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11 of the Best Whale-Watching Hotels Around the World

Wildlife Insider Guides Epic Stays
by Matthew Meltzer Suzie Dundas Mar 11, 2023

It’s hard not to be awed when you witness a whale breach, its immense form exploding from the ocean in a display of raw power and elegance. For many, whale watching is a coveted experience and a chance to connect with the majesty of these magnificent creatures in their natural habitats.

But the journey begins with a crucial decision: location, location, location. According to the Society for Marine Mammalogy, there are 14 baleen whale species and 72 toothed whale species, for a combined total of 86 types of whales in the ocean. And they live in different parts of the world, from the endangered narwhal and belugas of the Arctic Ocean to humpback whales, which can live in water ranging from polar to downright tropical. Some species migrate seasonally, while some species tend to stay in one area. So you have to know when and where to go when you’re looking for whales to maximize your chances of seeing them.

The problem is that most whale-watching trips are just two or three hours long, and for anyone who wants to see these giants in action, that may not be enough time. Fortunately, around the world, you’ll find plenty of whale-watching hotels perfectly positioned to be hubs for viewing the world’s cetaceans. Some are luxury hotels on the beach, where you may be lucky enough to hear (and see) whales breaching from your private balcony, while others are wilderness lodges that offer whale-watching trips multiple times per day. Some hotels even offer watching packages, while others may have partnerships with tour operators or on-site naturalists.

We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

Turtle Bay Resort, Hawai’i

Though the hotel is named after a completely different animal, Turtle Bay sits in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. It’s a 1,218-square-mile stretch of ocean devoted to creating a safe area for winter breeding, calving, and nursing. The hotel is on the north shore of Oahu and has more activities than guests could ever fit into one trip, including scuba diving, kayak tours, paddleboarding with dogs, surf lessons, and as many other ways to get on the water as you could possibly imagine.

One of those activities for guests includes a two-hour sail on the resort’s Kama Hele Kai, a catamaran that offers humpback whale watching and sunset cruises. Of course, options like turtle cruises and ocean clean-up days also offer chances to spot the island’s migratory whales. There are lots of on-land excursions, too, like farm tours, luaus, craft classes, plus several highly rated restaurants and multiple outdoor bars.

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Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge, Canada

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Tented rooms at Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge is a luxury tented camp near the outdoorsy town of Tofino on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, Canada. It’s only open from May to September, and stays include all meals and amenities, plus daily activities like canyoneering, hiking, foraging, horseback riding, and, of course, whale watching. The Clayoquot Sound is known for gray whales and orcas, as well as humpback whales, especially in summer.

While you may see whales occasionally from the hotel’s beautiful bar, made from repurposed shipping containers, the best way to see them is on the “Sights of the Sound” boat experience, which you can do as many times as you’d like during your stay. You’re likely to see whales and bears, but will definitely see seals and otters, plus plenty of seabirds and gorgeous coastal landscapes.

The resort is extremely pricey and extremely high-end, but if you can swing it, you’ll find that it’s basically a luxury summer camp for adults, complete with morning coffee delivered to your heated tent. Rates at Clayoquot Wilderness Lodge are all-inclusive and based on two people per tent. Prices start from $2,900 CAD (about $2,150) per night, with a minimum stay of three nights. A few activities have extra costs, like helicopter-aided adventures.

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The Monterey Bay Inn, California

whale jumping monterey california

Photo: Erin Underwood/Shutterstock

Monterey County has quite a lot going for it — charming towns, an excellent wine region, fantastic restaurants, and Big Sur — making the town of Monterey one of the best places in California for an outdoorsy getaway. So it’s just the icing on the cake that it also happens to be one of the best places for whale viewing year-round in the US, and travelers to Monterey are nearly guaranteed to spot cetaceans if they visit between July and November.

Many, many hotels around Monterey offer whale-watching packages or are at least in close proximity to whale-watching tour operators. But the best whale-watching hotel in the town may be the Monterey Bay Inn, with a weekend package just for whale-watching enthusiasts. The package includes two nights of accommodations in an ocean-view room (and yes, you may spot whales from there, especially if you have binoculars), breakfast delivered to your room, and a three-hour whale-watching tour on Monterey Bay, led by an expert naturalist.

You can find whales year-round around Monterey and the coastlines north and south of there. December to mid-April is the season for gray whales, March through November is the time when humpbacks pass through, and blue whales are spotted occasionally in spring and fall. There are even reports here and there of orcas and minkes making appearances, though they’re far rarer.

Rates for regular rooms at the Monterey Bay Inn start around $219 per night, but can more than double that price in the summer. The whale-watching package is available year-round, but you’ll need to call to book.

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Outrigger Kāʻanapali Beach Hotel, Hawai’i

maui whale watching hotel - kanapali

Photo: Manuel Balesteri/Shutterstock

It’s no secret that Maui is a hot spot for whales year-round, and the Outrigger Kāʻanapali Beach Hotel is a great place to base yourself for seeing whales around the island. The hotel’s beachfront location on Kāʻanapali Beach puts you close to numerous whale-watching tour operators, and Lahaina, just a few minutes away, is a popular hub for whale-watching trips. Visitors can take catamaran cruises with open bars and snacks, or opt for smaller, more wildlife-focused tours on kayaks.

The hotel has a full calendar of complimentary activities and can help arrange everything from lavender farm tours to sunset volcano hikes, but you’ll want to pull yourself away from the property for at least one whale-watching activity. Book a tour like a small-group whale watch or sunset cocktail whale watch through PacWhale Eco Adventures, and you can rest assured that your money is going to a good cause: the company is owned by the Pacific Whale Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to protecting marine species.

Rooms start around $241 per night, and regardless of whether you book the least or most expensive option, you’ll get access to the full hotel facilities, including the cute whale-shaped pool. That makes it one of the most affordable beachfront hotels in Maui.

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Stillpoint Lodge, Alaska

stillpoint lodge alaska - whale watching hotels

The pier at Stillpoint Lodge, where guests can borrow paddleboards and kayaks whenever they’d like. Photo: Suzie Dundas

It’s hard to imagine a better place for frequent whale watching in Alaska than Stillpoint Lodge. The elegant wilderness resort sits in Kachemak Bay near Homer, Alaska, offering great access to hiking and glacial lake paddling in Kachemak Bay State Park, e-bike tours, tidepooling, fall grizzly bear watching in nearby wilderness areas, and excellent sea kayaking and wildlife viewing.

Fortunately for whale enthusiasts, that wildlife includes plenty of whales. Orcas, fins, minkes, and humpback whales live in Kachemak Bay in the summer, and there are plenty of wats to see them, including from the privacy of your luxury cliffside cabin at Stillpoint. Kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes are available for use whenever guests would like, and there are plenty of boat activities available to guests, including the boat ride from Homer Spit required to reach the lodge.

Guests at Stillpoint Lodge get to pick a fixed number of complimentary excursions based on how many nights they stay. And while floatplane bear-viewing tours are usually the most popular, whale watching is also an option. You can even opt for a wildlife photo safari with a photographer and naturalist, focused on whales, otters, sea lions, birds, and, if you’re luck, even bears.

Rates at Stillpoint start at $3,146 per person, per night, and include just about everything, including lodging, activities, farm-to-table meals, the use of gear and adventure equipment, and more.

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The Lodge at Marconi, California

The Lodge at Marconi has been around for many years, but just recently got a large-scale makeover, giving it one of the coolest vibes of any hotel on the stretch of sleepy coastline north of San Francisco. Design-wise, it’s equal parts Sea Ranch meets mid-century meets beach chic. It sits on Tomales Bay in Marshall, California, known for oyster beds, rolling hills, fantastic cheese, and a generally laid-back vibe more reminiscent of Mendocino or Point Reyes than San Francisco.

And speaking of Point Reyes: stay at the Lodge at Marconi, and you can sign up for a Point Reyes wildlife watching safari. You might see everything from bobcats to seals to elk to the region’s migrating gray whales, known for coming into shallow water. Bring a chair and relax at Point Reyes National Seashore, and you may see them swimming past from shore. The Lodge at Marconi also offers bookable activities like horseback rides along the beach, kayaking tours through Tomales Bay, and elephant seal-viewing excursions, all of which may also offer the opportunity to spot whales offshore.

The starting rate for the pretty, vintage-inspired rooms is around $360 per night, and if you live in California, it’s even less, as California residents get a 15 percent discount on stays on select dates. Since this whale-watching hotel is only about an hour from San Francisco, it’s a great spot for a weekend getaway if you live near the Bay Area.

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West Street Hotel, Maine

whale watching hotels maine bar harbor

A humpback whale near Bar Harbor, Maine. Photo: Alexey Mhoyan/Shutterstock

California and Hawai’i may have the most whale-watching hotels in the US, but the East Coast isn’t without options. Maine has humpback whales between April and October, minkes in spring and summer, and fin whales in the fall. And the quaint seaside town of Bar Harbor, near Acadia National Park, has become the most popular location in the state to base yourself for spotting them.

That’s where you’ll find the West Street Hotel, a boutique waterfront property that may be one of the best-priced whale-watching hotels in America. It works with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company, just a quick walk from the hotel. It’s also walking distance to lots of other restaurants and attractions in Bar Harbor, and close to the Acadia National Park bus, so you don’t need a car to visit. Other amenities include an on-site spa, an adults-only infinity pool, and chances to go lobstering with a local boat captain.

Room rates at the West Street Hotel start around $259 per night.

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Seal River Heritage Lodge, Canada

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A beluga whale in the wild in Canada. Photo: Starz12/Shutterstock

If your focused on seeing beluga whales, you’ll need to head north, unless you happen to live in the Arctic Circle. And Canada’s Seal River Heritage Lodge, on Hudson Bay just south of the Arctic Circle, is one of the best places to search for the cute, round-nosed marine mammals. The lodge is run by Churchill Wild, famous for its polar bear safaris through Manitoba. You can stay at the lodge and focus on finding belugas and bears in the Seal River Estuary, or book a longer, multi-lodge stay focused on polar bears and other wildlife around the province.

The Seal River Heritage Lodge is a fly-in lodge with plenty of activities to justify its inclusion on any list of the best whale-watching hotels in the world. It’s thought that the Seal River Estuary may be a breeding and nursing ground for belugas, which would explain why belugas of different ages and genders seem to spend summers there. By some estimates, there are up to 12,000 belugas whales in the waters around the estuary. That’s about 10 percent of the world’s entire beluga population, so if there’s one place where you’re likely to see them, it’s there.

At the Seal River Heritage Lodge, guests can go on beluga-watching boat trips, go on kayak trips of nearby waters, and potentially spot whales from the waterfront lodge. The best time to see belugas is in August or September, though Churchill Wild offers trips year-round between its three lodges.

All rates at Seal River Heritage Lodge are based on a minimum stay of one week and include access to all facilities, all meals and drinks, daily activities, most transportation, and access to expert naturalists and photographers throughout your stay. Prices for Seal River Heritage Lodge’s “Birds, Bears, and Belugas” package start at $15,695 CAD (about $11,640) per person, and can go as high as $24,195 CAD (about $17,944) per person for multi-lodge, extended trips.

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Hotel Caravelas, Portugal

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Blue whale in the waters of Pico Island (Azores, Portugal). Photo: Romana Kontowiczova/Shutterstock

There are many great places in Portugal to spot whales, especially around the country’s islands. You’ll find lots of good whale-watching hotels on Madeira (the Belmond Hotel Reid’s Palace offers several luxury whale-watching excursions), but it’s generally known that the Azores is the best spot for seeing whales in Portugal. That’s because the ocean around the Azores is a rich feeding ground, since the Azores Current brings plankton near the islands. That creates a home for about two dozen species of whales and dolphins, including resident sperm whales.

You’ll find no shortage of whale-watching hotels and packages throughout the Azores, so if you want something more luxurious, you’ll find it. But if you’re in the Azores really to focus on whales, consider booking Blue Whale Migration Package at Hotel Caravelas. It’s in Madalena, on the island of Pico. The package includes 10 nights of lodging and five boat tours with CW Azores Whale Watching, with the option to add on more. It’s only offered in March and April when the blue whales are passing through, and the operator has a 97 percent success rate for spotting the largest creatures on earth.

If you can’t make it for the blue whale migration, Hotel Caravelas also offers packages focused on sperm whales, general whale watching, and “Giants of the Sea.” Book packages either through CW Azores, or through the hotel, which has an outdoor pool overlooking Faial Island in the distance. Rates for the package are extremely affordable, starting at 941 Euros (about $1,027) per person.

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Los Colibris Casitas

The best time to see whales around the Baja Peninsula is from roughly November to April when they’re breeding in the warmer waters of Mexico. Most whales are on the Pacific Ocean side, rather than the Sea of Cortez, so you’ll want to stay in Cabo San Lucas or Todos Santos (though you can take whale-watching day trips from La Paz).

Baja California Sur (the southern part of the peninsula) is loaded with gorgeous hotels, and most work with activity operators. So you can book whale-watching safaris through luxury eco-resorts like Paradero in Todos Santos or the elegant Waldorf Astoria in Los Cabos. But if you really want to maximize your whale-spotting, you’ll need to sleep a bit closer to the cetaceans.

That’s what makes Los Colibiris Casitas ideal. The eco-friendly adventure resort is near Todos Santos, giving guests easy access to the Pacific Ocean. But what really makes it stand out as one of the best whale-watching hotels in North America are its multi-day packages, including several focused on whales. Through Los Colibris Casitas, you can book combined stays that include a few days in Todos Santos and a few days glamping on nearby islands in the path of whale migration routes. You can also add on overnight beach glamping to for a few days bfore or after your stay, since the hotel owners also own Todos Santos Eco Adventures.

Los Colibris Casitas is one of the prettiest hotels in Baja California Sur, with big gardens, artsy casitas and suites, and activities like cooking classes, art walks, garden tours, and lots of sustainable and cultural offerings. Room rates start around $145 a night, and inclusive rates are available.

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The Fairways Ocean Ridge Kaikōura, New Zealand

whale watching hotels - kaikoura, new zealand orcas

Orca whales in New Zealand. Photo: Daniel Harwardt/Shutterstock

The main activity in Kaikōura, New Zealand, is whale watching. It’s the whale-watching capital of the country, and you can expect to see sperm whales year-round, humpback whales in winter (June, July, and August), and orcas between December and March. Occasionally, you may even see pilot whales or southern right whales.

There are multiple whale-watching companies in the town, but if you want to make things easy, book a whale-watching package at the Fairways. The luxe hotel offers modern one- and two-bedroom apartments with mountain and coastal views, and you can access the popular Kaikoura Trail directly from the property. Room rates start around $90 per night in the off-season, but you can also book inclusive packages in partnership with Whale Watch Kaikoura.

If you stay at least two nights, you’ll get a discount on both the room and your included whale-watching tours. The package is flexible, and you can choose both what size apartment you want, how long you want to stay, and how many whale-watching excursions you’d like to take. You can book online, then email the hotel to add the whale-watching package, or contact Whale Watch Kaukoura directly to book. Kaikōura is about a 2.5-hour drive from Christchurch, so it makes a great add-on to a trip to New Zealand’s southern island, called Te Waipounamu.

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The most common whales you’re likely to see at whale-watching hotels

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Kayakers and a humpback whale. Photo:

What type of whale you’ll see varies on seasonality and location, but some whales are spotted more often than others. Here’s a very loose guide to where to go to see some of the most frequently spotted whales in the world.

Humpback whales: These acrobatic whales migrate between feeding grounds in cooler waters in the summer to warmer breeding grounds near the equator in winter. Their journeys can span thousands of miles. This means you’re likely to see them around Canada, Alaska, and British Columbia in the summer, and further south near Hawai’i and southern California in the winter. They migrate along most coastlines, so you’ll see them headed south in the fall and headed north in the spring.

Gray whales: Gray whales are famous for their very predictable migrations along the eastern Pacific Ocean. They travel south from Alaska and Russia to Baja California, Mexico, usually in November to have calves in sheltered, warm-water lagoons. Then, they head back north for feeding sometime around May.

Orca whales: Also called killer whales, orcas are both migratory and resident, depending on the pod. Pods may have established territories and move around within those areas throughout the year, though some may show seasonal shifts depending on prey and food availability. Generally, orcas seem to prefer the cooler waters around Antarctica, Norway, Canada, and Alaska.

Blue whales:  Blue whales are famous for undertaking the longest migrations of any mammal on Earth, traveling thousands of miles between feeding and breeding grounds. Generally, they feed on krill in cooler, polar waters during the summer months, and migrate to warmer subtropical waters in the winter to breed. However, it’s not a rigid trek, and individual whales have been known to do their own thing, so to speak. This makes them harder to spot on whale-watching trips, though the California coast is a feeding ground for blue whales during the summer and fall months, particularly off Monterey Bay and Santa Barbara.

Fin whales:  Fin whales exhibit somewhat complex migration patterns, traveling long distances between feeding and breeding grounds, but varying the routes depending on factors like food and water temperature. However, they’ve been known to stay year-round off the California coast by Monterey Bay and Point Reyes thanks to healthy krill populations, as well as by Kaikōura in New Zealand. They’re also often spotted around Nova Scotia in summer and fall.

Whale-watching tips for anywhere in the world

woman using binoculars to watch whales

No-brainer whale-watching tip: bring binoculars. Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock

No matter where you are in the world, be sure to follow these whale-watching tips. Whales are wild animals and you’re in their territory, so it’s important to do everything you can to minimize the impact you have on their behavior.

Be respectful: This is probably the most important tip of all. Avoid loud noises and sudden movements that could startle the whales and don’t yell at them, touch them, or do anything that spooks or startles them. If they have to change anything they’re doing because of you, you’re too close. And if you see anyone else on your whale-watching trip being disrespectful — for example, slapping the water or encouraging the captain to move closer — you have a responsibility to speak for the whales and tell that person to knock it off (politely, of course).

Only choose operators who follow local regulations: Depending on where you are, you may find that some companies are less-than-responsible when it comes to following regulations about distance and speed, prioritizing the guest experience over whale comfort. Research the company you’re going with in advance and try to choose only responsible operators. Usually, it’s a good sign if a company works with a local non-profit or conservation agency. If a company guarantees whale sightings, run in the other direction.

Bring a jacket, no matter what: It doesn’t matter if it’s the middle of summer on the equator. If you’re in the wind and getting wet, you’re likely to get cold. Pack warmer clothes than you think you’ll need, bring a jacket, and if you wear a hat, make sure it’s tight on your head. Losing your hat is a bummer, but more importantly, it’s littering if it gets lost in the ocean.

Wear ocean-safe sunscreen: We all learn in elementary school that the water we use ends up in streams and oceans, yet so many people forget this when it comes to sunscreen. When you sweat and shower after using sunscreen, those sunscreen chemicals eventually end up in the oceans, just like the water. So it’s important, especially when you’re on the water, to use reef- and ocean-safe sunscreens. They’re very easy to find nowadays and often cost the same as traditional chemical-based sunscreens.

Don’t bother with a cell phone camera: Sure, if you’re lucky enough to have a whale get really, really close, you may get a good cell phone photo. But since most boats aren’t allowed to get very close to whales, that’s unlikely. You’ll want to use a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a zoom lens (at least 200 mm, but 400-500mm is probably better) with a fast shutter speed and auto focus, unless you’re a professional photographer. If you don’t have that gear available, or don’t want to rent it, then it’s probably best to put your phone down and just live in the moment, enjoying the opportunity to share a few minutes with the gorgeous marine mammals.

Take advantage of the naturalist: Many boats have on-board naturalists who are passionate about whales and genuinely eager to share their knowledge. And many people go on whale-watching tours just to take photos, but aren’t interested in learning about the animals. So if you are, post up next to the naturalist, and you’ll be amazed and what you can learn. Most naturalists are marine biologists, with a near-endless knowledge of the sea and its creatures. Some boats also have underwater microphones, and if the whales come close enough, you’ll be able to hear their inspiring “whale songs” as they communicate underwater.

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