Whales on Tour in Panama


The largest whale species inhabit the waters on Panama’s Pacific coast. Humpbacks may be seen close to Panama City around Taboga- Island and further out in the Gulf of Panama off the islands of the Archipelago de las Perlas, making easy day-trips from the capital. Most people who want to see humpbacks during their travel to Panama head to the Azuero Peninsula in the center of the country. From August until October, the species is likely to be seen here in the vicinity of Playa Venao, eighteen miles south of the village of Pedasi or around the off-shore Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge between June and September. In February and March, orcas may be seen here and spotted dolphins and bottlenose dolphins inhabit these waters year-round. Southern Explorations’ relaxing eight-day Luxury Panama tour is based on the Azuero Peninsula.

Further north on the country’s west coast is another Panama whale watching destination. Two national parks are located in the Gulf of Chiriqui, magnificent Coiba National Park, a popular area with diving enthusiasts, and the Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park. Orcas may be seen on the east side of Coiba Island in the Bahia Damas. September and October are good months to observe humpbacks in the Gulf of Chiriqui. Sperm whales also stop here. Other toothed whales may also be seen on the Pacific side of Panama, including beaked whales and the short-finned pilot whale.

On the Caribbean side, in the idyllic region of Bocas del Toro Province of northern Panama is Dolphin Bay (Laguna Boccatorito). It is named for the abundance of southern bottlenose dolphins that inhabit the area. The bay is a day-trip from mainland Panama on the way to Isla Cristobal where the frolicking species surf the bow wave of boats. The species may also be seen in nearby Bastimentos Marine National Park. June and July are the best months for seeing southern bottlenose dolphins here when they seek out the calm waters of the bay and fish-rich mangroves, allowing close-up views. Atlantic spotted dolphins and tucuxi dolphins also stop here in their travel to Panama. Three of Southern Explorations’ Panama trips visit Bocas del Toro: The eight-day Panama Adventure Tour and Coast to Coast trips and the eleven-day Panama Highlights trip.

To help Panama develop its whale watching industry in an orderly, controlled fashion for the protection of whales, the Tommy Guardia National Geographical Institute, headquartered in Panama City, is spearheading an ambitious effort to map whales. Using satellite technology, the map would allow visitors on Panama tours as well as scientists who hope to encounter whales and fishing operations that wish to avoid them to identify their location throughout Latin America. Proposed in 2010, the tagging of whales is underway for this mammoth undertaking.