Local Whale Watching Opportunities Abound!

A mother and baby humpback "spyhopping" in Banderas Bay.

A mother and baby humpback "spyhopping" in Banderas Bay.


Banderas Bay is an ancient haven for humpback whales in the winter. From December through March, they come here to mate, calve and enjoy the warmer waters of Mexico. Most births occur in early January. In the summer, they return to their northern feeding grounds along the western coast of North America, from California to British Columbia.

These gigantic animals can weigh up to 79,000 lbs. and are from 39–52 feet in length. Their spectacular behaviors such as breaching, spyhopping (lifting their heads out of the water and peering around them), and tail-slapping are widely sought after by visitors – and Banderas Bay is one of the world's premier locations for a chance to see these amazing displays.

The shallower, protected waters of Banderas Bay offer an ideal area for humpback whale calving. Mother and baby whales are often seen here, as the mothers teach their young how to descend and rise in the ocean.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, explorers nicknamed Banderas Bay "Humpback Bay," because of the large number of humpback whales sighted during the winter months.

Although still considered an endangered species, humpbacks seem to be thriving in the Banderas Bay area. Once hunted to near extinction, the worldwide humpback whale population has recovered to over 18,000 individuals, with the number of whales recorded in Banderas Bay steadily increasing in recent years.

Official whale watching season in the Punta Mita area begins in December and extends through March 23rd. Local officials issue over 200 permits for the season to approved boat tour operators, who have demonstrated their capacity to provide an optimal whale viewing experience with the least impact on the whale's natural life cycle.

These ecologically-conscious, trained operators scan the ocean to spot the distinctive calmer areas on the surface of the water which indicates the likely presence of a whale below the surface. Interestingly, as a whale swims in the depth of the oceans, the movement of their tail causes turbulence that counteracts the waves on the surface to create a smoother region of water – a noticeable "trace" of their hidden location.

Visitors enjoy watching a humpback whale from a nearby boat.

Visitors enjoy watching a humpback whale from a nearby boat.

These experienced whale spotters can use these clues to identify the most likely area where whales will surface, then position their boats at an appropriate distance from these locations – close enough to see, not so close as to disturb the whales. Some operators even use light aircraft spotters to track the whales from the sky to help lead boats to likely locations for viewing.

In addition to humpback whales, gray whales are sometimes seen, as well as orcas – the main predators of the humpbacks.

Here are links to a few local whale watching tour operators:

You can see whales from Hacienda Alegre's main deck! This is an ideal spot for a family or group to use as home base for whale watching season – December through March – or to explore many of the other natural wonders of the Banderas Bay area.


Ian Batey