You don’t need to hire a boat or go on an expensive trip to watch whales in Uruguay. Between June and November you can watch them close-up from the beach itself. Between June and November southern right whales (known in Spanish as ballenas francas) visit the coast of Uruguay to breed in the warmer waters.
Watch them from beaches all along the coast of Maldonado and Rocha, particularly where the water is deep and so whales get really close to the coast (check out this amazing video where you really see the proximity). It is an incredible privilege to be able to sit on the beach and just watch whales playing only tens of meters away.
Five best places to whale-watch in Uruguay
There are a bunch of beaches and viewing points throughout Maldonado and Rocha but you double your chance at:
- Punta Colorada and Punta Negra (two beaches near Piriapolis)
- Playa Mansa, Punta del Este between Paradas 23 and 40 (watch this video of a whale filmed from the air by a drone close to Parada 23)
- Punta Salinas, Punta del Este
- The bay at La Paloma
- La Pedrera
A citizen group on Facebook posts information about whale and other sea mammal sightings as they happen. It’s an excellent source of information. You will need to practice your Spanish 🙂
The map below shows beaches in Maldonado and Rocha (blue circles) where it is possible to view whales. Several viewing platforms (torres de observacion) marked in red on the map. The platforms are free to use, and unattended.
The law in Uruguay says that you need to keep at least 300 metres (that’s about one thousand feet) between yourself and a whale. So that means that potentially-harmful tourism ventures using small boats to trail the whales are not allowed.
So save yourself an expensive trip to Patagonia, watch the whales for free and feel great that your viewing is completely unobtrusive to them.
And make sure you bring binoculars.
Whale-watching season in Uruguay
Most sources I have consulted say between July and November. However, someone who lives in Punta del Diablo has told me that they have seen whales during the month of June. So, if you want to improve your odds, come between August and November, but from June you may get lucky.
How to spot whales
The best times to observe are the early hours of the morning and late in the day, when the waters are calm.
Look out for:
- flocks of gulls circling – they hover above submerged whales
- churning water
- spray – the whale shooting water through its blow hole (don’t expect it to necessarily form a “v” shape – you read too many comics)
- glistening in the water – the reflection of the whale’s back.
These handy tips provided by Descubriendo Uruguay. The page is in Spanish but you should check it out for photos of what you might observe.
Essential resource for whale and dolphin watchers in Uruguay
Red de Avistaje is a citizen watchers network which posts information on whale and other sea mammal sightings as they happen. Facebook group in Spanish.
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