Whales are the largest and arguably the most beautiful creatures in the sea. And the Cabo San Lucas area is a prime spot to see them.
That’s right, whale watching in Cabo San Lucas is one of the best activities you can enjoy in this Baja California Peninsula resort area!
Over the many years we’ve been visiting Cabo, we’ve gone on many different whale watching tours in Los Cabos – and we saw whales on all boat tours but one.
You have a 90 to 95% chance of seeing whales on pretty well most Cabo whale watching tours.
This is thanks to Cabo’s amazing location. It’s where the Sea of Cortez – one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet – meets the Pacific Ocean.
So what are the best whale watching tours in Cabo San Lucas? Read on, and we’ll go into it all!
Best whale watching tours in Cabo San Lucas
There are many different types of Los Cabos whale watching tours.
There are big boats and small boats. High-speed Zodiacs and stable power catamarans.
You can also choose from early morning breakfast tours and lunch tours.
And some tours combine whale watching with other activities, like snorkeling and sailing.
The right tour for you will depend on several factors, including:
- Whether you want to get up early in the morning (or not)
- Whether you want an adrenalin-fueled ride
- Whether you’re prone to sea-sickness
- Whether you’d like the boat to have a toilet
- Whether you’d fancy food and/or drinks on your whale watching tour
Types of whales in Cabo San Lucas
The most common species of whales in the seas around Cabo are California gray whales and humpback whales.
They both make the 6,000-mile-long migration from Alaska down to Cabo in the cooler winter months.
In fact, around 10% of humpback whales are born in Mexico!
However, there are plenty of other whales in the temperate waters around Cabo. We said it was one of the most biodiverse places in the world, didn’t we.
On your tour, look out for blue whales (the largest mammal in the sea), sperm whales, minke whales, orcas (also known as killer whales), fin whales and pilot whales (which are like large dolphins).
As well as all the whales in Los Cabos, chances are you’ll see other marine life too, like bottlenose dolphins and sea lions.
Whale watching Cabo: Season
So you want to know: When can you see whales in Cabo?
Generally in the winter, but let’s explain a little more.
The Cabo whale watching season runs from around mid-December to mid-April, although it’s possible to see whales outside of this time frame.
The “official” Cabo San Lucas whale season is set by the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Mexico’s environment ministry) every year. Usually it starts on December 15.
The best time of the season depends on which whale you want to see.
Humpback whales in Cabo
The peak humpback season is between late December and the end of January.
January in Cabo is thus an ideal time for a post-Christmas trip if you want to see humpbacks.
However, baby humpbacks – so adorable – start appearing in the seas in February.
The humpbacks disappear around late March and early April, when they make the journey back north to Alaska.
Between early January and March, you’ve also got a good chance of seeing gray whales, which normally come much closer to the shore than their humpback cousins.
Best time of day to go whale watching in Cabo San Lucas
So, you now know the whale season in Cabo san Lucas. But what about the best time of day to see whales?
In the peak whale watching season, tours are usually offered three times a day – early morning, mid-day and late afternoon. Is one time better than another?
Early morning tours
The early morning is our preferred whale watching time.
We find that the sea is calmer and the boat ride is less choppy this time of day.
Plus, we like reserving our afternoons for enjoying the beach and reading a good book!
The downside is that the tours leave pretty early – about 8:00 am.
Mid-day tours can be rather warm on the boat if there’s no shade (remember to pack a sunhat).
But by this time the boat captains generally know where the whales are hanging out, which gives you a better chance of seeing them.
This is Cabo, though. You will see whales most of the time during the Los Cabos whale watching season – no matter when you go!
Late afternoon tours
Many visitors report that they see the best whale activity in the late afternoon when the creatures are more playful.
The breeze picks up in Cabo around mid-morning and usually lasts until late afternoon.
And apparently, whales actually like a little wind and some waves.
You might want to avoid late afternoon tours if you’re prone to seasickness though.
But larger boats are usually stable, so you shouldn’t have a problem on an afternoon tour on a larger vessel.
Bottom line: Which is the best time to see whales in Cabo?
These are all just musings, however. Whales don’t have the same Circadian rhythm (i.e. 24-hour cycle) that we have.
Sometimes they’re more active in the morning and sometimes the afternoons are better for spotting them.
So we’d recommend picking your preferred time and just going with that.
10 Best whale watching tours in Cabo San Lucas
Whale watching tour boats leave from the Cabo San Lucas Marina and head out into Cabo San Lucas Bay.
They sometimes travel around Land’s End and into Pacific waters too in their search for whales.
Here are 10 of the best tours to see Cabo San Lucas whales:
1) Fun Zodiac tour
Cabo Expeditions is among the most popular tour companies in the area.
They offer top-notch whale watching excursions on a Zodiac boat.
With the help of knowledgeable tour guides, your boat captain will steer you to the best hot spots for whale sightings.
The smaller Zodiac boat also means it can travel to areas that big boats can’t, giving you the chance to get up close and personal to these 40-ton giants, while still keeping a safe distance.
We’ve done this tour and can highly recommend it!
2) Small boat tour
Cabo Trek also offers some of the best whale watching excursions in the area.
They have the prestigious title of being the first company in Mexico to obtain “Responsible Whale Watching Operator” certification from the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA).
Their small group whale watching tours (10 to 12 people on average) are on a small boat that can accommodate up to 18 people.
Cabo Trek offers a completely immersive experience. You can see whales above water and on their underwater camera system, and you can hear them through their hydrophones.
There’s a marine biologist on every tour to help you make sense of the whales’ behavior and learn more about these special creatures.
The boats are spacious and have a roof canopy for shade – ideal if you’re on a mid-day cruise.
During the Los Cabos whale season, the tours run three times a day, taking 2½ hours.
We haven’t yet done one of Cabo Trek’s tours, but they get great reviews, so we feel confident recommending them here.
3) Whale watching with free photos
Some Los Cabos whale tours charge extra for their photos. This whale tour includes the photos, so you can take home some fabulous whale photos!
The boat that Cabo Nature uses is a 24-foot boat, and it’s kitted out with an underwater microphone so you can hear the whale songs. The group size is limited to 10 people.
The guides are all passionate, university-educated marine biologists.
They’ll share their knowledge of whale migration patterns, how whales are tracked via tail identification and more.
4) Inflatable speedboat tour
Cabo Adventures is one of the biggest (and best) operators in the biz of offering Cabo San Lucas tours. We’ve done several tours with them now – all excellent.
They offer a few different types of cruises, depending on your style.
One is a whale watching adventure using an inflatable speedboat, guided by experts in marine mammals.
5) Luxury catamaran cruise
If you want something more comfortable, Cabo Adventures also offers deluxe catamaran whale watching cruises on a double-deck vessel (with bathrooms), accommodating about 25 guests.
The main deck has tiered seating up front, giving everyone a great view. Up top, there’s a small shaded deck with cushioned seats for about six people.
The French-made power cat offers smooth sailing, even in choppier waters – so it’s perfect for families or anyone who’s prone to motion sickness. It also boasts hydrophones, so you can hear the whales when they’re underwater.
When boarding, we were all welcomed with mimosas.
After we set off, we were offered drinks of our choice.
Snacks followed, cleverly served in lacquered Japanese-style trays (one for each couple or small group), with compartments for guacamole and chips, toasted ham and cheese sandwiches (ours was an 8:00 am tour) and delicious chocolate truffles.
Meanwhile, our guide entertained us with all sorts of facts about whales and whale behavior.
And yes, we saw humpback whales on our tour – but mainly tails. No OMG breaching action (unlike people we’d met who were treated to an amazing whale show the day before).
No matter. With an open bar and plenty of snacks, this luxury 2½-hour tour is still a definite must-do in Cabo for one of the classiest whale watching experiences.
The downside is that our vessel didn’t get as close to the whales as other smaller boats, which could maneuver more easily and quickly.
6) Sailing catamaran tour
A popular company for all things Cabo marine-life related, PezGato offers 2-hour whale tours on a sailing catamaran.
Take in the best view of whales while sipping on an ice-cold beer (snacks and all beverages are included) and hear the whales’ songs through the hydrophones.
The large boat is comfortable and steady even in choppier weather, and all bookings include hotel transfers.
7) Breakfast cruise
What’s better than a large Mexican breakfast? A large Mexican breakfast with views of whales, of course!
That’s just what Wild Cabo offers on this whale watching breakfast cruise.
With a twin-level power catamaran offering lots of space and two bathrooms, you’ll have a super-comfy start to the morning as you enjoy chilaquiles, beans, scrambled eggs and hot cakes.
The open bar with mimosas, margaritas and cold beer (plus non-alcoholic drinks) is also sure to put a smile on your face.
The tour takes in Cabo’s Arch (El Arco en Espanol!), Lover’s Beach and Land’s End, and then heads to some of the best whale watching spots in the area.
Accompanied by a knowledgeable marine biologist, you’ll likely see plenty of whales and learn about their behavior too.
8) Pirate-themed cruise
We bet the kids would love their breakfast on a pirate ship!
Wild Cabo offers a whale watching breakfast tour aboard a pirate boat.
How’s that for one of the coolest things to do in Cabo?
9) Educational tours
Whale Watch Cabo is perhaps the champion in their field, with very educational Zodiac tours.
They use fast boats (carrying up to 10 people) that zip right to where the whales usually hang out, with full commentary from a marine biologist. Children under 13 aren’t permitted on this tour.
However, Whale Watch Cabo also offers tours on larger covered boats, where kids can join.
10) Big boat brunch tour
And then there’s Sunrider Tours.
Hop aboard a really large power catamaran. It can hold up to 250 passengers.
These highly-rated tours on the SunRider 100 are kid-friendly and combine whale watching with a delicious brunch buffet and an open bar.
How close can you get to the whales?
Whale watching is highly regulated in Baja California Sur, with the safety and preservation of these mammals and their ecosystems always taking priority.
Guides must be officially licensed to lead whale watching trips.
Many are led by marine biologists and local whale experts who are familiar with all the various species and conservation efforts.
Boats can’t get closer than between 65 and 130 yards, depending on the whale species.
Sometimes, though, whales swim by close to your boat, even though your captain will try to move away.
So if a whale swims fairly close by your boat – which isn’t unusual – then you’re in luck!
How Cabo whales behave
Just gazing at these majestic creatures is a bucket-list check.
But if you know a little more about how they behave, your experience will be even richer. Here’s some information about their behaviors:
- Head, tail or flipper slap: This occurs when a whale moves a part of their body out of the water and then slaps it down on the water’s surface.
- Spyhop: It sounds like a James Bond movie. But this is when a whale lifts and turns its head before crashing back under the water. It’s generally done when a whale is watching out for predators.
- Breaching: When you see epic photos of whales, they’re usually doing a full body breach – jumping out of the water then turning and re-entering!
- Peduncle throw: This is a turning motion when a whale moves its tail and peduncle (where the tail fluke connects to the body) out of the water and smashes it back down. When you see a whale doing this, they’re mating.
- Blow: Whales blow water from their blowhole, so this is how whales breathe out. They can go for 15 minutes without breathing, although they generally breathe every 3 to 5 minutes when traveling.
- Logging: This is how whales sleep. They rest with their head and back exposed so they can breathe and move slowly on the surface.
Whale watching in Los Cabos: Frequently Asked Questions
Where is the best place to go whale watching in Mexico?
Cabo San Lucas is one of the best places in Mexico for whale watching.
Other Mexican beach destinations like Puerto Vallarta are good too.
We’ve also gone whale watching in the Bay of Banderas in Puerto Vallarta – and we had a fabulous time viewing humpback whales there as well.
Why do whales migrate to Cabo?
Whales generally migrate from Alaska and along the west coast of the USA, down to Mexico, because of the water temperature.
In the winter months, they leave the frigid Arctic waters and swim south to mate, socialize and give birth in the warmer waters around Cabo.
These waters have lots of excellent nutrient-rich shallows and lagoons that make for great nurseries for baby whales.
In fact, on many whale watching tours, you’ll see whales in their natural habitat – teaching their young how to survive in the wild or just playing. It’s a humbling sight.
Spring signals the end of the Cabo San Lucas whale watching season. The whales leave the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez and head back north to spend their summers in Alaska.
Some whales, such as killer whales, travel to the Sea of Cortez because of the rich array of marine life (aka whale food) here.
How much does whale watching cost in Cabo?
Generally, whale watching tours in Cabo cost between $80 to $120 USD p.p.
If you book tours that include an open bar and a meal, they’ll be at the higher end of this spectrum. Likewise, if you opt for experiences with a marine biologist, you’ll be paying for their knowledge.
Can you swim with the whales in Cabo?
No, it’s illegal. Plus, they’re huge mammals and they’re unpredictable. They could accidentally hurt you when they move.
However, you can swim with whale sharks in La Paz on a day tour from Cabo San Lucas.
They’re not actually whales, which are warm-blooded. Whale sharks are fish, which are cold-blooded. But they’re just as big as whales – and they’re very gentle.
That wraps up our guide on the best Cabo San Lucas whale watching tours!
When planning your Cabo trip, whale watching is definitely a bucket list activity you’ll want to experience.
It’s one of the reasons to head here in winter (the best time to see whales in Cabo).
Witnessing these majestic mammals is a humbling and awe-inspiring experience.
We hope your whale watching tour will give you plenty of wonderful memories that you’ll be talking about for months to come!
Photos: 2 to 4, 13, 20 © Janice and George Mucalov, Cabo Visitor