Everyone loves Panama for its pristine beach destinations and crystal clear waters. Its lush jungle trails are spectacular, and the beautiful marine flora and fauna are unmatchable. If you want to enjoy nature, whale watching is one of those experiences you only do once in a lifetime.
Whale watching in Panama is one of the most magical encounters you can do. Some of the best whale-watching sites in Panama include Pearl Island, Santa Catalina, Isla Palenque, and Taboga Island. If you plan on whale watching, visit the country between June to October, with the peak time in September.
How do you get to these islands? How can you get around and have a great time with your family and friends? Here’s how you can enjoy whale watching and see these majestic animals in the flesh.
Can I Go Whale Watching in Panama?
If you’re asking “Can I go whale watching in Panama?” the answer is a resounding yes. Panama’s pristine blue waters are part of the eastern side of the North Pacific. The Gulf of Panama is the best area where you can find the majestic humpback whales.
Every June to October, the waters along the Gulf of Panama has among the most significant whale populations. This season is the time when the waters along southwestern Panama have the best temperature for migration. In the middle of September, you will notice many marine animals like the humpback whale play along this area.
What makes this period unique is the rainy season in Panama. During this time, whales go to Panama’s colder waters to feed on its abundance of small marine animals. While there are other beautiful marine animals like bottlenose dolphins, the whales make the entire trip worthwhile.
You can also find humpback whales from December to February. This is around the time when the waters are starting to warm up for the dry season. Even then, the best time is to visit the whale watching sites in September. This will assure you that you can see whales without washing the entire trip.
The only way to see whales for yourself is to have a tour handle the activity. You can also rent a smaller boat to bring you near the best play spots for humpback whales. If you’re flying from outside Panama, the only way is to get a ticket to the sites.
Many travels and tour companies allow their customers to go around and play with whales. For a small fee, you can add it to your itinerary and go all the way playing. If you’re not a good diver, there are also diving centers that teach their customers how to dive.
Where Can You Go Whale Watching in Panama?
There are four places in Panama that you can visit if you want a good time whale watching. These places are:
- Islas Perlas or Pearl Island
- Santa Catalina
- Isla Palenque
- Taboga Island
Each one of these places has its charm. Regardless of which one you pick, you will get the best whale watching experience. It’s only a matter of what else do you want to do with your time.
Islas Perlas or Pearls Islands
Islas Perlas or Pearl Islands is a great place to go on a whale-watching adventure in Panama. It is an archipelago of more than 200 islets around 30 miles (48 km) off the Pacific Coast. Among this archipelago, you will notice that many of the other islands in this entry come from the same group.
The entire archipelago has many islets that are neither inhabitable nor big enough for island living. Even then, many of these islets house waters that have the richest biodiversity in the world. Renting a small boat around its waters or near diving spots will get you up close and personal with whales.
Most of the smaller islets are almost unheard of for the average tourist. You would need to have someone local to show you around hidden gems in the area. Its main island, Contadora, is very much active and updated for visiting tourists.
The reality TV show Survivor came to these islands in 2003. Now, the area is a bustling locale for businesses like hotels and restaurants. It has its white sand beaches and diverse marine life.
Contadora itself has a big slew of marine life. Turtles, dolphins, whales, and even stingrays are visible here during the end of the dry season. Its white-sand beaches are among the most secluded so you can afford yourself a lot of privacy.
If you’re the type who wants to whale watch and do other things, The Pearl Islands are right for you.
How to Get to Pearl Islands?
If you want to visit the Pearl Islands, your best move is to find daily ferries. From Panama City itself, you will find regular ferries that bring you straight to the island. Ferry companies like Sea Las Perlas and Ferry Las Perlas have frequent trips all day. You can get two-way tickets from them that brings you to and fro the islands.
You can also find yourself boat tours that will bring you straight where you can find the whales. Many whale watching tours are available in Panama City and will give you a fair price for it too. There are day-trips and multi-day trips you can do to visit the many whale watching locations in the area.
Santa Catalina is one of the most amazing areas in Panama. More known for its surf breaks that can rival that of Oahu, Hawaii, Santa Catalina is gorgeous. It is simple and undeveloped, with a few hotels that provide superb privacy to every visitor.
There are a lot of places you can go to and enjoy whale watching in Santa Catalina. If you want to whale watch in Santa Catalina, there are two prime locations that you can visit. These are the Cebaco Islands and the Coiba National Park.
Apart from whale spotting, Santa Catalina offers other experiences off its coastline. Places like Isla Catalina can be a great place for you to snorkel and see the local marine life. Playa Estero is another excellent place where you can get your surfboard and play among the waves.
How to Get to Santa Catalina
To get to Santa Catalina, you would want to take either a chartered car or a public bus. If you go by chartered vehicle, you would need to travel around 366 km (227 miles). You would need to take the Inter-American Highway.
Going from here will take you first to Santiago. From Santiago, you would want to go to Sona and then straight to Catalina. This will take around 6 hours to complete if you find no problems.
If you’re using the bus, there is a bus that takes you straight to Santiago. Once you’re in Santiago, take another bus to Sona and then go to Santa Catalina. This trip will take you around 7 hours, at least.
Isla Palenque is an island rife with wild oceans around it. The Gulf of Chiriqui situates near the heart of the island, enjoying the warmth of Pacific waters. Whale watching in this area is prime real estate if you want the best experiences.
The Isla Palenque has its usual humpback whales play along its waters in early August. You don’t even need to go too far offshore to see those beautiful whale parents rear their kids. All you need is a boat ride and patience and you’ll see these gargantuan creatures frolick the waters.
What makes Isla Palenque great are the things you can do. Apart from whales, it has jungle hiking sites and some of the seven best beaches in Panama. From Playa de Palenque to Cala Este, you’ll enjoy every bit of time you spend here.
How to Get to Isla Palenque
To get to Isla Palenque, you have at least two options. You can fly domestic via Panama City or go straight to David.
If you’re coming from Panama City, you can fly domestic to David via Enrique Malek Airport (DAV). This flight will take you around an hour to make. From David Airport, you can go to Boca Chica, where a ferry will be available.
If you can access David faster, start at David and follow the same steps. You can also go by bus from Panama City straight to Boca Chica. This will take around 9 hours but will cost a tenth of the price of a plane ticket.
Another place where you can set your sights on the majestic humpback whales is Taboga Island. It’s close to civilization, found 12 miles (19km) from the entrance of the Panama Canal. This is one of the most accessible places you can tour if you’re serious about your whales.
Isla Taboga is not as populated with whales as Pearl Islands, but it’s still a wonder to behold. The bustle of the area makes it a less conducive place for whales to frolick. Even then, there’s always a chance you can find some in the area.
Taboga Island is the place for people who have neither time nor budget. Since the site is near the capital, it’s not expensive to go here. It’s a shorter trip too, so if your stay is not too long, Taboga is the place to go.
How to Get to Taboga Island
To get to Taboga, you can pick one of two ferry companies that provide their boating services. You can access one through the Balboa Yacht Club in Panama City. It will take you 20 minutes to get to the island itself.
The other option is the service at La Playita on the Amador Causeway. This ferry is more laidback, which is excellent for people who like a slow, enjoyable boat ride. It will take 45 minutes if you use this option.
Whale watching in Panama is a once in a lifetime opportunity that you would want to enjoy. If you plan on going to Panama to look for whales, make yourself a schedule.
The peak season for whale watching is from June to October, with the peak season in September. You have some places you can pick, from Pearl Islands to Isla Taboga. Depending on your budget, consider which areas are the best for your needs.
Whale watching is a leisure activity best enjoyed slow and relaxed. Seize the moment and sit down. Enjoy the view of these majestic whales and savor your time in Panama.
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