The Azores islands are an amazing place for whale watching. This guide explains why Azores whale watching is so special, which island is the best for whale watching, tips for choosing a tour, what to expect on your tour, and the best time of year to go.

Why is Azores Whale Watching so Special?

The Azores islands are famous for whale watching for two reasons. First, the steep topography of the Azores islands creates deep, whale-friendly waters just off the coast. So, you don’t have to travel far in the boat for amazing whale watching. The Azores are also famous for whale watching, because you can see such large variety of whales. You can see over 20 species of oceanic cetacean species in the Azores.

Dolphins on a Sao Miguel Watching Tour

Types of Whales (and Dolphins!) You’ll See When Whale Watching in the Azores

You can see both migrating whale species and year-round varieties on your Azores whale watch excursion. Whales and dolphins that live year-round in the Azores, are the common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Risso’s dolphin and sperm whales.

There are primarily three groupings of migrating whales and dolphins in the Azores. First, in late winter/early spring until the early summer, you can see migrating Baleen whales. Baleen species include the blue whale, fin whale, sei whales and the less frequent humpback whale. Second, starting in the spring through the summer, you can also see the pilot whale and striped dolphins in the Azores. Finally, the Atlantic spotted dolphin typically arrives in the Azores in June and stays through December.

Best Azores Island for Seeing Whales

The Azores islands that are best known for whale watching are Sao Miguel, Terceira, Faial and Pico islands. Sao Miguel has the largest number of Azores whale watching tour operators. Sao Miguel also has the biggest selection of catamaran boat options if you prefer not to ride in a zodiac boat for your whale watching tour.

Faial and Terceira have the second most whale watching tour options in the Azores. Tour operators on Faial and Terceira islands also offer both catamaran and zodiac boat options. Pico island also has whale watching tours, but you’ll likely only find a zodiac boat option for group whale watching tours.

Operators on the other Azores islands offer private boat tours, which could be purposed as a whale watching tour. But it’s unlikely that you’ll find a company that offers public group whale watching tours on Sao Jorge, Santa Maria, Flores, Corvo or Grasiosa island. If you care about more than whales, see our full analysis of the best Azores island to visit.

View of Horta on a Faial whale watching tour

Best Time to go Whale Watching in the Azores

May is the best time to go whale watching in the Azores. In May, you have the best weather during a time when you’ll have the chance to see the largest variety of whales. In April, you can see the same varieties of whales, but the weather isn’t as good. In June, the weather is better, but the Baleen whales are starting to migrate away from the Azores.

July, August and September has the best weather. So it’s least likely that your Azores whale watching tour will be postponed. The worst months for whale watching in the Azores are January and February because there are the fewest varieties of whales and dolphins and the weather is the worst. So, it’s the most likely that you’ll have your trip cancelled due to weather or rough seas. Because there are the fewest tourists in the winter, your tour is also most likely get cancelled if there are not enough clients to fill the boat.

We also have a detailed breakdown of Azores weather and an analysis of the best time to visit the Azores generally.

Types of Tour Boats Available in the Azores

The majority of tour operators in the Azores use zodiac boats for whale watching. These boats are low to the water and typically hold 12 passengers plus the guide and captain. So, if the water is rough, you will feel those bumps! And you will get wet! Most companies give you the option to wear a wetsuit and/or rain gear.

On some of the bigger islands, you can go whale watching on a catamaran-like boat that holds more passengers. These larger boats are a smoother ride and offer greater protection from the waves and precipitation. So catamarans are also a good option for whale watching with small kids.

Zodiac boat for whale watching on Faial island

Tips for Booking an Azores Whale Watching Tour

The weather changes often in the Azores and the seas can be rough. Whale watching tours in the Azores are thus frequently cancelled or postponed. Especially in the winter. So, when booking your Azores whale watching tour, make sure that you provide accurate contact information for when you’re in the Azores. For example, don’t give your cell phone number, if you don’t plan to use your cell phone on your trip. We also advise booking your tour at the beginning of your trip, so you have more days to reschedule if your tour is postponed.

Questions to Ask When Booking Your Tour

  • Is our guide a marine biologists and/or what level of expertise or training do they have about marine life?
  • What type of boat do you use?
  • How long are you typically out on the water?
  • What gear do you provide (dry bag, rain jacket and pants, wet suits, towels at the end of the trip, etc.)?
  • Is there a safe place to store our things while we’re on the boat?
  • How do you contact me if the tour is postponed? If you do cancel the tour, when will you let me know (the night before or the day of the tour)?
  • What is your refund policy (both if the tour operator cancels or if the client cancels)?
  • What is your policy on swimming with dolphins? Be wary of any tour operator that will put you in the water with the dolphins at any opportunity. Swimming with dolphins should only be attempted when the dolphins are acting receptive to human interaction.
  • What is your policy on whale watching when there are other boats close around? Be wary of any tour operator who will crowd the whales when there are other boats. There are rules about how close you can get to the whales and what to do when there are already other boats around the whales.

What to Wear on Your Whale Watching Tour

What you’ll wear on your whale watching tour will depend on the type of boat that’s used and if swimming with dolphins is a possibility. If the tour is by zodiac boat, you typically will be provided rain pants and jacket if you want them. You’ll still likely get a little wet, especially on your feet. On the zodiac boats, some companies will also provide wet suits, so you can swim with dolphins if the opportunity arises. If that’s the case, and you want the opportunity, then wear a bathing suit to wear under the wet suit.

If your Azores whale watching tour is a on a catamaran, you should wear weather-appropriate clothes. And always bring a rain coat, because you never know when it’s going to precipitate in the Azores. That way you’ll be protected if you want to go outside to see the whales and it’s raining or the seas are rough.

Waterproof jackets and pants provided on a Faial whale watching tour

What to Bring

  • If it’s going to be sunny, think about bringing a hat. Just remember that if it’s windy, your hat may blow off your head!
  • Sun glasses to protect the eyes from the sun and from splashing waves.
  • Bring sunscreen and apply it before your tour. You’ll need sunscreen to protect you from the sun above and the reflection off the water.
  • If the tour operator doesn’t provide towels, consider bringing a towel for after the trip and a small towel to wipe off your sun glasses and/or camera.
  • If the tour operator doesn’t provide a dry bag, consider bringing something water proof if you plan to bring your phone or anything else that can’t get wet.
  • Be thoughtful about bringing your phone or another type of camera. Especially if the seas are rough, your things may get wet!
  • Bring a snack if you think you’ll get hungry. Just make sure that it’s either a snack that can get wet or you have a way to keep it dry.
  • If you get sea sick, you should take precautions against rough seas. For example, bring medicine like Dramamine or acupressure wrist bands.

Final Thoughts on Whale Watching in the Azores

Whale watching in the Azores is a great activity if you love whales and dolphins and like to be out on the water. The seas can be rough and wet though, so Azores whale watching is not for the faint of heart!