Last updated: March 23rd, 2020
I can honestly say that I never once imagined going whale watching in the province of Quebec. That’s not because I don’t like Quebec. I do! It’s because I didn’t realize that whale watching was a possibility. It turns out that the St. Lawrence River is connected to the ocean, which brings all sorts of whales to the region.
In fact, Tadoussac is one of the best places in Canada to spot whales. We’ve been whale watching in Tadoussac a couple of times now, first in 2013, and then again in 2017 during our 150-day road trip across Canada. While whales can be seen year-round, there are times when they are much more abundant. In this Tadoussac whale watching guide, we’ll give you all the info you need to know to have the best trip possible.
Where it Tadoussac?
Tadoussac is a small village in Quebec, at the confluence of the Saguenay and Saint Lawrence Rivers. It has a long history with both Indigenous tribes and European settlers. In fact, the Indigenous Innu called the place Totouskak. It’s located in Innu territory but was also visited quite often by the Mi’kmaq people in the second half of the 16th century. The Europeans first arrived in 1535 and the first trading post in Canada was formed in Tadoussac in 1599.
These days, it’s a popular tourist town, thanks both in part to the charming town and the fact that it’s one of the best places in Canada for whale watching. It’s also just 3-hours north from Quebec City and is close to the Ferry that takes you over to New Brunswick.
How to Get to Tadoussac
There are many ways of getting to Tadoussac, with the simplest option being with your own car or tour.
Getting to Tadoussac by Car
If you have a car, it’s an easy and scenic drive from Quebec City. All you need to do is head north on Highway 138 for approximately 215 kilometres. Along the way, you’ll also cross the Saguenay River from Saint-Siméon by ferry, which is free of charge and takes around 5-minutes.
If you’re coming from New Brunswick or Rivière-du-Loup, you can also cross the St. Lawrence by ferry, rather than drive all the way down to Quebec City and back up to Tadoussac. The ferry ride is quite beautiful.
Getting to Tadoussac by Bus
There is one bus, the Intercar 414, which leaves from Motel Restaurant Chantmartin once daily from Quebec City. You can even arrive on the bus from Montreal, which equates to a long 7-hour trip. Since the bus can change, we recommend checking out Busbud for up-to-date information.
Getting to Tadoussac by Tour
Due to the popularity of tourism in both Quebec City and Tadoussac, there are opportunities to take a tour right from the city. In fact, one of the main cruise companies – AML Cruises – offers boat trips in Quebec City as well.
Tadoussac Whale Watching
Tadoussac is known as one of the best places in the world for whale watching. In fact, a dozen whale species visit the Lower Estuary and many passengers often see 2-3 marine mammal species during a tour. Some species are more abundant than others and there are certain times of the year to have the best chance of spotting certain species. From May to October, for example, you’ll have a better chance of seeing minke whales, humpback whales, fin whales, and blue whales. The Beluga whale, however, can often be seen year-round.
Types of Whale Watching Cruises
When it comes to Tadoussac whale watching, there are a variety of different ways to go on a whale-watching cruise.
Big Boat: For maximum comfort, you’ll want to opt for the “big boat” option. In Tadoussac, this is called the AML Grand Fleuve. It can fit up to 689 passengers. There are multiple floors, lots of seating, and even an on-board bar. This boat is the most comfortable by far, but must stay further away from the whales than the smaller boats.
Zodiac: These small boats are both fast and agile. They can fit anywhere from 24 – 60 passengers and can get much closer to the whales due to their small size. A Zodiac looks like an inflatable boat but is very stable. However, they are not as comfortable as the big boats.
Kayak: For those seeking maximum adventure and don’t mind the exercise that goes along with it, you can also go kayaking with the whales. These tours are typically 2.5 hours in length and take place in double kayaks along with a professional guide. For even more adventure, some companies offer 2-4 day trips as well.
Our first Tadoussac Whale Watching Trip in 2013
We happened to be in Quebec for my 29th birthday and were thinking of things to do in Quebec City. On the day before my birthday, my family and I went strolling around the old city of Quebec, drinking amazing mochas, standing in front of incredible wall murals, eating delicious pizza and tomato garlic soup, and even watching a free outdoor Cirque Du Soleil show. Walking around the old walled city is always a great thing to do. But once we were back at the hotel, Karla mentioned that my birthday was the next morning and wanted to do something special for it. As we began to muster up ideas, she mentioned that when she was in Quebec seven years prior, she had gone on a Tadoussac whale watching tour to see Humpback Whales.
“Really? In Quebec?” I said.
I literally had no idea that whales came up the St.Lawrence Seaway, but it turns out, lots of them do!
I got on the phone and called up AML Cruises and booked us in for their Zodiac Expedition, which is pegged as the ultimate three-hour Tadoussac whale watching tour in a zodiac boat. Even better, my family paid for it!
July 31st came quick. I was now 29 years old. Thank you for the applause. The only unfortunate part was that I had to wake up very early and I was very tired. We had a three-hour drive ahead of us to make it Tadoussac in time for the tour. I grabbed an absolutely delicious Mocha (for some reason, mochas are amazing in Quebec) from the hotel’s on-site cafe and jumped in the vehicle.
Three hours later, we were crossing the free 5-minute ferry to the beautiful little town of Tadoussac. We were in a rush, unfortunately, so we had little time to actually check out the town. We did make it time for the tour though, which is the most important part. We then slid into the provided warm suits, threw over a life-jacket, and got ready for some action-packed fun and excitement.
For those who don’t know what a zodiac boat is, it’s basically a giant raft filled with air. They are very fast and can turn very quickly, and are quite difficult to tip. They basically hover over the water and allow you to get much closer to the whales than a big boat would. This came in handy because the first Humpback Whale was marvellous. A big dark lump rising out of the water with a big blow of water launching into the air. Then, as if he was putting on a show, the giant tale whipped out of the water and softly entered back in. It was amazing to see such a massive and majestic creature so close. The whale must have been 150-feet or so from the boat. Maybe closer. It was like watching one of those Planet Earth movies except it was real life.
Now I wanted to see more.
Thankfully, my birthday wishes were answered.
We must have seen about 12 Humpback whales that day. Fins to the right of me, tails to the left (get it?). The excitement didn’t stop. Even when the whales weren’t giving us a show, the captain would be driving at very fast speeds and would suddenly make a sharp turn, pushing the boat on its side. Perhaps it was a little scary for some people but a lot of fun at the same time. As I said, these boats don’t tip easily.
After watching whale after whale, we went into a quiet little cove to see some of the big seals that were tanning in the sun. We were also lucky enough to see a beluga whale! I had never seen one of these stunning creatures in the wild before and although it was far away, it was a perfect way to end an incredible day. (update: we’ve now been snorkelling with Beluga whales in Churchill, Manitoba).
After spending about half an hour in the quiet cove, the captain brought us back to shore…but not before trying to make us tip over again. Three hours was a long time on the water but the time goes by so fast when you’re seeing so much action. I wish we could have stayed longer.
Whale Watching Quebec City
If you’re ever around Quebec City, I HIGHLY recommend Tadoussac whale watching if it’s whale watching season. You won’t regret it. If there are whales, you’ll see them from any boat but I’d recommend getting in a Zodiac if you want to get as close as possible.
From Québec City, you have a choice of four different options for seeing whales in Saguenay–St. Lawrence Marine Park:
- If you have a car, all you need to do is drive up to Tadoussac and take a whale watching tour. Of course, you’ll want to book in advance.
- You could also take the Bus-Whale Express Zodiac Package, which will allow you to enjoy the beautiful landscapes of Charlevoix by bus before jumping in a Zodiac boat for an exciting experience with the whales! Prices starting around $144.99 per person.
- For more comfort, you could also take the Bus-Whale Express Package, which offers the same experience, but instead of a zodiac, you do the tour from one of the best whale watching ships in Canada. Pricing starting at $139.99 per person.
- When price no longer matters, you can also take the Helicopter Whale Watching Adventure for a full day of high-flying fun. First, you’ll hop on a helicopter in Québec City for an incredible view of all the breathtaking scenery from Québec City to Charlevoix and the marine park before touching down for a cruise aboard the AML Levant. This time you’ll also get the comfort of the VIP Lounge. Prices start at $899.99 per person.
Best Places for Whale Watching
Canada is home to the best whale watching in the world. After all, we’re connected to three oceans! We’ve now personally experienced whale watching Vancouver, whale watching Vancouver Island (Port Renfrew), and whale watching Newfoundland. Each is beautiful in different ways and each presents a variety of wildlife. Killer whale watching is best seen from the west coast. Whale watching Quebec is a great way to see Humpback whales without travelling to the far east or west. The most common Tadoussac whales are Humpbacks but there are many more you might see as well. Newfoundland is also great for humpback whale watching and you can also see the incredibly cute puffins if you go Bay Bulls, Newfoundland
Where to Stay in Tadoussac Canada
There are a variety of Tadoussac hotels but if they’re full, there are other small communities around. Tadoussac accommodation can be hard to find and/or expensive in the busy summer months, so if that doesn’t work out, another option is to stay in Quebec City, which is three hours away.
Some popular options include:
Budget: For those on a budget looking to stay right in Tadoussac, you might want to check out Hotel Le Pionnier.
Luxury: There are no luxury hotels in the area. For this, you’ll want to go to Quebec City and stay at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac.
Camping Tadoussac: For those with a tent or RV, there are also camping options in and around Tadoussac. The closest option is the Tadoussac campground.
Things to Do in Quebec
For more on what to do in Quebec, check out these articles below:
- Things to Do in Quebec
- Things to Do in Montreal
- Things to Do in Ottawa
- Things to Do in Quebec City in Winter
- Quebec’s Winter Carnival
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