While preparing our first trip to Quebec, my husband and I quickly discovered the possibility of taking a boat tour on the St. Lawrence River and having the opportunity to observe whales. This unique experience seduced us and we planned a detour to Tadoussac just for this activity.
Are you thinking of doing the same? Discover our experience.
An unforgettable experience on the St. Lawrence: the whale-watching cruise
The St. Lawrence River is known for its estuary which is the largest in the world. Up to 40-60km wide and 300 m deep, it is already 20 km wide at Tadoussac. The fresh water of the river mixes with the salt water of the ocean, and many marine animals can be found there.
If you come for the first time in Quebec, I strongly advise you to come and admire the whales during a cruise. This is one of the must-do activities in Canada.
Where to go for a whale-watching cruise in Quebec?
It is possible to take a whale-watching cruise from several cities in Quebec. The two most famous places for this activity are Tadoussac and Baie Sainte-Catherine, both only separated by the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord and linked by a ferry.
Located 3 hours north of Quebec City, Tadoussac is a small village very popular with tourists. In addition to the magnificent landscapes from the bay and the charm of the place, Tadoussac is the privileged place for whale watching on board a boat.
If you don’t plan to go directly to Tadoussac, you can opt for an excursion from Montreal, Quebec or Charlevoix. With my husband, we preferred to rent a car and take a road trip from Montreal to Tadoussac with a detour to Lac Saint-Jean, Saguenay, Chicoutimi…
What is the best time to observe whales in Tadoussac?
The best period for whale watching in Quebec is from May to October. Indeed, most of them are migratory and are present in the St. Lawrence Estuary during this period. You can therefore take advantage of the good weather to organize your trip by boat or zodiac.
In May, all the migratory species have not yet arrived, but there are often fewer tourists. Summer is ideal because the weather is often better for whale watching. But don’t neglect the off-season with the month of September which offers beautiful days and the presence of many whale and dolphin species.
What species of whales can we expect to see in Quebec?
It is possible to observe 13 different species of cetaceans in the waters of the St. Lawrence River, the best known of which are the beluga, the fin whale, the minke whale and the blue whale.
During your excursion, you will not be able to see all these marine mammals, but it will certainly be easy to admire 2 or 3 different species. Beluga whales are the only ones that live in the estuary all year, so they can be seen almost every day.
What type of cruise to choose to discover the whales?
We chose the company AML Cruises with which it is possible to choose between a zodiac tour or a larger boat.
The choice is made according to your expectations. The zodiac will allow you to experience the water and the waves as closely as possible, while the larger boats will provide you with more comfort.
Please note that boarding a zodiac is not allowed for certain people: children under six years old, pregnant women, people with specific health problems (especially those related to back, joints, anxiety…).
What is the price for an AML cruise to see whales?
We paid about 100 Canadian dollars per adult for a 2.5-hour zodiac excursion, taxes and all expenses included.
Review: my whale-watching cruise in Tadoussac
Buying tickets at Croisières AML
We booked our tickets for the cruise well in advance when we planned our stay.
Reserving tickets is very easy on the Croisières AML website. You just must choose the type of cruise you want and then follow the forms to indicate the number of people, the date and the place of departure. Payment is made by credit card.
You can also find AML Cruises tickets on GetYourGuide, which offers other possible means of payment (including Paypal) as well as the possibility of canceling your reservation free of charge in case of unforeseen circumstances.
The organization of the cruise
We went to the place at the time indicated in our reservation. We were each given a pair of pants and a protective jacket. The staff is friendly, pleasant.
Once all the passengers were ready, we were escorted to the boat and boarded. It is good to arrive in the first ones to the boat to take the seats in the front to see better. But these are also the seats where you are most likely to get drenched when there are waves.
On the way back, we gave back our equipment and enjoy a hot drink.
The cruise and the whales
The cruise took place with a naturalist guide who commented on the excursion. She showed us the animals, and she also told us to tell her when we saw some because, obviously, she could not see everything. The different boats of the cruise company communicated with each other to indicate where cetaceans were visible.
The beluga, a species of whale very present in the bay of Tadoussac, recognizable by its characteristic hump, had been seen several times during the morning cruises. Naturalists are used to seeing them every day, and less so the rorquals. We escaped the rule, did not see any belugas but several whales.
We were able to observe many times minke whales and large whales. We could see them passing with their fins. Each time, the captain was trying to get as close as possible to the animals, without disturbing them. Any boat must keep a distance of at least 200 meters from a whale.
We also saw some seals, in the middle of the water or on the shore. On the way back, the zodiac entered the Saguenay Fjord.
We still have great memories of this zodiac cruise. We enjoyed the discovery of the zodiac, which was a first for us, as much as what we saw. Whether it was the landscapes or the animals, we were amazed!
In addition, Tadoussac is a charming little town. It is not a place where you can spend 10 days full of activities, but a two-day stay with a cruise is perfect.
My advice for a successful experience
Here are some tips to follow if you decide to go on a whale-watching cruise by zodiac:
- Bring warm clothes: closed shoes, pants, long t-shirt, gloves…
- Bring sun cream and sunglasses. If the sea air is fresh, the sun is not less strong. I took beautiful colors while it was not more than 15°C in May!
- Don’t forget your camera! I myself regretted taking only my old phone to take my pictures on board the zodiac. If you hold it well and keep it away from the shore when the boat goes faster and there are more waves, it is safe.