The Azores is a nine-island, volcanic archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, about 1,000 miles off the west coast of Portugal. Per National Geographic, the Azores are one of the top dolphin- and whale-watching locations in the world. With an average temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit, waters around the islands are warmer because of the Gulf Stream, and more than 20 species of resident and migrating marine mammals may be viewed here.
Best Time to Go
The Azores peak tourism times are July and August, as this is when the largest number of marine mammals congregate around the islands. For those who would rather visit during the off-season, when tourist numbers and rates are lower, several whale and dolphin species still are viewable during the spring migration period. From late March to the end of June, and late September through October also are prime times to view a large number of whale and dolphin species. This is because of the phytoplankton bloom that happens around the Azores islands, which attracts larger whale species during their migrations to the northern Atlantic Ocean feeding grounds.
In summer, visitors to the Azores may see several ocean giants lingering around the islands, such as sperm whales, blue whales, fin whales and baleen whales. Several beaked whale species also are prevalent, including the northern bottlenose whale, and Cuvier’s and Blainville’s beaked whales. In spring, tour guides may spot seasonal migrating species such as killer whales — also known as orcas — false killer whales, minke whales, humpback whales, pilot whales, and a variety of dolphin species. Closer to the island shores, wildlife watchers may catch a glimpse of loggerhead sea turtles making their way to shore to lay eggs. These endangered species can weigh as much as 300 pounds when full grown.
Whale-Watching Tours and Holidays
Tourism companies of the Azores offer whale- and dolphin-watching tours that can last a full day, as well as multiday holidays that include at least five whale-watching tours over a seven-day vacation. The multiday tours are available from April through September, and last one week beginning on a Saturday. The vacation includes a seven-night hotel stay, daily breakfast, airport transportation, and five boat tours with an experienced marine biologist and local guide.
Swimming With Dolphins
Visitors to the Azores islands can embark on dolphin swimming adventures during a whale-watching tour or holiday. From the tour boat, you might observe striped dolphins, the Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, and the common species, also known as the short-beaked dolphin. Tour guests may snorkel and swim around the boat in small groups, and have in-water encounters with dolphins. Since dolphins are a naturally curious species, they often approach you to get a closer look. Tour guides provide practice in-water sessions with guests to teach everyone how to interact with the surrounding marine life in a nonintrusive manner. Dolphin encounters require tour guests have the ability to swim, and are available for ages 7 and older. Wetsuit rentals are available, but tour guests must bring their own snorkeling masks and fins.
The Azores offers a number of interesting attractions and unspoiled areas to explore during your vacation. Visit the Sperm Whale Museum to learn more about the species and view full-size models of this ocean giant. Jeep tours are available that visit wine vineyards and geological locations such as lakes, caves and volcanic craters — or take a guided hike to Pico Mountain and view the wonder of the island’s volcano. Scuba-diving adventures are available around the northern coast of Pico or at the nearby Island of Faial to explore the underwater volcanic caves and landscapes.