• Zac & Ine

Whale Watching Tours from Victoria BC: a Comprehensive Review by Locals

Updated: Oct 12

Do you want to go whale watching from Victoria, but don't know which tour to take? We will help you make the decision! With abundant marine wildlife surrounding Vancouver Island, it is no wonder that whale watching is one of the best things to do in Victoria. However, the increasing demand to observe these majestic sea creatures in their natural habitat has given rise to more companies offering whale watching tours. Choosing the right one that suits you has become more challenging. This comprehensive review will help you by comparing various aspects of whale watching in Victoria: from the best time to see whales, to the types of boats, and top whale watching companies reviewed.


Killer Whale, also known as the Orca

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Best time to see whales in Victoria


Before booking a whale watching tour from Victoria, it is important to consider when the best time is to see whales. Even though whale watching tours are offered year-round, the different seasons do affect the chances of spotting them in the waters surrounding Victoria.


The peak season runs from May through October, which is the best time to see whales. With a probability greater than 95% to find these giants of the sea, you don't have to be afraid of wasting your money!


However, this doesn't mean that going on a whale watching tour from November through April is a risky move. Even during the low season, the chances of spotting whales are relatively high. For example, Eagle Wings Tours recorded sightings of whales 79% of the time during the low season in 2018, with January and March being the lowest. Transient killer whales may be spotted at any time of the year.

We went on a whale watching tour in February and saw a few humpback whales in addition to other wildlife, like sea lions, porpoise, sea otters, and seals!


Moreover, there is no particular time of the day that whales are more or less active. Both morning and afternoon are great times as whales typically don't move around that quickly. Tour companies know where to find them... they have extensive knowledge of the whales and their travel habits. They also base their judgment on sightings from the previous day(s).


Humpback whale

Types of whale-watching boats


Once you have decided when to go whale watching from Victoria, it is time to consider the type of boat to embark on. Generally, there are two different types to choose from, the open versus the (semi-)covered boat. Both have different pros and cons. Find out which one suits you best!


Open boat experience


The open boat, with its fast speed, guarantees an exhilarating ride! It is the perfect choice for the thrill-seekers who are looking for a fun, fast, and adventurous whale-watching tour. Salty hair and getting wet are part of the open-air experience!


Pros

  • 360 views of the surrounding wildlife and ocean

  • High-speed = fun

  • Smaller boats = smaller groups

  • Some boats have hydrophones so you can hear the whales communicating under the water!


Cons

  • Cold (even in the summer!)

  • Getting wet isn't always fun...

  • Not recommended if you are prone to motion sickness


Semi-Covered boat experience


If you prefer comfort and warmth over adrenaline (just like Ine!), then the semi-covered boat is the better option. The semi-covered boats have both an indoor and outdoor space, so you have the best of both worlds! However, on most boats the viewing space on the outer deck is limited.


Pros

  • Warm! (The indoor space is heated)

  • Comfortable and convenient

  • Tours usually include extra facilities like coffee and tea services, washrooms, hotel pick-ups, etc.

  • Better for photographers

  • Family-friendly

  • Better mobility - you move around and choose when to go out or stay inside


Cons

  • More passengers - sometimes up to 50 people!

  • Outer space is limited - groups will have to rotate outdoor viewing at times


Insider's Tip: Both types of boats follow the same route, and thus whale sightings won't be affected!



Eagle Wing whale watching boat in Victoria

Top whale watching tours in Victoria reviewed


Once you've sorted both the time and boat type for your whale watching tour, you should start looking at the different whale watching companies that offer tours from Victoria. To help you pick the right tour, we reviewed five of the top whale watching tour companies in Victoria. The table below shortly summarizes the key features of each company, followed by a more extensive review of each individual tour company.




Eagle Wing Tours


With sustainability at its forefront, Eagle Wing Tours is our absolute favorite whale watching company. Travelers can choose between four different types of boats, including two open and two semi-covered boats.


We joined the Victoria Whale and Wildlife Cruise in a semi-covered boat during the winter. The covered boat was comfortable, warm and much appreciated as it was freezing! Our guide was extremely passionate and knowledgeable, teaching us all about the different whales and wildlife in the Pacific. In our opinion, the customer service level was beyond expectations, and we would highly recommend paying the extra few dollars to go on a whale watching tour with Eagle Wing!


Pros:

  • The #1 whale watching company on TripAdvisor

  • Whale Guarantee

  • Excellent services offered: pick-up and drop-off services, free tea and coffee onboard, binoculars, among others

  • Very committed to nature conservation in a wide range of initiatives

  • Hydrophones on some boats!

  • Tours often extended when no whales have been found yet

  • Sunset whale watching tour from June 1st until August 31st

Cons:

  • Whale Guarantee only applies during peak season (May 1 to October 31)


Location: 12 Erie St Fisherman's Wharf, Pier #2




Orca Spirit Adventures


Orca Spirit Adventures offers daily departures from multiple locations within Victoria, on Vancouver Island, and beyond! 3-hour whale watching tours from Victoria are available in both the open zodiac and covered boat. There is also the possibility to combine whale watching with other attractions, such as the Butchart Gardens.


Pros:

  • Wildlife Conservation Fee to the Pacific Salmon Foundation is included in the fee

  • Free shuttle services

  • Perfect safety record

  • Zodiac has a hydrophone for listening to whales communicating

  • Whale Guarantee


Cons:

  • Whale Guarantee conditions - you cannot choose the tour date and time, it depends on the availability on the boats


Location: 146 Kingston St. & 950 Wharf St.




Five Star


Being the in-house whale watching company of the prestigious Fairmont Empress hotel, Five Star Whale Watching is the longest-running one in Victoria.


There are 4 different types of tours they offer, all running at different times of the year. The Ultimate Marine Adventure Tour runs from April 1st to December 31st, the Standard 3-hour Whale Watching Tours from April 1st until October 31st, the Marine Wildlife Tours from March 1st to March 31st, and Sunset & Whales Tours from May 17 to August 31st.


Pros:

  • Special rate for Empress guests & students

  • Offers the best of both worlds during the summer: a sunset and whales on the Sunset Whale Watching tours!

  • Environmentally friendly and responsible whale watching tours


Cons:

  • No open boat tour options

  • No money back when you see no whales


Location: 645 Humboldt St,




SpringTide


Just like Orca Spirit Adventures, SpringTide offers 3-hour whale watching tours on multiple times a day. While the high-speed, open zodiac runs all-year-round, the covered boat only operates upon availability during the winter months. The covered boat is a more luxurious yacht compared to the competitors' ones, ideally for those who are seeking a comfortable whale watching experience from Victoria.


Pros:

  • Modern boats - the comfortable MotorYacht is being used for open boat tours

  • Packages available - whale watching in combination with flights or ferry & bus tickets from Vancouver

  • Special discounts for students & groups

  • Environmentally-friendly and nature conservation practices

Cons:

  • Crowded - the closed boat serves up to 84 passengers

  • No money back when you see no whales


Location: 1119 Wharf Street




Prince of Whales


Located in the inner harbor of Victoria, the Prince of Whales is one of the locals' favorite whale watching companies! With its bright yellow colors, you can't miss them docked in the harbor. The Prince of Whales offers a wide variety of boat tours, including 3-hour zodiac and covered catamaran whale watching tours, and combination packages with the Butchart Gardens, Vancouver, and Sunset tours.


We went on the zodiac whale watching tour with the Prince of Whales and saw both orcas and humpback whales! We found that the guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about his job. There was a moment when a small sea otter was hiding on kelp near the boat. The guide informed us that, although the otter was cute, he was hiding from the killer whale pod nearby. Luckily the otter escaped, and we saw the killer whales a few minutes later. It made for a lot of laughter after!


Pros:

  • Comfortable covered catamaran boat custom-built for whale watching

  • Combination packages with the Butchart Gardens, Vancouver, and Sunset Whale Watching tours

  • Tours run hourly during peak season because of demand!

  • One of the highest-rated tours on TripAdvisor

Cons:

  • When full, 95 passengers on board the catamaran!


Location: 812 Wharf Street





  • What is your favorite whale watching tour from Victoria? Share your experience in a comment below!

  • To learn more about Vancouver Island and other places to go, read our Vancouver Island Travel Guide!



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