In addition to exploring Panama’s pristine beaches and lush jungle trails, make sure to allow time to experience the diverse marine life Panama has to offer on a whale watching Panama tour. While the forests of Panama are teeming with unique wildlife, the country’s breathtaking oceans also hold extraordinary creatures to spot during your trip.

One of the most magical encounters Panama holds is the sighting of the one of the sea’s largest mammals, the humpback whale. These whales migrate to Panama every year, escaping cold northern or southern waters to mate or give birth.

Humpback whales can grow to about 50 feet (15 meters) long and weigh around 40 tons! As mammals, the whales have to come to the water’s surface about once every 40 minutes to breathe, giving you the opportunity to see them.

While there are many places along the Panamanian Pacific coast where you may be able to catch a glimpse of these powerful creatures, we recommend heading to the Pearl Islands, Taboga Island, Otoque Island, or Coiba Island for your best chance to see them. Make sure you plan your whale watching Panama adventure between the months of July and October, as this is the peak season to see humpback whales.

The combination of this majestic mammal and the crystal-clear waters of Panama’s oceans is sure to be a highlight of your trip. Read on to discover the best whale-sighting spots as well as how to get to each place.

Whale Watching Panama: Pearl Islands

The Pearl Islands Panama, or the Islas Perlas, is the perfect place to start your adventure to see the humpback whales of Panama. Located just 30 miles (48 km) off Panama’s Pacific Coast, the Pearl Islands Archipelago includes over 200 islands that got their name because a Spaniard discovered pearls there in the 1500s.

Today, a majority of the islands are uninhabited with a few exceptions that welcome locals and tourists alike to experience their natural beauty and enjoy a chance to see whales in their nearby seas.

While the Pearl Islands are still relatively unheard of to most travelers, the main island of Contadora is completely set up with hotels, restaurants, and tours. The island that once hosted the popular show “Survivor” is now a spot to explore seven white-sand beaches and observe a variety of wildlife, including humpback whales, sea turtles, dolphins, and more.

How to Get to the Pearl Islands
The companies Sea Las Perlas and Ferry Las Perlas provide daily ferry services from Panama City to Contadora Island for $90.00 and $95.00 USD, respectively, for an adult, round-trip ticket. Air Panama also recently began flying from Panama City to Contadora Island for around $140.00 round-trip.

If you are looking for a tour to take you straight from Panama City to Contadora Island, enjoying whale watching on both the departing and return boat rides, we recommend this two-day whale watching Panama trip. You’ll be able to explore the beaches of Contadora Island and nearby islands and see female whales with their young. The tour even picks you up from your hotel in the city.

If you have less time for whale watching, this half-day trip allows you to see humpback whales and stops for lunch at Contadora Island, where you can also enjoy the sandy beaches.

Taboga Island and Otoque Island

Another option for seeing whales is near Taboga Island and Otoque Island. The channel between these islands is known as one of the many paths humpback whales take during their migration journey. The two islands are surrounded by a multitude of much smaller islands, partially inhabited by locals.

How to Get to Taboga Island and Otoque Island
The Taboga Express Fast Ferry operates daily from the Balboa Yacht Club of Panama City. The ferry carries passengers to Taboga’s beach, one of the closest beaches to Panama City. Otherwise, you can book a tour to reach the more exclusive islands near Taboga.

A tour to these islands is perfect if you are looking to escape the crowds of Panama City and spend time in a more private area, where you will have the beaches and crystal water of the islands to yourself.

This day tour from Panama City is a phenomenal opportunity to see humpback whales. The boat leaves directly from Panama City and takes you near Taboga and Otoque Islands to Estiva Island, where dolphins are often spotted in addition to whales.

Coiba Island (Isla Coiba)

One of our favorite places to see humpback whales is in Coiba National Park. Located in the Gulf of Chiriqui, off the Pacific coast of western Panama, Coiba Island is the largest island in all of Central America. It contains a marine reserve that protects the natural resources and animals of the island. Surrounding the area are 38 other islands that boast some of the clearest waters and whitest sand in all of Panama.

Luckily enough, Coiba Island is one of the only places in the world to which humpback whales migrate from both the northern and southern hemispheres. Because of this, you can see whales in the area as early as February, although experts recommend waiting until June for the best opportunity to see multiple whales.

How to Get to Coiba Island
In order to get to Coiba Island and its surrounding waters, you must be accompanied by someone that has a permit from the National Authority for the Environment, since the island is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Because of this, most visitors book tours to experience the wildlife of the area. The only accomodation on Coiba Island is a ranger station that offers modest two-room cabins.

Because of this exclusivity, we recommend booking this local tour that runs from June to November. With a tour, you’ll have the best chance of seeing humpback whales alongside other sea creatures. Our tour also allows you to explore the national park, the neighboring town of Santa Catalina, and two beautiful beaches in the area: Playa Blanco and Playa Arrimadero. You’ll enjoy the opportunity to see a variety of dazzling natural attractions in one day.

Whale Watching Panama - Where to See Humpback Whales

Regardless of which islands you choose, humpback whales are an astounding sight to see roaming throughout the ocean. For ideas on how to visit other islands in Panama, check out our other blog posts about Bocas del Toro and Isla de Cañas.