On this 6-day holiday we go in search of whales and dolphins in the cetacean-rich waters of the Azores archipelago, arguably Europe’s top whale-watching destination. Here we join local expert naturalists on six half-day, morning or afternoon, whale and dolphin-watching excursions, using small, fast and manoeuvrable Zodiac-style/RIB boats. Our main focus will be Sperm Whales, which are present in Azorean waters year-round. There are several dolphin species here too, among them Atlantic Spotted, Striped, Common, Bottlenose and Risso’s. Picture yourself in small boat, close to the water with these animals only metres away, waiting to hear their ‘blows’ as they exhale at the surface … wildlife experiences don’t come much better than this!
- World class whale-watching – in Europe!
- Look for family groups of Sperm Whales in August & September
- Guided by local expert naturalists
- Convenient & comfortable 3-star harbourside hotel
- Potential for very close encounters from Zodiac-style boats
- A chance to see Atlantic Spotted Dolphins, plus more unusual cetaceans such as beaked whales
- A friendly ‘village’ atmosphere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean
All breakfasts are provided. Lunches and dinners are not included, to give you the choice and flexibility of sampling Madalena's harbourside bars and restaurants at leisure.
A comfortable 3-star hotel in Madalena, on Pico. All rooms have private facilities.
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins (Justin Hart)
Day 1 Fly Faial; then ferry transfer to Pico.
Day 2/5 Whale and dolphin watching boat-trips from, and some birding on, Pico.
Far out in the Atlantic Ocean, midway between Europe and North America, the Azores archipelago marks the westernmost frontier of the European Community. Belonging to Portugal and stretching for more than 600 kilometres across the Atlantic, it consists of nine volcanic islands sweeping in a long arc along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, rising to just over 2,351 metres at its highest point, Mount Pico. Situated in a privileged position between the 36° and 40° North Parallel and 24° and 32° West Meridian, the Azores enjoys a mild climate and surrounding seas that are warmed by the Gulf Stream. Surrounded by the deep waters of the Atlantic, the islands shelve steeply into the sea creating an underwater topography that is perfect for attracting some of the most exciting animals on Earth — the great whales. Once a centre for commercial whaling, those days are happily long since gone and the Azores has instead become renowned for its superb whale-watching, and is now firmly established as one of the best places in the world for seeing both whales and dolphins. Indeed, 27 species of cetacean have been recorded in these waters!
Sperm Whales are found in the waters around the Azores all year round. Largest of the ‘toothed whales’, Sperm Whales seem to conjure up every superlative in the book. They have the biggest brains on Earth, and make possibly the deepest and longest dives of any animal — typically foraging on squid at depths of about 300 to 800 metres, but able to dive (descending at a staggering 3 metres a second!) to over 1,000 metres for more than an hour. Sperm Whales are relatively easy to identify at sea and we’ll be looking out for their ‘wonky’ blow, which comes out off-centre at an angle of 45° from a blowhole positioned on the left-hand side of their enormous head. Sperm Whales prefer to give birth in latitudes of less than 40°, making the Azores an ideal location, and we should see females with calves during our August trip. We’ll hope to spend some time watching the whales travelling, breaching or ‘logging’ at the surface, and we may even be lucky enough to hear their subsurface sonar through hydrophones as they close in on squid hundreds of metres below us!
As well as Sperm Whales it is also possible to see a good variety of other cetaceans in the Azores. Common, Bottlenose, Risso’s and Striped Dolphins, as well as Short-finned Pilot Whales, are seen here all year round, while Atlantic Spotted Dolphins visit the islands during the summer. We also have a chance of seeing other, rarer cetacean species — perhaps Sowerby’s Beaked, False Killer or Northern Bottlenose Whales.
During this holiday we will be based on the island of Pico, in a comfortable 3-star hotel situated within a few minutes’ walk of the harbour and, during our 5-night stay, we will offer six half-day, morning or afternoon, whale and dolphin-watching excursions, weather permitting. Following the traditional Azorean method of finding whales, ‘spotters’ will be on the look-out at strategic positions on land, ready to inform our guides the moment any large whales are seen. Once we hear the word, we’ll go into action quickly, setting out to sea in fast and manoeuvrable Rigid Inflatable Boats for trips lasting about 3-4 hours; the thrill of being close to whales measuring up to 30 metres long in a small craft is one of the world’s top wildlife experiences!
Most of our time will be devoted to whale and dolphin-watching, but we will find a couple of half days on each tour on which to look for some of the region’s birdlife. During the summer, Pico supports a breeding colony of Cory’s Shearwaters, and the Azores Bank and Princess Alice Bank are among the few places in Europe where Wilson’s Storm-petrel may be seen without having to spend an extended period at sea! In late spring it’s still possible to see vagrant or migrant bird species, with August and September being a good time for vagrant American waders. We may also, at any time, encounter other marine-life at sea, such as Portuguese Man O’ Wars, sharks, turtles and flying fish. These small unspoilt islands are friendly places, where you can start to feel at home within a short time, and faces become familiar quickly. Offering in addition some delicious food and wines, excellent local guides, and a rugged and fascinating geography, the Azores are a real pleasure to visit.
Excellent, friendly, knowledgeable tour leader. Hotel comfortable, ideal location. CW Azores were efficient, experienced with a wealth of local knowledge.
I enjoyed the holiday as a whole thanks mainly to the wildlife and all the people involved in helping us experience it. The choice of hotel was excellent, it was very comfortable with friendly staff and great facilities.
A good mix of like-minded people in our group made sure that everyone had a good experience. Ed was a great leader and made sure we did everything we all wanted to do or see.
Mr & Mrs T
Wildlife exceptional - exceeded expectations.
Ed is a fantastic tour guide with all the skills you could ask for. People skills, organisational skills and a huge knowledge and love for nature. He definitely helped make the trip as enjoyable as it was.
High quality sightings of 9 species of cetacean - especially Sperm Whale, Fin Whale, Northern Bottlenose Whale and the wonderful Risso's Dolphins. I really enjoyed the land day too - especially exploring the lava cave tunnels and the Cory's Shearwater chick. Great to hear the Cory's on the evening excursion too.
Ed was an excellent guide - knowledgeable and very helpful. Local guide, Justin, was excellent too.
This was my first holiday alone and all my anxieties were unfounded. The organisation and attention to detail were excellent and most of this praise should be attributed to our leader, Ed Drewitt. Our sightings did not disappoint although there was no guarantee - we were extremely fortunate to see so much! I firmly believe that without Ed as our leader, the holiday wouldn't have been half as enjoyable, his enthusiasm and compassion was very infectious and for a novice like myself I was caught up with the delights of sightings. I would have no hesitation in booking another holiday with Naturetrek.
The holiday was perfect and could not be made any better.
Tour leader (Ed Drewitt) excellent. His care, attention to detail and enthusiasm made the trip. Variety and quantity of Cetaceans seen.
Mr & Mrs W.
Ed was absolutely fantastic. His caring was top notch. All other helpers were very attentive as well. Our safari was great and this holiday was a huge wow.
We very much want to mention how friendly all the local staff were. They did all they could to ensure we had a good trip, and they and Ed made a very good team. We wish it could have been longer.