Whale Watching in Panama: Why Go
Before we moved to Panama I had no idea that the waters beyond the Panama Canal played host to hundreds of Humpback whales every year. It turns out, however, that along with Costa Rica, Panama is the only place in the world where these magnificent creatures migrate from both the Southern and Northern hemispheres to breed and give birth.
Newly armed with this knowledge, we decided to try our whale-watching luck and joined some friends who had hired a private boat for the day. They had booked with Panama Tours who they had hired in previous years and were very happy with. Richard Parizeault is the owner and was also our captain for the day. He and his crew were fantastic – knowledgeable and great with the children as well as being responsible and not, for example, driving the boat too close to the whales.
Our group of four adults and seven children (ranging in age from 5 to 15 years) set off around 9am, heading down the Panama Canal and out into the Pacific waters. Our course was set for the small islands around Contadora, part of Las Perlas Archipelago (the Pearl Islands) south of Panama City. Contadora is where bug-eating survivalist and adventurer Bear Grylls filmed his show The Island.
Within less than an hour of being on the boat we had seen our first whale and it was incredible. I still can’t decide what I enjoyed more – watching this mighty creature break the ocean surface or seeing the look of sheer delight on my five-year-old’s face when he spotted it. We spent three hours cruising around and I lost count of the number of Humpback whales we saw. We also spotted lots of dolphins jumping in the boat’s wake, another definite highlight.
We stopped for a picnic lunch on one of the many idyllic deserted islands in the area and enjoyed some cliff-jumping and sand castle-making along with our crisps and ham sandwiches (we brought our own picnics).
When To Go Whale Watching
Panama boasts seven months of whale activity. From July to October thousands of Humpback whales travel from Antarctica to the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean to breed and give birth. From December to March Humpback whales arrive from North America, although in smaller numbers. We went in October and enjoyed blue skies and sunshine all day although usually during the rainy season (April – December) you can expect at least one short but heavy downpour a day.
The Best Part
1. Seeing my son’s face when he saw a whale for the first time was magical. Although we didn’t see the whales leaping and breaching from our boat we did spot some performing in the distance for other boats!
2. The dolphins were an added bonus and watching these beautiful creatures swim in our boat’s wake was amazing.
3. Our lunch spot for the day made me realise how lucky we are to live where we do – where else can you pull up at a deserted island and call it your own? Well, at least for an hour or so. The children loved cliff jumping and would have happily spent all day here….were it not for the prospect of seeing more whales!
Things to Bring
1. Lifejackets if you have them, particularly for children. The boat carried lifejackets in all sizes but my children tend to get fussy if they have to wear ones with the thick padding behind the neck.
2. Bring snacks. Although Richard had plenty of water and nibbles to hand, we were out for most of the day and when travelling with children it always helps to have food to hand!
3. Bring your swimmers and snorkelling kit for underwater discoveries when you stop for lunch.
4. Come prepared for rain or shine! Make sure to pack hats, sun cream, sunglasses etc. Long-sleeve UV swim vests are also a good idea for both children and adults. When the sun is out it is very strong. Richard had very good waterproofs on board, but if it’s cloudy and wet a jumper might come in handy.
5. If you’ve got binoculars at home, bring them along!
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