People come from all over the world to watch Orca whales in the waters around San Juan Island. There are tons of tour operators offering whale watch tours of different lengths on various boats and they are all fabulous. How to pick the one right for you and yours? Here are our 3 favorite whale watch tours and why:
1) Calm Comfort: San Juan Safaris’ Classic Whale & Wildlife Tour from Friday Harbor
A 3-4-hour whale watch tour on San Juan Safaris’ 55-foot M/V Sea Lion is the perfect choice for families with small kids, larger groups, the young at heart or folks who tend to get a little woozy on the water. The Sea Lion has a large, heated cabin, a modern head (that’s boat-speak for “bathroom”), inside and outside seating and a wrap-around, non-slip viewing deck. Blankies and slickers are available, so too are binoculars, a field guide library and children’s books and toys.
Even though the vessel is licensed for 49 passengers, San Juan Safaris will never take more than 40 people, to make sure the tour doesn’t feel cramped or crowded.
There are always 1-2 naturalists on board to point towards the eagles’ nest, the sunning sea lions and of course the Orca whales and to answer all your questions about the sea.
San Juan Safaris donates proceeds and services to environmental and community organizations, like the Center for Whale Research and the Make a Wish Foundation.
What to bring:
· Water (no glass bottles please)
· Snacks, picnic, sandwiches
· Comfy, closed shoes preferably with a rubber bottom
· Rain jacket or windbreaker
2) Totally Wild: Western Prince’s Western Explorer from Friday Harbor
The Western Prince is the longest operating whale watch company in the San Juan Islands. Their 2.5-3-hour whale watch tour with the 30-foot zodiac Western Explorer, similar to the Coast Guard’s search and rescue boats, is one of the wildest. With only 14 other passengers you’ll zip along at 35 knots where the whales are in no time and if you don’t see whales, you can come back for free. You’ll be suited up in full body suits, complete with hats and gloves for this exhilarating ride and have a naturalist available to guide the trip and answer all your questions. This tour doesn’t have a bathroom and is not suited for kids under 5, pregnant women or folks with neck or back injuries. Are you up for the challenge?
Western Prince pledges 5% of their profits towards a variety of environmental organizations.
What to bring:
· It’s always 10-15 degrees colder out on the water, so bring layers
· Snacks or picnic
· A fun attitude
3) Intimate Adventure: Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching from Snug Harbor
Going on a 2.5-3 hour tour with one of Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching’s two-powered catamarans out of Snug Harbor has the advantage to start your excursion on San Juan Island’s West Side, where the whales usually are, so you may spend more time with the Orca and less boating to them. Both boats, the Peregrine and the Imagine, can take up to six passengers, making this trip incredibly intimate. You won’t miss anything the naturalists on board say or an Orca’s sky hop. Both boats have a “head” for convenience and passengers can move around freely on the boats. Capt. Maya and his crew take out folks of all ages and is one of the few whale watch tour operators, who goes out year-round.
Maya’s support various environmental organizations through donations, involvements and services.
What to bring:
· Layered clothing
· No worries if you’ve forgotten something, the crew has spare items on board