Whale watching in the Dominican Republic
After stuffing their bellies in the nutrient-rich oceans around the Arctic circle, whales return to more tropical places every year to raise their little ones. One of the best places to see this beautiful natural phenomenon is in the Caribbean. Therefore it really is a must-do when you go to the Dominican Republic!
There are two places to spot whales on this island nation, especially the majestic humpback whale.
You can visit the Samana peninsula, but you can also spot them north of Puerto Plata at Silver Banks.
Whale watching in Samana
The most popular spot to go whale watching in the Dominican Republic is Samana. I personally think this is also the most magical part of the country, so I advise you to stay here for a few days anyway.
During whale season, boats depart daily from the lively harbor in search of the giants of the sea. Keep in mind that there’s a maximum of three boats that are allowed to cruise this protected marine park at the same time. That way, the whales don’t get stressed and can just keep on doing the things they like most.
Unlike many other places where you can see whales, whale watching tours in the Dominican Republic use fairly large boats where 50+ passengers are being seated. In my view, that has some advantages and disadvantages.
Because the boats are larger and heavier, you will not be able to go as fast and you will also have to stick to slightly more rules. Because of the size, you will also have to share your experience with many others. The latter actually provides a sense of connection to your fellow passengers, so you can turn it into an advantage too!
On the other hand, the size of the boat makes you less seasick and more importantly: you always have an upper deck. From here you get the very best views of the whales and you can also enjoy the wonderful sun at the same time.
In the marine protected area around Samana, it is possible to see hundreds of whales. Your chance of spotting these animals is therefore almost guaranteed. Be prepared for lots of tails, backs, blowholes and even full whale bodies jumping out of the water!
Do not skip out on this spectacle during your vacation, because for me it was undoubtedly one of the best things to do in the Dominican Republic.
Whales in Silver Banks
Multi-day boat trips are also organized from Puerto Plata to Silver Banks, a relatively shallow bay that perfectly serves as a safe birthplace for the humpback whales.
This is also one of the only places in the world where you can snorkel with whales.
Yes, you read that right! In the Dominican Republic you can swim with whales! However, the price tag for this unique experience is quite hefty! A seven-day excursion will cost you more than $ 4,000 per person. Fortunately, overnight stays on the boat, food and drink and encounters with the whales are included.
What can you expect? My experience
Unfortunately, my name is not Bill Gates or Scrooge McDuck, so I did not snorkel with the whales of the Dominican Republic. However, that does not mean that my excursion to Samana was not fun. For me it was the most impressive whale safari I ever did!
After climbing the boat, it is a good idea to climb to the top deck immediately. I also recommend not to wait too long before you get on the boat, because the seats at the upper deck are very popular amongst all guests!
While the trained crew members look for the first whales, you are presented with a lot of interesting information: Why exactly do humpback whales come to this place? What are they eating? Why do they have bumps? …
While you get all these facts an fugres, cookies, sweets and drinks are also passed around. You will certainly not starve!
When the first whales are spotted, the boat quickly sails towards the dark silhouettes under the blue sea and you will already start hearing the first “oohs” and “ahs” from your fellow passengers.
Once the tails come out of the water and slowly sink back down, you will only hear clicking cameras.
The feeling of being so close to these gigantic animals is truly indescribable. A whale tour would already feel magical if you only see some parts of the animals, but in the Dominican Republic it gets even more spectacular!
Non-stop jumping whales
During mating season, the humpback whales around the Dominican Republic jump much more out of the water than in other circumstances. The exact reason for this behavior is actually not known, but it is believed that males act like this to to attract the attention of females.
However, the little calves also jump out of the water. Perhaps because they want to get the interest of their mothers back to themselves instead of seeing them all flirty with those big boys…
One thing is certain: it is very spectacular!! During my boat trip I saw these giants jumping out of the water more than twenty times and believe me… That is something you will never forget!
Right after the little ones jump to the surface, you will often see a concerned mother doing the same -or at least partially-. They emerge out of the ocean with their giant tails to help their babies. Since the little ones still have it difficult to stay right under the surface (to breathe), the mothers need to help them by pushing them up a little.
Once the whale watching in Samana has finished, you will also cruise around the famous Bacardi Island (Cayo Levantado).
Make sure that you still have some space on your camera, because this paradise island certainly provides some nice snaps.
Depending on the tour you have picked, some boats also spend some time on the island.
Whale tours in the Dominican Republic
Since there are only two sailings per day with three boats that are allowed on the water at a time and because the whale season in the Dominican Republic is limited, I recommend to book your whale tour as far in advance as possible.
This way you are sure that you will actually be on board and that you can see these giants with your own eyes.
You can pre-book whale tours in the Dominican Republic via GetYourGuide.
The advantage of this company is that you can always cancel for free up to 24 hours in advance.
Viator is another trusted tour organization and does have more options. Usually, you can also cancel for free with this company, but you should always read the conditions carefully just to make sure.
Even if you are not staying in Samana, you can still see the humpbacks of the Dominican Republic! From Punta Cana there are many whale watching tours, but Puerto Plata and even Santo Domingo also offer these excursions.
Whale watching Samana: price?
The cheapest way to meet the whales of the Dominican Republic is to go to Samana on your own and arrange a tour from there. On average, this would cost around $55 per person, plus an additional $5 to enter the protected marine park.
Would you like to combine this trip with a visit to the famous Bacardi Island? This is possible from $80 per person (with lunch).
A private cruise from Samana is possible for $95 per person (including a visit to Bacardi Island). The advantage of the latter excursion is that you don’t have to share the boat with anyone else.
Do you not have a car and are you staying far away from Samana? Then you can also be picked up in Las Terrenas. An excursion will cost you around $95 per person.
There are also whale watching tours from Punta Cana available. Since this tropical paradise is still a long way from Samana, an excursion will cost a bit more. On average you pay $150 per person (transfers included).
Do you want to see Samana’s whales but are you staying in Puerto Plata? An excursion with pick-up service will cost you around $100 per person.
Best time to see whales in the Dominican Republic?
The whale watching season in the Dominican Republic starts around mid-January and ends late March. During this period you are pretty much guaranteed to see whales. Tours and excursions are not conducted outside of these three months, so be on time!
If you are in the Caribbean outside this time, you can still see the majestic giants of the see elsewhere.
In the Azores or around Madeira, you can see them in the months of April to July. The best time to see whales in Iceland and Norway is from October to January.
With a little planning you can see these animals all over the world, no matter which month you go!
Some more tips for whale watching in the Dominican Republic
Do not book this excursion on your last day. In bad weather (or a rough sea) you cannot go on a whale watching tour in the Dominican Republic. For this reason, boat trips are sometimes rescheduled to a later date (for free, of course!). If you are no longer in Samana (or Punta Cana) at that time, you will not be able to see the animals. Rest assured: if you book through GetYourGuide, you will always get your money back or be able to reschedule to a later date. You can always cancel for free with them up to 24 hours in advance.
Take precautions against seasickness. You will be sailing on deep water, which can make the sea particularly rough. For that reason it is recommended to take a pill as a precaution to avoid getting seasick. Doesn’t that help? Keep your eyes on the horizon and don’t forget to breathe. It is best to avoid too much alcohol the night before you plan on whale watching in Samana. After all, it is important to hydrate well (so also drink plenty of water!).
Try to sit on the top deck. Fom here you get an unobstructed view over the animals (there are no side panels and there is no roof that hinders your view). Moreover, you can see the whale’s silhouette much easier from above in the transparent water and that really makes for some beautiful photos.
Make sure you have enough space on your memory cards! It is not easy to get a good picture of the tails, backs and gigantic jumping whale bodies! You often don’t know where the animals will turn up next and the constant rocking of the boat doesn’t make it any easier either! Do not forget to make some videos, because you will undoubtedly want to share your meeting with the whales of the Dominican Republic with family and friends!
Use plenty of sun cream. The Dominican sun shines fiercely and the reflection of the shimmering sea water burns you even faster than usual.
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.