Witness Africa's beasts of the deep
There be whales here!
Africa may be known for its terrestrial wildlife, but game viewing extends to the high seas as migratory whales steer along its southern coastline to mate and calve.
Peak season occurs between June and November as the continental shelf around Southern Africa transforms into a whale migration highway, with dazzling displays of:
- Fluking: This is when a whale dives into the depths of the ocean, and its tail lifts out of the water.
- Breaching: When whales launch themselves out of the water to compete for females and rid their bodies of barnacles nesting on their skin. Not only is this fascinating to watch, but it’s also extremely loud!
- Spy hopping: This happens when whales breach vertically out of the water to have a good look around.
Although Southern right whales are the most prominent to appear during peak season, Bryde’s and Humpback whales also make their appearance. It can be hard to pinpoint the best place to go whale-watching responsibly in Africa since there are several to choose from. But from our experience, here’s where we recommend you go:
Whale-watching in Kenya
As a safari superpower, few travelers associate Kenya with marine life. However, bottlenose dolphins are seen year-round along the coast, with spinner dolphins being seasonally present. However, if it’s whales you seek, Humpbacks are known to pass along the Kenyan coastline between August and October.
Kenya’s world-class marine park of Watamu provides a safe haven for many creatures of the deep. Located approximately 110 kilometers north of Mombasa, this coastal town and reserve is well known for Humpback sightings along with Sperm and Bryde’s whales. Aside from being an historic haunt of Hemingway, what we love most about Watamu is that the whale-watching industry is still quite small, so excursions out to sea feel wonderfully intimate and unrushed.
Should you want to try your hand at deep-sea angling, fishing season starts in July and peaks from October to November. However, big-billed fish such as marlin and sailfish can be reeled in between November and April.
Whale watching in Mozambique
Whale-watching in Mozambique is a captivating experience as whales migrate along the coastline between June and October. Humpbacks are the stars of the show as they head into the warm Mozambican waters to ensure the survival of their young. The Antarctic is much too cold (and dangerous!) for little calves to take their first swims alongside Mom.
During winter, the Bazaruto Archipelago comes alive with activity with the arrival of Humpback whales. Of course, that’s not all to look forward to here. This pristine destination is brimming with marine life, and you’re also likely to see everything from Spinner dolphins, Pilot whales, whale sharks, and Leatherback turtles. You may even witness dugong since the Bazaruto Archipelago supports the largest population on Africa’s east coast. Scuba divers and free divers, what are you waiting for?
Ponta Do Ouro
The same pods passing through the Bazaruto Archipelago also venture close to Ponto do Ouro, near the South African border. It’s one of the most reliable places in Mozambique to spot whales, particularly Humpback, but that’s not all you’ll see. This seaside playground also features pods of dolphin year-round, along with several shark species, including:
- Tiger Sharks
- Bull Sharks
- Hammerhead Sharks
- Silvertip Sharks
- Blacktip Sharks
- Leopard Sharks
Between November and March, female Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles shuffle ashore in Ponto to lay their eggs under the cover of darkness.
Whale-watching in South Africa
South Africa is a prime whale-watching country with several destinations to choose from along the east and west coasts. Overall, the most popular include Hermanus and the De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Western Cape. Although it’s common to spot whales year-round, they’re a dime a dozen outside of season from June to September.
Situated about two hours’ drive from Cape Town is the whale-centric town of Hermanus. Listed in the world’s top 12 locations to view whales by the WWF, this small coastal village has blossomed into a thriving seaside town, but one thing remains at its core: Whales. The wonderful thing about Hermanus is that whales come into the bay, so no need to head out to sea. The town even has its own whale crier, a person who blows a kelp (dried seaweed) horn whenever there’s a whale in the bay. There’s even an entire festival at the beginning of October centered around their arrival.
De Hoop Nature Reserve
Just a three-hour drive from Cape Town, De Hoop Nature Reserve is a marine protected area close to Cape Agulhas (the southernmost tip of Africa). It comprises fynbos-covered mountains, beaches, and mind-blowing inter-tidal pools, and it’s your best bet for a whale-watching wilderness combo. A staggering 120 whales return to these waters every year!
An adventurous way to explore the De Hoop area is to sign-up for the whale trail, a rustic multi-day hike that offers an immersive wilderness experience. It’s common to spot about 20 whales in one day while hiking. Shorter guided walks through the reserve are possible when you stay at luxury lodges, including the Lekkerwater Beach Lodge and Morukuru Beach Lodge. Whale watching aside, De Hoop Nature Reserve features another local wildlife special: the Cape vulture.
Located on the east coast of South Africa in KwaZulu Natal, St. Lucia is a mecca for ocean lovers and whale enthusiasts. With soft corals and tip-top visibility, it’s the holy grail for snorkelers, scuba, and free divers. Although chartered boat expeditions are recommended, breaching Humpbacks can be seen right from the beach as they compete for females.
During your time in St. Lucia, you’re also guaranteed to see dolphins at play, along with Leatherback, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, and Green turtles who come ashore to lay their eggs. As a side note, whale-watching in St. Lucia is the perfect add-on to a safari in the malaria-free Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park.
Whale watching in Namibia
Around 70 years ago, whales in Namibia were hunted in mass numbers. Fortunately, these gentle giants have made a resurgence since it was banned. From July to November, Humpback and Southern right whales migrate to the plankton-rich Namibian waters, providing an incredible spectacle for visitors.
Walvis Bay may be known for its birdlife, but it is also a great place to spot a melee of cetaceans and Cape fur seals. From July to October, chartered cruises around the bay provide a front-row seat to whale watch Humpback and Southern right whales. Bottlenose dolphins are also frequently sighted in Walvis Bay (and Pelican Point), with the endemic Heaviside’s dolphin also topping the list. On occasion, Gray and Pygmy Right whales also make their presence known.
We’re incredibly particular about recommending responsible whale-watching operators across Africa who maintain safe distances from pods. If you’d like to add a marine experience to your safari, get in touch with our team here.