This is a guest post by my dad from when he went whale watching in Vancouver, Canada.
When putting together the plan and itinerary for our 2013 Canada trip, one of the things that were on top of the priority list right from the start was whale watching. And we were not disappointed. The trip to Canada was all geared towards making the most out of the Vancouver whale watching season and seeing the amazing creatures, and one way we did this was by taking a boat out on some waves for some good old-fashioned whale watching!
Through the Internet, we found several companies offering whale-watching tours, with several types of vessels. So, for our whale watching in Vancouver, Canada adventure, we chose for Wild Whales Vancouver, a company that operates three jet boats.
I prefer this to the zodiacs for my photography. You can move around more freely and it just seemed more comfortable to me.
The other thing I liked is that because of the unpredictability of wildlife (they’re not hanging around waiting for tourists) tours could take from 3-7 hours. It is obviously much more fun if you can find the whales rather quickly, but it meant that in case this proved difficult, they would go (literally) the extra mile. I’ve known it differently!
Let’s see what made this Vancouver whale tour so special and unforgettable.
Whale watching in Vancouver Canada… from Granville Island
This particular trip started from Granville Island, worth a visit in itself. Granville Island is really a village, on an island obviously, in the middle of Vancouver. Besides the boats you can rent for a scenic ride around English bay or the Granville Island whale-watching trips departing from there, many other things make this place attractive.
You should visit the public market, with all its fresh local and exotic fruits and vegetables, the fish and the meat stalls, or you could browse the art stores. There are a variety of arts and crafts to be admired and purchased. When you get thirsty, get a beer from the Granville Island Brewing Company. And on the waterfront, you’re spoiled for choice for all kinds of restaurants.
So if you're wondering: “Is Granville Island worth visiting?”, my answer is a clear “Yes!”.
Our experience whale watching in Vancouver, Canada
But first, we headed to the office of our boat tour company, checked in, and went to board the vessel. I had seen killer whales before, but never in the wild, so I was very excited about the trip.
We sailed off in the direction of Vancouver Island. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about whales; she was a biologist and clearly knew what she was talking about. Most of the killer whales roaming these seas are “regulars” and many of them have been given a kind of “serial number” as they all can be uniquely identified. So they are also documented with their number and distinct characteristics.
It appeared to be a good time of year for whale watching as the salmon were starting to head up the Fraser River to spawn, up to 800 kilometers upstream, so for the whales, there was plenty of food.
The trips are well organized and the different vessels stay in touch and pass on the most recent position of the whales. The guides kept us up to date about the information exchanges and so the excitement was building up as we came closer to where the killer whales were. Then we sailed into the Strait of Georgia where the whales were supposed to be and by that time everybody was already on the outlook.
And then we saw them! It was just fantastic. What a joy to see these majestic creatures in their element! They are truly magnificent.
At a certain moment, we were really dazzled by one big killer whale coming right from under our boat. I was even too surprised to take a picture. Of course, I had brought a good telelens, which is already a bit more difficult to shoot sharp images with handheld, but on a rocking boat with a “moving target” this was a real challenge.
Still, after a while, I had found how to stand more solidly on deck and could capture some really nice images. Especially the “kid” orca tumbling was a really fun subject.
As much as I love photography – and boy did I have an opportunity there – after a while, I put away the camera to just enjoy the presence and indeed the company of these huge animals.
I was also pleased to hear that there is an “etiquette” the whale-watching tour boats have to respect: don’t get too close (although the whales themselves may choose to get close) and don’t cross the path of the animals. And especially, do not chase them!
I believe these are good rules and I also think that this way the animals can be observed without major intrusion into their lives.
Our Vancouver Island whale-watching trip lasted around 4 hours and I will never forget it. A super experience animated by a super guide. Later that afternoon, my wife and I were sitting on a terrace on Granville Island, enjoying a beer, and just replaying the images we had seen in our minds' eyes.
Where to stay on Granville Island
Granville Island is tiny and your best hotel option there is without a doubt the Granville Island Hotel. It's located a short walk from the beach and just 3 km from the center of Vancouver. WiFi is free throughout the hotel and all rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TV, a minibar, and a coffee machine.
Guests can use the on-site gym or have a drink or a bite at the hotel bar and restaurant Dockside.
Want to stay at the Granville Island Hotel? Check here for more reviews, prices and availability.
If you'd rather stay elsewhere in Vancouver, Booking.com has hundreds of options which you can filter based on your preferences.
How to get to Vancouver and Granville Island
If you're traveling from abroad, the easiest is to fly to Vancouver International Airport. From there, you can take the Skytrain into downtown Vancouver or a taxi straight to your hotel or to Granville Island. Getting to Granville Island by public transportation is a bit of a pain and requires multiple switches.
A taxi will be more expensive but might be the better option if you're with a group or have a lot of luggage.
Another option is to rent a car at the airport. I'd only recommend this if you plan on staying in Vancouver for just a day or so, to do the whale-watching tour, as you'll need to have a hotel with parking and don't really need the car to get around the city.
If you do want to get a rental car upon arrival or later in your trip, check RentalCars.com as the compare a ton of rental car companies so you can get the best solution for your trip.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I'm covered every trip I go on.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
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Hans Couwenbergh is a wine and travel loving photographer. Snapping away, he tells you all about the stories behind his photographs. Connect with him on Facebook.
Isn’t whale watching an incredible experience?! I went with a company out of Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island and it was a day I’ll never forget. Not only were there dozens of whales, but lots of other sealife and birds as well. View some of my photos from the trip here: https://bit.ly/aBGbhv :)
Suzanne Fluhr says
Some years ago, we traveled on a cruise ship from Seward, Alaska to Vancouver, Canada, mostly on the Inside Passage. One of the highlights was watching cavorting orcas.
This is actually what’s highest on my bucket list: spotting whales in the wild.
I AM SOOOOOOOOOOOOO jealous! Always wanted to see them, but never went during the right time frame. Love the pics.
Ryan Biddulph says
Killer whales are among my favorite animals. The trip must have been amazing to see in person.
Such majestic creatures, and you even were able to snap them breaching a few times. I’m just amazed at these guys. Everything from their social structure to ferocious hunting ability is something else.
They hunt sperm whales – save the 50 ton bulls, which are too dangerous to take down – and even blue whales. They attack creatures that are over 100 feet long and weigh as much as any creature on earth.
Amazing Sofie…..thanks so much for sharing.
I’ll tweet this through Triberr.
Hans Couwenbergh says
Thanks for all the comments. I must emphasize the respect for the animals on our trip – as I have seen differently on another whale watching experience.
@Mariska: checked out your photos as well: beautiful, thanks for sharing!
@Suzanne: Inside Passage is on my bucket list as well!
Doug Warnat says
There is a group in Ucluelet Van. Island that takes you to a hot springs in a boat…Usually about 4 to six people and the Indian guide/driver gives you views of whales, sea lions, baby eagles, black bear and a fantastic ride in the coves and rock passages to the hot springs. The trip was money so well spent. Thanks for your post.
That does sound like a great experience! Thanks for sharing Doug.
Hans Couwenbergh says
Made a note!
Great photos! We went whale watching a few years ago from Victoria, BC, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. It almost seemed they were showing off for our benefit. So much better and more humane than watching marine animals in the confines of a theme park environment.
Hans Couwenbergh says
Shelley, thanks, and I couldn’t agree more!
Meg @ Mapping Megan says
Great photos! I know how hard it is to get photos of whales to lol I think we snapped around 1,000 on continuous just for 3 good ones – they’re so fast!
Hans Couwenbergh says
Must admit I also had quite a few go into the digital bin…
Pulau Pramuka says
Various island-archipelago, thus forming the Indonesian state. Explore the beauty of the island of Indonesia on the island of scouts. because island in Indonesia has a beauty that is able to compete from other countries, Indonesia is beautiful.
Hi! Wich fleet company did you used for the whale watching tour?
I’ve asked my dad to look it up but I’m afraid he doesn’t have a record of it anymore. Sorry :/