Best Sea Kayaking Destinations for Whale Watching and Wildlife Viewing

It’s hard to argue that kayaking is one of the most pleasurable ways of viewing wildlife, accompanied only by the sound of your paddle breaking the water’s surface. It offers the unique opportunity to be at one with the animals you are observing, whether it’s a sea lion basking on a sun-drenched rock, a seabird nesting in the cliffs, or a whale breaching in the surrounding water.

Under your own steam, you can follow your curiosity and pause to observe whenever you please, without the restrictions of being on a cruise. Kayaking is also a responsible and ethical way to observe creatures in their natural habitat, away from the noise of an engine or the flurry of dozens of people firing their cameras at once.

If wildlife watching is high on your list of vacation activities, there are a few destinations that should be added to your bucket list, all of which are ideally explored by kayak. In this article, we’ll introduce 6 of the best and how to make it happen. Whether you want to get up close to beluga whales, come face-to-face with Antarctic penguins, or explore the tropical waterways of Cuba, these wildlife viewing experiences are not to be missed.


Group of sea kayakers paddling in front of an Orca whale as they look behind them to photograph the whale


1. British Columbia

British Columbia is home to one of the best places in the world for kayaking with orcas, Johnstone Strait. This 68-mile-long channel on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island attracts more than 200 killer whales each summer to feast on the abundance of salmon that congregate here.

In addition to orcas, humpback whales, porpoises, seals and sea lions also frequent the sheltered waters, making it a must-visit destination for wildlife enthusiasts. The forested shoreline attracts a huge diversity of seabirds and bald eagles can often be seen perched high up in the tall trees.

Kayaking is one of the most rewarding ways of exploring Johnstone Strait, with the calm waters ideal for paddling. Our British Columbia kayaking trips include camping directly on the shoreline beneath impressive clumps of cedar, spruce, and fir trees. If you prefer a lodge-based experience, we also offer kayaking tours based at God’s Pocket Resort, which most certainly lives up to its name.


Two sea kayakers standing on the shore in life jackets looking at a turtle swimming to shore in the Galapagos Islands


2. Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands has a reputation that precedes itself when it comes to wildlife watching, with the archipelago’s isolation from the rest of the world resulting in unique species found nowhere else. Sea lions and fur seals can be seen basking in the sunshine on the island’s stunning beaches while orcas, Bryde’s and sperm whales are visitors throughout the year. For birders, the Galapagos Islands offers up experiences that are second to none, with blue-footed boobies seen displaying their brightly colored feet and frigatebirds inflating their giant red gular sacs to attract mates.

Sea Kayak Adventures is proud to be the only kayaking operation in the Galapagos Islands that offers beach camping, ensuring a truly unique experience. Slowly paddling around the islands allows for up-close encounters with curious iguanas and Galapagos penguins that just can’t be replicated by boat. As the sun is rising in the early morning and setting at the end of the day, you will have the islands largely to yourself, except (of course) for the resident wildlife.


Person in a single red sea kayak paddling towards a flock of pink flamingos flying in Cuba


3. Cuba

When you think of Cuba, it might not be wildlife experiences that first come to mind. But this vibrant Caribbean Island is teeming with animals, almost 80% of which are endemic to the island.

In addition to shy hutias that live high up in the treetops and burrowing solenodons (believed extinct until a few years ago), you may encounter Cuban rock iguanas and the largest snake in the West Indies, the Cuban boa. In the swamplands of Zapata, endangered Cuban crocodiles roam, together with some of the island’s more than 350 recorded bird species. Sea turtles, porpoises, and dolphins patrol the surrounding waters, as does the West Indian manatee.

Our lodge-based kayaking adventures in Cuba are the perfect mix of exploration, once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters, and insights into the island’s fun-loving culture. Typical days include a few hours of paddling and people-to-people exchanges to learn about life in this unique corner of the globe. Staying at locally-run bed and breakfasts, these trips are an opportunity to discover what makes this island tick while supporting everyday Cubans.


Humpback whale breaching the surface of the water covered in ice pieces in Antarctica


4. Antarctica

At the top of many travel bucket lists is Antarctica - that great southern land of glistening icebergs and wildlife encounters that can’t be experienced anywhere else on Earth. The continent’s remote setting and extreme temperatures haven’t deterred a staggering array of wildlife from thriving here, including emperor penguins, leopard seals, and migratory sea birds.

Seven different species of whales are found in Antarctica, including humpback, killer, and blue whales. Crabeater, Weddell and Antarctica fur seals can be observed basking on the rocky shorelines while albatrosses are regularly seen soaring through the skies above.

Travel with us across the Drake Passage and past the wildlife-filled Shetland Islands for an immersive kayaking experience in Antarctica. We offer exclusive opportunities for just 10 paddlers aboard Polar Latitudes expeditions to bear witness to Antarctica’s unique landscapes and wildlife. It’s ideal for those who want to kayak as much as possible while also enjoying the benefits of zodiac excursions to scientific stations.


Gray whale swimming away in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California Sur


5. Baja California Sur

With its seemingly-barren mountains plunging into the turquoise waters of the Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur is spectacular, to say the least. It’s slowly being recognized by travelers in the know as one of the best wildlife-viewing destinations in the Americas and there’s no better way to experience its animal abundance than by kayak.

While observing gray whales in their natural habitat is a highlight of any trip, you may also encounter dolphins, sea lions, and even whale sharks in the calm waters off the coast of Loreto. On the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula, we offer kayaking excursions in the protected lagoons where gray whales come to calve and nurse their young.

Our Baja kayaking expeditions include days spent kayaking between idyllic islands and hiking through magnificent desert landscapes before camping on remote beaches. You can snorkel in the crystalline waters, marvel at prehistoric cave paintings and watch the stars shimmering above at night.


People in a tandem yellow kayak admiring a Beluga whale swim right past their kayak in Quebec


6. Quebec

While Quebec is more often associated with its French-speaking culture, this Canadian province is also home to one of North America’s best whale-watching destinations. Glacial-carved Saguenay Fjord is renowned for its steep-walled cliffs and strong currents that attract ghostly white beluga whales while the adjacent St. Lawrence River is known for its sightings of minke, blue, finback, and humpback whales.

Beginning at the western end of the fjord, our Quebec kayaking adventures slowly travel east towards the sea, with the tides bringing in saltwater and feeding belugas. You’ll be surrounded by soaring granite cliffs blanketed in hardwood forests that provide habitat for peregrine falcons and spend your nights either camping under the stars or in comfortable lodge-based accommodation.

Responsibly-run kayaking adventures

All of our whale-watching and wildlife-viewing kayaking trips are run responsibly and ethically, with the well-being and conservation of species at the fore. Run by highly experienced and knowledgeable guides, we follow strict guidelines to ensure that we are never intruding on the animals we are observing or upsetting their natural behaviors. Our trips are a great way of learning about the status of endangered and threatened species and what we can all do to ensure their long-term survival.

More Posts

Person paddling in British Columbia

Evolution of the Sea Kayak Paddle 

Evolution of the Sea Kayak Paddle 

Kayakers without a sturdy paddle are essentially stranded, and the same holds true for our pioneering predecessors. For these seafaring hunters who relied on small, nimble boats to survive in the frigid Arctic, a broken paddle could mean the difference between life and death.

Four Beluga Whales swimming

Creature feature: Beluga whale

Creature feature: Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas)

As the only member of the genus Delphinapterus, the beluga whale is a highly sociable cetacean that is truly one of a kind. It has been nicknamed the “sea canary” for its high-pitched squeaks and whistles, and is the only whale to regularly sport a stunning white coat.