Whales of the Côte Nord: what you need to know to get the best experience
We are often tempted to go in search of grandiose adventures on the other side of the planet when some of the best experiences can be had just a few hours from home!
Did you know that the Côte-Nord is one of the best places to go whale watching in the world? Tourists come from all over to discover this magical landscape and its marine giants. There are more than a dozen species of whales in Quebec and taking a whale watching tour is the best way to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
The Côte Nord, an ideal environment
The region is home to the St. Lawrence Estuary and the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, which are teeming with plankton and small fish that attract :
- the minke whale,
- the fin whale,
- the humpback whale,
- the blue whale, the beluga,
- the common seal,
- porpoise and other species.
Large whales pursue their prey in the deep, rich waters of the Laurentian Channel, which runs along much of the coast. Cold water from the depths of the Laurentian Channel is brought to the surface by the underwater terrain, pushing up plankton and fish by the thousands and attracting large marine mammals close to shore.
Whale watching period
The 13 species of whales that frequent the waters of the St. Lawrence are mainly present from August to October, but they can also be spotted in May. For maximum viewing of animals, plan a stay between July and the end of September.
By regular or inflatable boat?
Cruise operators offering whale watching trips normally offer two options: a touring boat or a motorized inflatable boat. Each trip lasts between 2 to 3 hours. The choice is yours and depends entirely on your preference and your seaworthiness! However, some companies do not allow young children to board a motorized inflatable. For families, the bigger boat is the safest option.
The larger boats are more stable and offer bathrooms and protection in case of rain. The guide’s comments are also easier to hear.
The experience is more intense in a motorized inflatable since you are almost at sea level. You can see clearly in all directions and move faster to see the whales.
What about from shore?
It is also possible to observe certain species of whales such as belugas and minkes without taking a boat.
The best places to see these marine animals in Tadoussac are:
- Pointe-Noire (Baie-Sainte-Catherine) and Pointe-de-l’Islet (Tadoussac) at the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord,
- Tadoussac Bay and the top of the Tadoussac dunes (Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park),
- as well as the mouth of the Sainte-Marguerite River (Fjord-du-Saguenay National Park).
Where to sleep
Tip: book your hotel early! Accommodations in and around Tadoussac fill up fast. At the time of writing in April, there was nothing left in Tadoussac for mid-August but options were still available within a few minute’s drive.
The Tourisme Côte-Nord website lists the accommodations offered throughout the region. Cabins, domes, chalets, yurts, hotels, inns, camping … the choices are endless.
Which cruise line to choose
Several options are available, and prices vary considerably from one company to another, depending on the company’s starting point and reputation. Here are the three most popular options, according to our research. Note that some offer a whale guarantee, meaning that you will be reimbursed if you do not see any!
Croisières AML – departs from Baie-Ste-Catherine or Tadoussac
Price: $100 per adult/$85 per child (+ taxes)
Essipit Cruises – departs from Bergeronnes Marina
Price: $62 per adult/$42 per child (+ taxes)
Escoumins cruise – departs from the Escoumins wharf
Price: $59 per adult/$39 per child (+ taxes)
You’ll be able to apply your rewards points to your credit card statement if you (and your wallet!) are so inclined to reimburse expenses.
Which credit card should I use?
For this trip to the North Coast, some credit cards can help you reduce your gas bill and why not use gift cards!
For example, the American Express Cobalt® Card earns 5 points for grocery store purchases and 2 points at the gas station. You can buy Esso and Petro Canada gift cards and use them to pay for gas.
The same applies to the Scotia Momentum® VISA Infinite* card.
Finally, combine the gas station’s loyalty program with your credit card. For example, CIBC offers discounts on gasoline at Ultramar with its Journie program.
With its breath-taking landscapes, its dozen of species of marine animals, its immense marine park and its experienced cruisers, the St. Lawrence River is the ideal destination for an unforgettable experience: an encounter with the giants of the sea. No need to go to the other side of the world when you have such an incredible show in your backyard!