and book your tickets online here!

My friend makes a funny pose on a whale watching boat in Vancouver, Canada
Be sure to go with your crew!

Seaplane flight to Victoria + Whale Watching Cruise

Whale watching in Vancouver is great, but nearby Vancouver Island is even better for whale watching. And if you’re looking for pure luxury, I highly recommend this Seaplane Flight to Victoria and Whale Watching Cruise combo tour. It’s the best way to see stunning wildlife and views. Plus, if you’ve been wanting to take a Vancouver seaplane flight and see whales, this is your chance to do both!

This is a full-day tour taking around 10 hours. You’ll start your experience with a scenic seaplane flight to travel from Vancouver to Victoria. In Victoria, you’ll sail through the Haro Straight and see orcas, humpbacks, porpoises, sea lions, and harbor seals. Upon booking, you can choose to ride in either an open aired zodiac or a covered boat. We decided on the zodiac and were so happy with the experience because we felt even closer to the animals!

You’ll end the day with a return flight to Victoria. I absolutely love that this tour starts and ends with aerial views of the area! You’ll get to scope out the sea before you set sail. As this tour takes all day, I highly recommend packing snacks and drinks so you don’t get hungry.  

This luxury tour has small group sizes with a maximum of 14 people per trip. Flights take off at 8:30 and 9 am, but you must check in at the meeting point 30 minutes beforehand. As you will be boarding a flight, be sure to bring government-issued photo identification.  

This tour operates April – February, so it’s the perfect choice if you’re visiting Vancouver in the winter months. It’s also a great tour to get from Vancouver to Victoria and back again if you don’t have long to spend in the area.

It costs $566 CAD per adult and $297 per child (ages 2-11). Younger babies are free and must sit on your lap. This price includes round trip seaplane transfer to Vancouver Island and the whale watching cruise. Overall, this tour was a great deal.

If you don’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime combo tour, book your tickets online here.

Related Read: Victoria is another British Columbia destination full of incredible sights. If you want to explore this city next, check out the absolute best tours in Victoria.

Full-Day Whale Watching Cruise

This full-day Whale Watching Safari tour is a great option for travelers seeking an all-inclusive tour. You won’t need to worry about details since this tour company covers everything from hotel pickup and dropoff to hot beverages on board.

When we went, we found the boat very comfortable, with ample seating and enough room to move around. It’s also an enclosed boat which is great for cold, rainy days in Vancouver (which there are plenty of!). The high-speed boat gets you to the right locations fast for the best chance of seeing orca whales, humpbacks, and maybe even a grey whale. 

My favorite part of this cruise was the staff, who were full of knowledge and enthusiasm, explaining all the animals and areas we cruised through. Even when you are booking, the customer service is always excellent. With all the cruises to choose from, the staff’s extra attention and positive attitude really makes a difference.

Tours run from April through the beginning of November. They start at 8:30 am and last about 5 hours. Adults can enjoy this full-day whale-watching experience for only $299 CAD, while youth (13-17 years) cost $269 CAD and kids under 12 cost $219 CAD. There is a minimum of 2 adults per booking, so unfortunately, it’s not one you can do solo. 

For couples, friends, and families that want a comfortable indoor experience, book this safari cruise online here!

4. Do you need a tour to see whales in Vancouver?

If you want to see whales in Vancouver, you’ll need to take a whale-watching tour.

While there are rare whale sightings from the shores of Stanley Park in Vancouver, these sightings are extremely rare. If you want to get up close and personal with some whale sightings, I highly recommend taking one of the Vancouver whale-watching tours from our list. 

5. Are whale watching tours in Vancouver eco-friendly?

A pod of Orca swim off the costa of British Columbia, Canada
Seeing the pods with babies is the best!

Going whale watching is one of the most sustainable and ethical ways to see these giant creatures. You’re meeting them in their natural environment, where they belong.

Carbon emissions from taking boats onto the water add to your carbon footprint. However, most whale-watching tours take larger groups keeping emissions low.

All in all, we are huge advocates for whale watching. We feel it’s eco-conscious and provides a healthy animal encounter. No harm comes to the animals on these tours since you stay on top of the water and observe the whales in their natural habitat. 

6. Can you see other wildlife on whale watching tours from Vancouver?

Seals on a floating light out at sea in British Columbia while on a whale watching tour
Seals!

The Salish Sea is full of marine life! Many different animals live in the sea. And above water, many birds frequent the area. When we were here last, we even saw some beautiful bald eagles.

Harbor seals are the most common animal you’ll see on whale-watching tours. You’ll often see harbor seals in large groups, both swimming in the water and lazing on beach rocks. If traveling closer to Vancouver Island between September and May, you’ll likely see sea lions as well. Dolphins and porpoises are also sometimes spotted through these waters. 

7. Who are whale watching tours suitable for?

Whale-watching tours are suitable for almost everyone looking to have fun and experience safe animal encounters. On our tours, we saw groups of single travelers, groups of friends, and families all having a wonderful time. It’s also an excellent idea for a romantic honeymoon in Vancouver.

It’s one of the best family-friendly activities you can do outdoors. Watching whales and other aquatic wildlife in their natural habitat is a great activity for all ages, from toddlers to seniors alike.

Many whale-watching tours in Vancouver offer maximum comfort. They take place aboard large catamaran-style boats with bathrooms and both heated indoor and outdoor seating options. Unfortunately, most boats are not wheelchair accessible, so be sure to check with individual tour companies if you have mobility restrictions.

8. What should you wear/bring whale watching in Vancouver?

Our whale watching boat with people on board looking for whales in British Columbia, Canada
Everyone had their cameras ready and wind breakers on!

Whale watching in Vancouver is best done in the warmer months between May and October. Even in summer, the weather can get quite cold, especially with the wind chill on the water. I recommend wearing layers and close-toed shoes to stay warm. If it’s sunny, bring a hat and sunglasses too. 

While I love Vancouver, I often refer to it as Raincouver. As the name suggests, you can almost always bank on wet conditions. Bringing a poncho or a raincoat is never a bad idea.

Most whale-watching tours are 3-5 hours long, so I recommend carrying a backpack with snacks and water. Just be sure to pack out what you bring in to keep our oceans clean!

9. How much do whale watching tours in Vancouver cost? 

Pod of small orca swim in the distance on a tour from Victoria, BC
They are’t cheap but your chances of seeing whales are fantastic!

Whale watching tours in Vancouver cost between $200 CAD and $300 CAD for adults. You can get some more luxurious-style tours if you are looking to travel to surrounding areas. 

Although not cheap, this area is filled with orcas during the whale-watching season. It’s one of the absolute best places to see them which makes these tours worth every penny!

Related Read: Whale watching is more expensive than most activities but is worth it. However, if you are looking to offset the cost, there are plenty of free things to do in Vancouver as well!

10. Are whale watching tours in Vancouver worth it?

Pod of Orca swim through the water near Vancouver
Yes!

Yes! I’ve gone whale watching in many different cities and can honestly say Vancouver is one of my favorite places.

While you may associate marine activities with tropical destinations, don’t be fooled. These cool waters are packed with animals, including different types of whales, seals, sea lions, dolphins, and more. 

Other Things to do while you’re in Vancouver

View of English Bay from a sea plane traveling from Vancouver to Tofino
Flying over Vancouver in a seaplane offers amazing views!

Whale watching is just one of the many things you can do in Vancouver. So while you’re here, be sure not to miss some of the other top attractions and activities:

  • Ride in a Seaplane – We mentioned a Seaplane and whale-watching tour combo earlier, but you can ride a Vancouver Seaplane separately! Taking off and landing on the ocean is super exciting, and then the views from the air are breathtaking. This seaplane ride lasts for 20 minutes and costs $160 CAD. It departs and returns from downtown Vancouver. The best part is that seaplane tours in Vancouver operate all year round, so even if you’re visiting Vancouver in the winter you can take to the sky!
  • Eat ALL the food! – Vancouver is a foodie destination. Showcasing cuisine from all around the world in top-rated restaurants, you really need to make an effort to eat out a few times while in Vancouver. For breakfast, Jam Cafe or Medina are our go-to’s. For Asian cuisine, you can’t pass up Minami for sushi or Danbo for ramen. You can also join this highly-rated food tour that takes you to some of the city’s best restaurants in the area of Gastown.
  • Explore Kitsilano – One of our favorite areas in all of Vancouver is Kitsilano. This suburb is super trendy and has many cute stores, cafes, and restaurants that are well worth checking out. On top of that, Kitsilano Beach is one of the best beaches in Vancouver and the perfect place to relax. It’s also our favorite place to watch the sunset.

Where to Stay in Vancouver, Canada

Hyatt Regency Vancouver
Photo credit: Hyatt Regency Vancouver

Vancouver is one of the most popular cities in Canada. During peak whale-watching season, places can book up in advance real fast! We recommend spending at least 3 days in Vancouver, so reserving your hotel or hostel well in advance is the only way to secure the best place to stay for you!

Some great hotels and hostels in Vancouver that we love are:

$ – The Cambie Hostel Gastown

The Cambie Hostel Gastown – This budget hostel has an overall simple, modern aesthetic. The location is in the heart of Gastown and close to lots of bars and restaurants and attached to the hostel is a very lively bar.

Rooms are clean but the bathrooms are a little cramped. You also have access to laundry facilities, a shared kitchen, free luggage storage, and computers. It’s perfect for backpackers on a budget and is considerably cheaper than others offering comparable quality. Prices start at $89 CAD for private rooms and $43 CAD for dorms.

This may be the best price you’ll find in this area, so make sure you snag a room on either Hostelworld.com or Booking.com.

$$ – Times Square Suites

Times Square Suites – For a beautiful hotel close to Stanley Park you can’t beat the Times Square Hotel. You’ll be surrounded by great restaurant options, a large market, and transportation. It’s a comfortable choice with super cozy beds and clean rooms. You also get a washing machine, balcony, access to a gym, and a living room (available in most suites).

With prices starting at $196 CAD, you can check out their rooms and book online here.

$$$ – Hyatt Regency Vancouver

Hyatt Regency Vancouver – For those wanting the perfect location halfway between Stanley Park and Gastown, the Hyatt Regency is a perfect choice. As you can imagine, it’s a luxury stay in a large hotel chain that is highly reviewed! They have lovely, spacious room options for both couples or large families. A gym, business center, bar, restaurant, and even a Starbucks are on-site.

Starting at $233 CAD per night, this luxury stay is a steal, so book your stay online here.

Click here to browse all hotels in Vancouver!

For more info on the best areas and hotels, check out my complete guide on where to stay in Vancouver. It breaks down everything you need to know before choosing the right hotel!

Renting a Car in British Columbia

A rural road with Mt Currie in the background
Road trips are the best way to explore Canada!

If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane, then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province, and traveling between the best places to visit in BC requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Car rental in Canada isn’t relatively cheap, but it’s not that expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pick-up and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though, depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Discover Cars. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used Discover Cars all over the world, including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic, you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie on Mount Erskine on Salt Spring Island
Thanks for reading!

There is nothing like seeing whales happily existing in their natural habitat. The Salish Sea in Vancouver is one of the best places to see these beautiful creatures. I hope you found my list helpful and enjoy your animal encounters on a fantastic tour!

If you’re traveling throughout the country, you should check out my other blogs about Canada. I have loads of information about each destination with the best activities, restaurants, and places to stay. Below are a few articles about places just outside Vancouver. Thanks for reading!

How to Get from Vancouver to Tofino + BEST Road Trip Stops

COMPLETE Guide to Visiting Duncan, BC + 15 Fun Things to do

17 BEST Stops on the Drive from Vancouver to Whistler – Road Trip Guide