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A group encounters a pod of orcas on a Nanaimo whale Watching tour.

Nanaimo Whale Watching: An Encounter with Nature’s Giants

Looking to embark on a Nanaimo whale watching tour? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

For many Vancouverites and travellers from afar, the short trip to the island isn’t just a holiday; it’s an immersion into the majestic world of the ocean’s giants.

So, get ready for the thrill of watching orcas and humpback whales breach against the backdrop of lush coastal landscapes. This is your ultimate guide to whale watching in Nanaimo.

Whale Watching Nanaimo

Leaving the familiar sights of Vancouver behind, a short journey to Vancouver Island reveals a world where nature takes center stage. Just a 90-minute ferry ride away from Horsehoe Bay, Nanaimo serves as a gateway to this eco-tourism paradise — earning it the nickname ‘hub city.’

But it’s much more than just a launching pad to Victoria and Tofino. In Nanaimo, the ocean comes alive with the breaching of whales, a sight that captivates the heart and soul.

This small harbour city serves as your conduit to an unparalleled whale watching adventure, where each moment is a treasure and every sighting a story waiting to be told. Let’s take a peek at the various Nanaimo whale-watching tours on offer.

Nanaimo Whale Watching Tours

There is a diverse array of Nanaimo whale watching tours that are meticulously designed to satisfy the desires of every explorer.

Whether your heart yearns for a serene sail across the tranquil waters or an exhilarating zodiac quest that promises an unforgettable adventure, Nanaimo is the ultimate destination for you!

The best part? If you fail to see any whales on your journey, each of our providers will offer you another tour absolutely free. Yes, you heard it right – every tour comes with our exclusive whale sighting guarantee. So what do you have to lose?

a pod of orcas emerge in the Salish Sea near Vancouver Island.

Nanaimo Whale Watching in a Semi-Covered Boat

Duration: 3-5 hours | Season: Year-round| Cost: From CA$239.00 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 40+ reviews

Seeking a serene Nanaimo whale watching experience that shields you from the elements? Consider embarking on a journey aboard a semi-enclosed vessel, where speed meets comfort, crafting the perfect setting for an unparalleled whale watching adventure.

Step inside to a warm, inviting seating area equipped with large windows that offer you a front-row seat to the awe-inspiring spectacle of whales breaching. Want a closer view? Venture to the spacious open-air deck at the stern for sweeping views of the coastal beauty that lies ahead.

Guided by seasoned marine experts, this tour is not just about witnessing the majestic dance of killer and humpback whales; it’s an educational voyage into the heart of the marine ecosystem surrounding Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

You’ll encounter a rich tapestry of marine life, from playful seals and sea lions to curious porpoises and the majestic flight of eagles. So, have your cameras at the ready for an unforgettable journey into the wonders of the open sea. I promise, every moment promises a new discovery.

Your semi-covered whale watching Nanaimo tour includes the following:

  • 3-5 hour Nanaimo whale watching tour
  • Journey aboard a 12-passenger semi-covered vessel
  • Professional guide with a background in marine biology
  • Whale sighting guarantee (otherwise, your next tour is free!)

A group encounters a pod of orcas on a Nanaimo whale Watching tour.

Open Boat Nanaimo Whale Watching Tour

Duration: 4 hours | Season: Mar-Nov | Cost: From CA$222.00 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 120+ reviews

Embark on a Nanaimo whale watching journey that promises to etch itself into your memory forever! Begin your adventure with a seamless check-in process, setting the stage for a smooth voyage aboard a 30-foot open-air vessel designed for an intimate group of 12 passengers.

Feel the excitement mount among your fellow explorers as you set sail through the stunning Gulf Islands archipelago. The Salish Sea ecosystem unfolds before you in all its glory, offering a backdrop of unparalleled beauty for your adventure.

Keep your eyes wide open for the awe-inspiring sight of orcas, gray, and humpback whales, along with a variety of marine life. The experience of witnessing a whale breach mere meters away is nothing short of breathtaking – a moment of pure wonder and exhilaration.

Led by a knowledgeable captain and marine naturalist, you’ll gain invaluable insights into the lives of these majestic creatures. Thanks to advanced communication systems, your crew will work in tandem with other vessels, significantly enhancing your chances of encountering these magnificent beings.

Your open-air Nanaimo whale watching tour includes the following:

  • 3-5 hour Nanaimo whale watching tour
  • Journey aboard a 12-passenger open-air zodiac
  • Professional guide with a background in marine biology
  • Anti-exposure/floatation suit
  • The same whale sighting guarantee

How to Book Orca Tours of Nanaimo

Nanaimo whale watching tours are limited to 12 participants. What’s more, departures aren’t as frequent as their Vancouver counterparts. In order to avoid being left at the dock it’s highly recommended to book your journey ahead of time.

Snagging a ticket on a Nanaimo whale tour is as easy as a walk in the park – and it’ll be just as satisfying!

Let’s take a quick walkthrough using our most popular option: the Nanaimo Open Boat Tour.

Would you prefer the semi-covered tour? Not to worry, the same steps apply!

1. Select your Favourite Nanaimo Orca Tour

  • Head to Viator’s Nanaimo’s Open Boat Tour portal.
  • You’ll be booking with a publicly traded company (Tripadvisor) with a $3 billion market cap.
  • Viator offers a convenient book now, pay later option, which is fantastic for budgeting.
  • You’ll also receive Viator’s low-price guarantee to help you save money.

2. Choose Your Departure Time

  • Click the ‘Check Availability’ button on your tour page.
  • Pick a date on the calendar (between Mar and Nov). Semi-covered tours are offered year-round if you’re in town during the low season.
  • Choose the number of guests and hit ‘Apply.’
  • Select your time and click on ‘Reserve Now & Pay Later’ or ‘Book Now.’

If you opt for ‘Reserve Now & Pay Later,’ you’ll have the choice to pay for your tickets up to 48 hours before your tour.

Did something come up? Not to worry, you’ve got free cancellation up to 24 hours before your departure.

Wasn’t that easy? Now, you’ve locked in tickets for your Nanaimo whale watching tour in less than 5 minutes! To start the process, click on the banner below:

Plan your Nanaimo whale watching tour today banner

Nanaimo Whale Watching Reviews

Still on the fence? Well, let’s hear what past customers have to say.

Many choose Nanaimo whale watching tours over those offered in Vancouver or Victoria for a variety of reasons. For one, you’re likely to find a more personal and engaging experience, featuring smaller tour groups that ensure unobstructed views and more personalized service.

And the proof is in the pudding – tours here consistently receive rave reviews, averaging between 4.5 to 5 stars.

Skeptical? Take a moment to peruse one of the glowing testimonials from our Semi covered tours:

a review of a Nanaimo whale watching tour.

And here are a couple from the Nanaimo open-boat tours:

a Nanaimo whale watching review.

Want to see for yourself? Click on the button below to check out over a hundred glowing reviews:

Nanaimo Whale Watching FAQs

Travelling from Vancouver to Nanaimo is straightforward and can be an adventure in itself. The most popular method is by ferry, with BC Ferries offering regular services from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Departure Bay in Nanaimo.

Alternatively, for those looking for a quicker option, seaplane services are available, providing a scenic 20-minute flight from Vancouver to Nanaimo, landing at the Nanaimo Harbour Airport.

The best time to go whale watching in Nanaimo typically runs from March through October. This period offers the highest likelihood of sightings, with the warmer months being particularly fruitful.

The peak months for whale watching are usually from May to September when the weather is most favourable, and a variety of marine life, including whales, are more active and visible. But keep in mind that transient orcas and other species are ever present in these waters, and semi-covered tours are offered year-round.

The Salish Sea, the marine ecosystem surrounding Nanaimo, is home to a diverse range of whale species. Visitors can expect to see orcas (killer whales), which are the most sought-after sightings, as well as humpback whales, which have been making a remarkable comeback in recent years.

Other species that may be spotted include gray whales, especially during their migration season, and minke whales. The area is also rich in other marine life, such as seals, sea lions, porpoises, and a variety of seabirds, enhancing the whale watching experience.

Nanaimo offers a variety of whale watching tours to suit different preferences and needs. Options range from exhilarating zodiac boat tours, which provide a fast-paced and close-to-the-water experience, to more relaxed, semi-enclosed boat tours that offer comfort and stability for those who prefer a smoother ride.

The duration can vary depending on the type of tour and the company offering it. Generally, tours last between 3 to 5 hours. Shorter tours are typically offered on faster zodiac boats, while longer excursions, which can last up to 5 hours, are usually conducted on larger, more comfortable vessels.

Ready to embark on your Nanaimo whale watching adventure?

Our tour through the tranquil waters of the Salish Sea is coming to a close. However, the memories of majestic whales gliding beneath the waves will continue to linger in our minds.

This is not just a tour; it’s a transformative experience that will connect you with the heart of nature. For Vancouverites and international travellers alike, the marine majesty of Nanaimo calls.

Answer it by embarking on your own Nanaimo whale watching adventure, and carry with you the tales of the deep.


I've used online guides on five continents to find the world's greatest travel spots and this is my chance to give back - with insider info on my home, the mighty Vancouver BC!

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