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

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

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There’s something truly magical about watching whales in their natural habitats and Victoria, British Columbia is one of the best places to do so. Victoria whale watching tours will have you riding through the Salish Sea to see the bountiful marine life found in these cool ocean waters, an experience you’re sure to treasure forever.

Whale watching is a Vancouver Island activity that’s suitable for everyone and is one of the best things to do in Victoria!

Whether you’re from British Columbia or visiting on vacation, we’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know about booking a whale watching tour in Victoria. Our mission is to help you have the best possible experience on the water. So without further ado, let’s get started!

Our TOP Whale Watching Tour in Victoria

Orcas swim through the water on a whale watching tour in Tofino
This was so cool to see!

Our top pick of the bunch has to be this half-day zodiac whale watching tour, where you can feel closer than ever to the water (and the whales) in a 12-person zodiac boat! The guides are so friendly and full of fun facts to keep you entertained over the 3-hour experience. You can grab your tickets for this tour online here for $204 CAD per person.

1. About Whales in Victoria

An orca swims through the water off the coast of British Columbia
An Orca!

The cool Pacific waters near BC’s capital city are packed full of life. The two most common whales you’ll find on a Victoria whale watching tour are the orca and humpback whales. While these are certainly the stars of the show, 4 different types of whales call these waters home.

Whales can be seen in all months of the year with the peak whale watching season being in the warmer months, between May and November. 

Orcas (Killer whales)

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are actually not whales at all. They are the largest member of the dolphin family and travel and hunt in large pods of up to 30 members. These black and white beauties are very distinct in appearance and easily recognizable thanks to beloved movies like Free Willy. An adult orca stretches up to an impressive 20 – 26 ft (6-8 meters) long, weighing around 6,600 – 8,800 lbs (3,000 – 4,000 kgs). 

Orcas are the second-fastest marine mammal in the world, second only to the common dolphin. Able to achieve an impressive 34.8 mph (56 km/hr), these apex predators sit at the top of the food chain and get their killer whale names from hunting a large range of prey, such as salmon, seals, and even other whales. While they can dive for up to 15 minutes, they typically surface a lot more frequently, usually every 1-5 minutes depending on how fast they are traveling.

Victoria is home to both transient and resident killer whales, the latter staying in the area all year round. It’s no wonder then that this area has a worldwide reputation for being one of the most reliable places to see these beautiful creatures.

Orcas are one of my favorite animals to see on a whale watching tour as they are put on quite the show jumping and playing at the surface of the water. I also love that orca sightings often mean that you will see a whole pod swimming together.

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

Humpback whales

Humpback whales are the biggest whales you will encounter in these waters with adults growing up to 52 ft (16 meters) and weighing up to an impressive 66,140 lbs (30,000 kg). Humpback whales frequent the area in most months of the year making the chances of sightings quite high year round. With that being said, you’ll have the most success seeing these giants between June and December. 

Humpbacks like to stay close to the surface of the water, typically only diving below for about 5-15 minutes before surfacing. They leisurely move through the water at speeds of between 3 – 9 mph (5 – 14 km/hr) but can go up to 16 mph (26km/hr) in short bursts. Humpbacks travel in small, temporary pods of between 2-15 whales. 

Gray whales

Gray whales are also found in these waters and can be quite an incredible sight. They are shorter than humpbacks at around 40 ft (12 meters) but weigh close to the same. As their name suggests, these whales can be recognized by their all-gray coloring and lack of a dorsal fin. They move at a leisurely pace of between 3 – 5 mph (5 – 8 km/hr) but often can be seen lying dormant at the surface of the water, which is known as logging

Gray whales are very curious by nature and can often be found swimming close to the shore. Grey whale sightings are much more unpredictable, showing up at many different times of the year as they migrate from Mexico up to Alaska and the Bering Sea. Typically, gray whales enjoy the cooler waters up north, but migrate south to birth and nurse their calves who aren’t born with enough blubber to be comfortable in the cool waters. 

Minke whales

Minke whales are the most elusive whales found in Victoria, however, with a little luck, you too may enjoy a rare sighting. These shy but friendly whales tend to stay in deeper waters and unlike their cousins, spend less time playing at the ocean surface. These whales typically dive for about 10 minutes before surfacing again and can swim at speeds up to 20 mph (33 km/hr).

Minke whales can be seen southeast of Victoria during the summer months, between May and September.

There are two species of minke whales – the common minke and the Antarctic minke whale. Victoria is home to common minke whales that are on the smaller side compared to the other whales in the area, measuring in at 18 ft (5.5 meters) and weighing 12,346 lbs (5,600 kg). 

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

Two Orca swim off the coast of British Columbia near Victoria and Vancouver on a tour
Summer is the best time!

Whale sightings near Victoria are extremely common, especially if visiting during the peak seasons of May to November. Some tour operators are so confident that they advertise a 98% chance of whale sightings during peak season!

In terms of the best time of day to see whales, you’ll find them active throughout all hours of the day. This means that both morning and afternoon trips have similar chances. Afternoons can be windier, which may lead to rougher water conditions, but whales can also become more playful jumping in the waves.

From our experience, we’ve found that late summer months tend to be more prone to morning fog. This typically burns off by late morning, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re an early riser.

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

Pod of small orca swim in the distance on a tour from Victoria, BC
Just an Orca casually swimming by!

Half-Day Whale Watching Tour on a Catamaran

This half day catamaran whale watching tour is a great option for those who want a comfortable and reliable whale watching experience. My favorite part of the tour was the friendly and welcoming crew, who went above and beyond in setting an upbeat and excited mood for the ride. Their passion was palpable as they told us all about the area and the animals we were seeing.

On our tour, we saw a pod of orcas jumping through the water and visited a lighthouse where we saw around 30 sea lions sunbathing on the rocks with many marine birds!

The tour leaves from Victoria’s inner harbor on a large catamaran that comfortably holds up to 95 passengers. I didn’t feel cramped at all as there was plenty of seating in both their indoor cabin (floor to ceiling windows) and upstairs in their open aired outdoor area. There are free hot drinks onboard which we really appreciated and there is also a clean bathroom on board.

As part of the tour, photographers can take photos of you which are completely free! 

The 3 hour tour costs $199 CAD for adults and $165 CAD for youth aged 13-17. The cost for children 2-12 drops to $133 CAD with infants 1 and under being allowed on adults’ laps for only $22.25 CAD.

This tour company is one of the most trusted tour operators in the area and advertises an over 95% whale sighting success rate. Their lifetime whale guarantee means that if you don’t see whales, you can keep booking tours until you do. 

If you can’t wait to see these majestic animals, pick a date and book your tour here!

Half-Day Whale Watching Tour on a Zodiac Boat

We had an absolute blast on this half day zodiac whale watching tour. Offering a unique approach to whale watching, this experience has you exploring the waves in a 12-person open aired zodiac boat. These smaller boats have you closer to the water level and, as a result, much closer to the whales.

Our guide and captain, Mark, was wonderful and provided a ton of great information about where we were going and the animals we were seeing. On this tour, we were lucky enough to see both orcas and humpbacks jumping through the water as well as seals and sea lions. 

As you will have full exposure to the elements on these small zodiac boats, you will be given all-weather exposure flotation suits to wear on top of your clothes. This includes a hat and gloves, which are perfect for keeping you warm, dry, and comfortable. We highly recommend wearing warm shoes or boots on this tour to keep you as comfortable as possible.

This 3 hour tour offers multiple departure times depending on the time of year you go allowing for flexibility around your schedule. The zodiac tour welcomes guests 7+ on the tour and costs $204 CAD in peak season between May and October. In the off season, the price drops to $194 CAD. As you’d expect with Prince of Whales tours, you will enjoy a lifetime whale sighting guarantee on this trip. 

Feel closer than ever to the whales on this incredible whale watching tour. But don’t delay, book today to secure your spot.

Wide angle of a whale watching boat in British Columbia, Canada
The boat!

Sunset Whale Watching Cruise

If you’re tight on time and find your days jam-packed, this sunset whale watching cruise is a great option that leaves later in the day. You’ll enjoy stunning views of Victoria’s harbor on a beautiful evening cruise, with incredible sunset views and amazing animal encounters all in one – it also makes for a romantic date! While whales can be seen throughout all hours, I always have success seeing them during twilight hours when they are particularly active.

As this tour is offered by a reputable company, you can also make use of their lifetime whale sighting guarantee. If you don’t see whales on this trip, you can do another tour for free from either their Victoria, Telegraph Cove, or Vancouver locations until you do see them.

The guides on board are very friendly and knowledgeable, making this sunset cruise one of the best tours in Victoria. The large and comfortable boat has plenty of seating, a heated cabin that’s perfect for cooler evenings, and bathrooms on board. 

Tours depart at 6 pm and cost $180 CAD for adults, and $155 CAD for youth between 13 and 17. Children 2-12 years old cost $133 CAD and $22.25 CAD for infants under 1 who sit on your lap. This tour is kid-friendly with coloring books and educational guides onboard to keep kids entertained. My favorite part of this tour was that the price included photos of your experience, so we could focus more on the experience than on our cameras.

Magical whale sightings + incredible sunsets = unforgettable memories. Choose the best date for you and book your sunset tour here.

Related Read: If you don’t have time to go whale watching in Victoria, whale watching in Vancouver is very popular too!

Private Whale Watching Tour

If you want a whale watching experience where your group is the main focus, you can choose this private whale watching tour in Victoria! You will be riding with just your group on an open aired zodiac boat through the water on a 3 hour tour in search of whales and other marine life. There will be a guide on board who does a fantastic job of personalizing the experience and describing the places and wildlife you see. 

This tour is perfect for families or larger groups, and can actually work out cheaper if you have enough people. I love how much closer to the action you get on a zodiac boat, being closer to the water means you get closer to the animals! While the boats are smaller, they are very stable, keeping you safe and secure. These smaller boats can be a little bit bumpier than a larger catamaran and therefore are not recommended for travelers with back, neck, or heart problems or who are pregnant. 

This private zodiac tour can accommodate up to 12 guests who are at least 4 ft (122 cm) tall for $1,200 CAD. The tour has multiple departure times throughout the day allowing flexibility around your plans. All guests will be given a special all-weather exposure flotation suit, hats, and gloves to keep you warm and dry while on this tour. As with all tours with this company, there is a lifetime whale sighting guarantee where if you don’t see whales you can book another tour for free. 

If having your very own private whale watching tour with an expert guide sounds good to you, make sure you book this tour online now since availability is limited!

Whale Watching Cruise with Expert Naturalists

This whale watching cruise is another great whale watching tour in Victoria. The double-decker boat offers lots of room to move around whether you want to sit inside the sheltered cabin or on the top deck where you will get uninterrupted views of the waters – it’s easily one of the best whale watching tours on Vancouver Island. With both morning and afternoon departure times, it’s easy to plan your day accordingly. 

I love that this tour only allows 40 travelers, making it a more intimate whale watching experience than some of the other larger whale watching cruises in the area. The captain and guides on this boat were very friendly and knowledgeable, sharing information about the waters we were in and all the animals we saw. We saw both orcas and humpbacks on this tour making it a great experience. 

The tour leaves at 1 pm with adult tickets costing $130 CAD and youth 13-17 tickets costing $109 CAD. Children 3-12 years cost $95 CAD while children under 3 ride free on an adult’s lap. This company is great for accessibility, with guides who speak many different languages and being both wheelchair and stroller accessible. 

This is a popular experience for both solo travelers and families, so make sure you secure your spot when you know your travel dates to avoid missing out.

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

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

Pod of orca swim near a whale watching boat on a tour from Vancouver
It sure helps!

While there are some very rare sightings of whales from the shore in Victoria, I wouldn’t bank on it. Whales in the area rarely come close enough to the city to see them from shore, making your chances slim to none. If you’re looking to have some great whale encounters while in Victoria, I highly recommend booking a whale watching tour and getting out on a boat. 

Whale watching tour companies are experts in knowing where to go to find whales. If you take a whale watching tour, you aren’t restricted by the land and can instead explore the whole Salish Sea and go where the whales are.

Being on a boat will allow you to discover the remarkable wildlife found at the northern Gulf Islands, the eastern San Juan Islands, the Puget Sound, and even out west towards Port Renfrew.

Related Read: If you enjoy spending time at the beach, then you won’t go wrong with a trip to Qualicum Beach in Vancouver Island.

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

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

As one of the most ethical and sustainable ways to see these majestic creatures, whale watching allows you to witness them where they belong, in their natural environment.

To keep carbon emissions low, many whale-watching tours take larger groups onboard. For tours that take fewer people, smaller and more efficient zodiac boats are used.

Not only do whale watching tours provide an eco-conscious way to encounter these beautiful animals, but no harm comes to them, as you stay above the water and observe them from a safe distance.

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

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

The waters in the Pacific Northwest are full of diversity, with crabs, starfish, mussels, salmon, and many other fish to be found. You are likely to see sea lions and seals either swimming through the sea or lazing on rocks. The waters are also home to porpoises and dolphins who you may see jumping through the water.

If you’re lucky, you may even see an otter or two out for a swim!

You will also have many marine bird sightings from seagulls, geese, and pigeons to my favorite: eagles, which are particularly common. Bald eagles are always cool to see, especially if you get a glimpse of their impressive 7 ft (2 meters) wingspan.  

7. Who are whale watching tours suitable for?

From large families with children to adventurous couples, whale-watching tours are fantastic fun and safe for everyone. In our experience, we’ve seen people of all ages having a wonderful time getting to know some of earth’s most playful creatures.

Whale watching makes for a fantastic experience for young children too, with many tours in Victoria taking place aboard large catamaran-style boats. There’s plenty of space to stretch your legs, as well as comfortable indoor and outdoor seating areas.

If you require wheelchair accessibility, we recommend you get in touch with your tour company before your trip to make sure that your requirements can be met.

Related Read: A trip to Victoria wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the incredible Butchart Gardens – suitable for the whole family! Go on your own or as part of one of these highly-rated Butchart Gardens tours!

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

Our whale watching boat with people on board looking for whales in British Columbia, Canada
Bring a camera and warm clothes!

While you may feel like you’re going on an exotic boat adventure in the summertime, don’t be fooled. Whale watching tours in Victoria, even in the heart of summer, will almost certainly be cold. Be sure to dress in warm layers and pack more than what you think you will need. The weather is a lot cooler out on the water, often with some serious windchill. 

As you’re in the Pacific Northwest where rain is so common, we also highly recommend making your top layer a waterproof jacket or poncho. Most whale watching tours have an indoor cabin or undercover area with the exception of zodiac tours. Zodiac tours will provide suits for you to wear as your top layer as you are likely to get wet on tours like this.

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

Pod of Orca swim through the water near Vancouver
Yes!

Whale watching tours cost between $130 CAD and $200 CAD for a half day tour that typically lasts around 3 hours. Most whale watching tours in Victoria depart from Victoria’s inner harbor for the best accessibility. The tours include nature guides who provide a wealth of knowledge about the landscape, animals, and ecosystems you are in.

Most of these tour prices will also come with lifetime whale sighting guarantees that ensure you can see whales, or you can book another tour until you do. 

Related Read: If you get the chance to visit Vancouver, we highly recommend exploring Cathedral Grove. It’s full of nature and is free to visit!

10. Are whale watching tours in Victoria worth it?

A lone orca swims through the water between Vancouver and Vancouver Island
Yes!

Victoria is an absolutely stunning place to do a whale watching tour. If the whales weren’t enough, the scenery you will see when taking these cruises will be well worth it. Islands, mountains, lagoons, lighthouses, and private coves can be found in addition to the plethora of wildlife in the area. Home to orcas, humpbacks, minke whales, gray whales, seals, sea lions, porpoises, and dolphins (to name but a few!), you will see a lot of great wildlife while on a whale watching tour in Victoria.  

Most whale watching tours in the area are members of the Pacific Whale Watch Association meaning they’re part of a team that shares information about where whales are sighted. This collaboration allows for an extremely high chance of whale sightings on tours.

Where to Stay in Victoria, BC

Outside of the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria BC
Outside of the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria BC

With plenty to see and do in Victoria, it’s easy to let the days fly by. While you could easily stay here for a week, you can also have a blast if you’re only staying for one day.

Most popular during the warm, summer months (May to August), hotels and lodgings can get booked out quickly. We recommend booking well in advance to secure your favorite spot! If you’re not sure where to book, check out our full guide on where to stay in Victoria or our top picks below!

Ocean Island Backpackers – $

Ocean Island Backpackers Inn is a budget hostel located in downtown Victoria. With lots of bars and restaurants nearby, this location is also within walking distance of the harbor. What’s more, breakfast, dinner, and one free drink at the pub downstairs are all included in your stay!

If you’re backpacking across BC on a budget, this is sure to be at the top of your list. A bunk here costs around $44 CAD per night, with private rooms also available (around $130 CAD). Book a stay on HostelWorld.com or Booking.com.

Helm’s Inn – $

Who said you can’t enjoy space on a budget? Helm’s Inn is an all-suite hotel including kitchenettes – perfect for rustling up some lunch that you can take with you on the road.

This hotel is also really close to some of the best sights in the city, such as Beacon Hill Park (across the street), as well as the Legislature and Royal BC Museum close by. Rooms here start at around $110 CAD and can be booked here.

The Embassy Inn – $$

The Embassy Inn is located right in the heart of Victoria’s harbor. For those traveling by ferry to Victoria, this hotel is really convenient. Many fantastic sights are only a stone’s throw away, with rooms here starting from around $170 CAD. You can check availability and book online here.

Fairmont Empress Hotel – $$$

This Fairmont Empress Hotel is a gorgeous location, a stay here is truly an experience in and of itself! One of the famously grand railway hotels built across Canada, it looks more like a castle than a hotel.

With elegance and luxury found around every corner, it’s easy to see why royalty choose to stay here when visiting Victoria. Immerse yourself in a soothing spa treatment, enjoy a tasty afternoon tea, or simply wander around the gardens. Rooms at the Fairmont Empress start at around $350-400 CAD per night, and you can secure your room here.

Delta Hotels by Marriott Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort – $$$

Treat yourself to luxury at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort and it’s sure to be a stay you won’t forget. Located near the harbor, this hotel offers spectacular views out onto the water during the day and the blinking lights of the parliament buildings at night.

After a busy day of activities in Victoria, come back to the hotel and relax in the indoor pool or head out on the tennis courts. Rooms here can be found around the $300 CAD range. We recommend booking early for the best possible availability.

To discover even more fantastic options, click here to browse all hotels in Victoria!

Other Things to do while you’re in Victoria

Bailey out the front of the Hatley Castle in Victoria, BC
Hatley Castle in Victoria
View out the window of a Sea Plane from Whistler to Vancouver
Views from a seaplane!

Victoria is full of incredible outdoor and indoor activities. Here are just a few of our favorite things to do in this impressive city:

  • Visit the Historic Castles – Victoria is home to two unique castles, Craigdarroch Castle and Hatley Castle. Both offer a unique glimpse into the city’s intriguing past. While you can’t enter actually Hatley castle, you can explore the surrounding grounds which are absolutely beautiful. For Craigdarroch Castle, adult entry tickets cost around $20 CAD, while the price is $10 CAD for children aged 6-12 and $15 CAD for teens. You can also visit Craigdarroch Castle as part of this highly-rated guided bike tour like this one, which also includes stops at other top attractions around the city for only $60 CAD!
  • See the Steamship Water Ballet Performance – Yes, you read that right! At 10:45 am every Sunday morning (with more frequent shows happening during the summer), the captains of the steamships perform a choreographed dance routine, completely for free at the Victoria Harbour! It sounds strange, and maybe it is a little, but trust us – such a fun time!
  • Fly in a Seaplane – Nothing quite beats the view from a plane window. From Victoria Harbor Airport, you’ll take off from the water (and land in it too!) on a truly jaw-dropping experience. Flights last around 20 minutes and prices start at $143 CAD. Seaplane flights are extremely popular (for good reason), so be sure to book your flight in advance to avoid missing out.
  • Explore Goldstream Provincial Park – It’s no secret that Victoria has some of Canada’s best natural parks, with the Goldstream Provincial Park being high on that list! With many hiking trails to explore and the opportunity to take a dip in the beautiful Goldstream Falls, it’s easy to pass the day at peace here in nature.
  • Visit the Butchart Gardens – Easily the most popular attraction in the city, the famous Butchart Gardens features 900 types of plants spread across different gardens, each with its own theme. The ticket prices vary depending on the season ranging from $22-38 CAD for an adult admission. While you can explore on your own, tours to the gardens are also a popular choice here. If you just need a ride, this express shuttle gets you worry-free transportation. Or I love this private luxury tour where you’ll get time to visit the gardens along with the VIP experience as you’re taken to all the top sights in Victoria.

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie while in Victoria, BC
Thanks for reading!

Victoria is one of the best places on Canada’s west coast to go whale watching. Not only do you get stunning views of the stunning landscape in the area while exploring the beautiful Salish Sea, but you also have the chance to see orcas, humpbacks, gray whales, and minke whales.

The waters of Vancouver Island are packed full of life and all the tours do an impressive job seeking out the many animals in the area. If you are planning a trip to the island, I highly recommend adding a Victoria whale watching tour to your list of things to do.

We hope you have an incredible time out on one or more of these activities. If you enjoyed it, consider taking a look at our other blogs about Canada. If you are thinking about heading to Vancouver or beyond, these articles may come in handy! We hope you have a fantastic trip, and thanks for reading!

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