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Whale watching in Puerto Vallarta should be on everyone’s bucket list. Every winter, the surrounding Banderas Bay fills with pods of humpback whales, making it one of the best places for whale watching in Mexico!

Watching these magnificent giants up close is one of the most impressive natural spectacles you can take part in, making it one of the best things to do in Puerto Vallarta!

But when is the best time to see whales? Do you need to book a tour, or is it possible to spot them from the shore? And what other marine life can you see here? This post will tell you everything you need to know about whale watching in Puerto Vallarta!

whale watching in puerto vallarta

Whale season Puerto Vallarta

Every winter, the whales migrate from the arctic to breed and nurture their offspring. The sheltered waters in the Bay of Banderas, where Puerto Vallarta is located, offer the perfect conditions for the whales.

Every year they travel thousands of miles to stay with their young in the warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Usually, the Puerto Vallarta whale watching season begins in December and ends in late March. However, sometimes whales can be seen as early as November. Sometimes, the whales don’t leave the sheltered bay until May!

Generally speaking, the best time to see the whales in Puerto Vallarta is from December until March, which coincides with the high season in Puerto Vallarta – one of the best times to visit!

bay of banderas puerto vallarta
Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta

What kind of whales are in Puerto Vallarta?

In the Bay of Banderas, you can see one of the world’s most stunning mammals: the humpback whale. They are the most common whale species in Puerto Vallarta and can be seen every winter when they come to the warm waters to breed and nurture their young.

Each year, around 18,000 whales travel to the Bay of Banderas, where they stay for several months. However, humpback whales are not the only marine life that you can see here.

orcas in ocean
Orcas Puerto Vallarta

In winter, you can sometimes see majestic orcas, and if you’re lucky, you may even spot brides’ whales and minke whales. However, they are far less common than humpbacks and orcas.

The whales are essential members of the North Eastern Pacific Ocean ecosystem. Even if commercial whaling is banned, they are vulnerable to extinction and constantly endangered by ocean debris, pollution, and entanglement. Therefore, the whales in Puerto Vallarta are protected by law.

What other marine animals can you see in Puerto Vallarta?

blue footed boobies isla marietas
blue-footed boobies on Isla Marietas

The Bay of Banderas is home to more than 600 species of fish, sea turtles, manta rays, and an abundance of marine birds, including brown pelicans, cormorants, frigates, or blue and brown-footed boobies.

If you’re interested in seeing birds on your trip to Puerto Vallarta, you’ll definitely want to check out Isla Marietas!

Several different species of dolphins live in the bay are often seen while whale-watching in Puerto Vallarta.

Species of dolphins you can see here include bottlenose dolphins, spotted dolphins, spinner dolphins, and rough-toothed dolphins.

Dolphins in Puerto Vallarta

It’s also possible to see giant mantas and marine turtles, including small ridleys and massive Leatherback turtles.

sea turtle
Turtles in Puerto Vallarta

Where to see whales in Puerto Vallarta

Where can you spot the whales in Puerto Vallarta? Is it necessary to book a guided tour on a boat or can you see them from the shore?

Of course, the chances of seeing a humpback whale are best when you take a whale-watching tour.

By joining a whale watching tour in Puerto Vallarta, you’ll get a much closer look at the whales than you would from shore! Plus, the tour guides will provide you with lots of interesting information on whale behavior.

When on the boat, it’s pretty easy to spot the whales. Just watch out for the apparent hump on their backs and the long dorsal fins. Often, you can see their fluked tail on the water.

If you’re lucky, you will even have the chance to watch the whales breach as they leap from the water and flop back to the surface. The crash will send water in all directions, so make sure you don’t get your camera wet when taking pictures!

humpback whale breaching

Since the whales are legally protected in Puerto Vallarta, there are strict rules about how close boats can get to them. Small boats with a length of up to ten meters can come no closer than 60 meters. Larger boats that exceed 10 meters are not allowed to come closer than 80 meters.

That said, it’s also possible to see the whales from the shores of Puerto Vallarta. But since the humpback whales prefer to stay away from the immediate shore, you need to scan the distance to find them.

Still, there are chances you will see them breaching. Head to one of the cities many beautiful beaches or restaurant rooftops and keep your eyes peeled!

Can you swim with the whales in Puerto Vallarta?

Since the whales are protected by law, it is not possible to swim with them. Any interaction that might interrupt them is prohibited. This includes diving, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and feeding.

Whale watching tours in Puerto Vallarta

The best chance to see the giant humpback whales in Puerto Vallarta up close is on a guided boat tour. You’ll not only get the chance to see whales up close but also gain valuable insights into whale behavior. Here are the best whale-watching tours in Puerto Vallarta:

This responsible whale watching experience takes 3.5 hours and shows you humpback whales and other marine life with a marine biologist.

You’ll meet your marine biologist guide at the pier in Puerto Vallarta, who will give you important safety information and an introduction to what to expect during the whale-watching trip.

From there, you’ll set out on the bay to begin your search for the whales while the guide provides you with information about these fascinating animals. Once the whales are spotted, you’ll get as close whilst remaining respectful of the whales and their environment.

Around noon, enjoy a complimentary lunch and get the opportunity to listen to a whale singing with specialized equipment before making your way back to Puerto Vallarta!

whale tail puerto vallarta

If you’re looking for more of a party, check out this exclusive whale watching cruise. After getting picked up from your hotel, you’ll head out to the boat, where you’ll enjoy a delicious Mexican breakfast before heading out to the Bay of Banderas.

Spend some time admiring the whales playing in the water while enjoying onboard entertainment and an informative commentary from your local guide.

A buffet lunch is included, along with your choice of alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink from the unlimited onboard bar, which stocks everything from vodka and rum to cocktails and fruit juice. This could be a really fun tour if you’re a group of friends!

Planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta? Check out these guides!

 Lora Pope is a travel content creator who’s been wandering solo for over a decade. She lives a nomadic lifestyle and is on a quest to visit every country in the world - always on the lookout for new adventures, hidden gems, and dogs to pet. You can follow her adventures on Explore with Lora and Instagram

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