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🐋 The 5 Best Big Island Whale Watching Tours [2023 Reviews]

The Big Island is home to 5 of the State of Hawaii’s 11 Marine Life Conservation Districts. That’s far more than any other island in the Hawaiian Archipelago, demonstrating the importance of the sea life surrounding the Island of Hawaii.

If you are planning a whale watching or dolphin watching excursion in the State of Hawaii, the Big Island is the place to go. With its lower population density and much longer shoreline, it offers the clearest water and the broadest area for whales to gather.

Best Whale Watching Tours on the Big Island

Kailua-Kona: Whale Watching CruiseKona: 1.5-Hour Guaranteed Whale Watching Tour Big Island: Kealakekua Bay, Captain Cook & Marine Life Tour
editors choice
Kailua-Kona: Whale Watching CruiseKona: 1.5-Hour Guaranteed Whale Watching TourBig Island: Kealakekua Bay, Captain Cook & Marine Life Tour
Meeting Point:Honokohau HarborKu’uali’i Pl, Waikoloa VillageHonokohau Marina North Boat Ramps
Starting Times:12:30 PM9:45 AM, 1:45 PM8:00 AM
Duration:2.5 hours1.5 hours4 hours
Includes:Boat cruise, hydrophone speaker, snacks, & beveragesPowerboat cruise, live tour commentary, & beveragesBoat cruise, snorkel equipment, safety talk, snacks, & beverages

Tour Information & Booking

Tour Information & Booking

Tour Information & Booking


Quick Answer: The 5 Best Rated Big Island Whale Watching Tours For 2023

  1. Kailua-Kona: Whale Watching Cruise
  2. Kona: 1.5-Hour Guaranteed Whale Watching Tour
  3. Big Island: Kealakekua Bay, Captain Cook & Marine Life Tour
  4. Kailua Kona: Humpback Whale Watching Adventure Cruise
  5. Big Island: Eco-Friendly Snorkel & Dolphin Watching Tour

Be sure to see our reviews of Big Island helicopter tours, Big Island volcano tours and Big Island snorkel tours.


Big Island Whale & Dolphin Watching Tours Reviews

1. Kailua-Kona: Whale Watching Cruise

Kailua-Kona: Whale Watching Cruise

Tour Highlights at a Glance:

  • Meeting Point: Honokohau Harbor
  • Starting Times: 12:30 PM
  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Includes: Boat cruise, hydrophone speaker, snacks, & beverages

This is the best value Big Island whale watching tour for visitors who want to hear the whales’ song as well as seeing the whales. The expert crew know where to go for the best chances of seeing humpback whales breaching the waves.

Watch the whales shooting water out of their blow holes and slapping their tails on the water. The fitted hydrophone speaker means you’ll have a unique opportunity to listen to the whales singing beneath the boat.

Watch female whales swimming alongside their calves and males competing against one another to win the females’ hearts. The warm waters of the Pacific surrounding the Big Island are a perfect playground for the largest mammals on Earth.

This tour also provides you with wonderful views of Big Island’s shoreline from the ocean. Enjoy the snacks and drinks provided while you listen to whales singing and watch them swim around the boat.

This Hawaii Island whale watching adventure is a memorable experience that will prove to be the highlight of your vacation. Listening to the whale song is the cherry on the top.

More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience


2. Kona: 1.5-Hour Guaranteed Whale Watching Tour

Kona: 1.5-Hour Guaranteed Whale Watching Tour

Tour Highlights at a Glance:

  • Meeting Point: Ku’uali’i Pl, Waikoloa Village
  • Starting Times: 9:45 AM, 1:45 PM
  • Duration: 1.5 hours
  • Includes: Powerboat cruise, live tour commentary, & beverages

This is the best whale watching tour in the Big Island for visitors who are in a hurry to see the whales. You’ll be transported out into the ocean on a powerboat, which means you’ll cover a larger area of the ocean faster and have a better chance of seeing more whales.

This Hawaii Island whale watching excursion zips you through the water off the beautiful northern coastline. You will be accompanied by naturalist guides who are able to educate you about the lifecycle of humpback whales and other marine wildlife you may encounter on this fast-paced tour.

Watch out for the whales beaching the water and swimming alongside their young. Your expert guide will interpret their actions for you, so you end your whale watching adventure knowing much more about whales than you knew before.

Ensure you take along a good quality camera because you’re certain to see some sights you’ll want to remember forever. And you won’t go thirsty on this trip as soda, juice, & water are provided.

More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience


3. Big Island: Kealakekua Bay, Captain Cook & Marine Life Tour

Big Island: Kealakekua Bay, Captain Cook & Marine Life Tour

Tour Highlights at a Glance:

  • Meeting Point: Honokohau Marina North Boat Ramps
  • Starting Times: 8:00 AM
  • Duration: 4 hours
  • Includes: Boat cruise, snorkel equipment, safety talk, snacks, & beverages

This is the best Big Island dolphin watching tour if you want a chance to swim with marine animals in the warm, crystal-clear water of the Pacific Ocean.

During this 4-hour cruise, you’ll explore Kona’s amazing coastline. There are caves and historical sites where legends were created that are still told around Hawaii today.

The highlight of this Hawaii Island dolphin watching excursion is the visit to Kealakekua Bay. There you will snorkel atop the coral reef and experience the colorful tropical marine life.

Don’t worry if you’ve never snorkeled before. The local expert guides will give you a safety briefing, help you with the equipment, and show you what to do.

You will be sailing in a comfortable modern catamaran and will be provided with snacks and beverages. This is a favorite location for Hawaiian spinner dolphins, so look out for them following your boat and playing together in the water around you.

More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience


4. Kailua Kona: Humpback Whale Watching Adventure Cruise

Kailua Kona: Humpback Whale Watching Adventure Cruise

Tour Highlights at a Glance:

  • Meeting Point: Kailua Pier, left side
  • Starting Times: 1:00 PM
  • Duration: 2.5 hours
  • Includes: Powerboat cruise, live tour commentary, hydrophone speaker, sunscreen, snacks, & beverages

This is the best Big Island whale watching tour for visitors who want the whole package. An onboard naturist will teach you about whale behavior and their lifecycle, and a fitted hydrophone speaker enables you to listen to the whales singing beneath the boat.

In the ocean near Kona, you have a good chance of seeing much more than humpback whales. You might also see pilot whales, sperm whales, and spinner dolphins. With a naturist at hand, any questions you have about the local marine life will be answered by an expert.

But it’s the mysterious and eerie sound of whales singing that captures the imagination of most visitors. Your expert guide will explain the sounds and the latest theories about what it all means.

This cruise also provides you with memorable views of the Hawaii Island’s beautiful western coastline from the ocean. Any visit to Hawaii isn’t complete without a boat trip out into the Pacific.

More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience


5. Big Island: Eco-Friendly Snorkel & Dolphin Watching Tour

Big Island: Eco-Friendly Snorkel & Dolphin Watching Tour

Tour Highlights at a Glance:

  • Meeting Point: Ilima Court, Kaahumanu Pl, Kailua-Kona
  • Starting Times: 8:00 AM
  • Duration: 4.5 hours
  • Includes: Boat cruise, snorkel equipment, safety talk, water slide, high dive, water toys including SUP, breakfast, lunch, beverages, & sunscreen

This is the best Big Island dolphin watching tour for people who enjoy having fun in the water. Not only will snorkel equipment be provided, but there’s also a 20-foot waterslide, a 15-foot high dive built into the boat, and a selection of water toys to play with.

The boat is a modern luxury vessel with high-quality facilities. A spacious shaded cabin with comfortable seats is available if you want to stay out of the sun awhile. There’s also a bar and freshwater showers below deck.

Your cruise begins with a leisurely breakfast as you cruise 10 miles along the Kona Coast to your destination – the Red Hill marine sanctuary. While eating, you can admire the beautiful western coastline of Hawaii Island.

Once at the sanctuary, you have 2 hours to enjoy snorkeling along the coral reef and admire the colorful marine wildlife. There are over 600 species of tropical marine creatures to observe.

Snorkeling equipment is provided, and you have up to 2 hours to explore the coral reefs and underwater topography. Don’t worry if you have no previous snorkeling experience. The experienced and qualified crew run a Snorkel 101 Class.

For those who don’t wish to snorkel, there are a variety of flotation toys available to give you confidence as you explore the sanctuary. Also, the crew are trained lifeguards, so your safety is assured.

One flotation toy you’ll love is the Sea View Board. This is a device that provides you with a clear view into the crystal-clear water. You can view the corals without getting your face wet or irritating your eyes.

More Information & Tour Booking

100% refund for cancellations within 24 hours of tour experience


Tips For Whale Watching on the Big Island

Best Whale Watching Tours on the Big Island

Dress in Layers

Even if you feel like it’s hot, it’s not the same once you get out on the water. The open-air ocean can get really windy and chilly.

However, you don’t want to go full-on parka mode. We recommend wearing layers so you can add or subtract as you go. It’s always a good idea to have waterproof outer layers as sometimes water may make its way on board.

Be Patient

Whales have down times of close to 10 minutes, so if you don’t immediately see them, don’t feel discouraged. If you do see a whale and it disappears, make note of which direction it was swimming when you saw it and follow your line of sight in that direction. This is where a pair of binoculars comes in handy.

Choose a Viewing Site

Choose a viewing site and stay there. Moving around usually doesn’t increase your odds of spotting a whale. When it doubt, however, the captain and crew will help point them out to you. Many tours have onboard naturalists are a great resource to have. They are experts in the nature and habits of whales and are great at spotting them.

Listen to the Guide

Your guide is an expert in whale behavior and can offer valuable insights on where to look and what to expect. Listen carefully to their instructions for your best chance to see the whales.

Tips on Photographing Whales

Tips on Photographing Whales

These gentle giants of the ocean are some of the most amazing creatures on the planet. Capturing them in a photograph can be a challenge, but capturing the perfect photo can be truly breathtaking. Here are five tips on how to take great pictures of whales that will help you get the perfect shot!

  • Bring the right equipment: First, you’ll need the right equipment. A high-quality DSLR camera with a zoom lens is essential, as whales will be some distance away. A polarizing filter will be useful for reducing glare and improving the color of the water.
  • Look for activity: Once you’re out on the water, keep an eye out for any signs of whale activity. Look for spouts of water or the movement of fins and tails. Be patient and don’t be afraid to wait for the perfect shot.
  • Keep your distance: Your captain will not be able to get too close unless you are doing a private tour. Whales are wild animals and it’s important to respect their space. Use your zoom lens to get as close as possible without disturbing the whales.
  • Frame your picture: When taking your shot, try to capture the whale’s unique characteristics and behavior. Are they breaching, diving, or playing? These moments are what make each photo unique and special.
  • Experiment: Finally, don’t be afraid to try taking pictures with different angles and lighting.

While whales are pretty large, they’re definitely not slow! Video cameras or GoPros can be perfect for tours like this, as you can set them to record the entire time so you don’t miss even a second! If using your phone, we highly recommend setting it to video mode so you see them breaching, or even a fin making an appearance.

You can use the best frames from the videos if you’re more of a photo lover. It’s never a bad idea to take some time away from the lens, though, and just enjoy the moment. Studies say that you actually remember things more clearly if you aren’t taking photos or videos of whatever you’re doing!

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The Kailua-Kona Whale Watching Cruise is our Editor's Choice for the best overall tour for whale watching

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Robert Baker

Robert is a content writer and editor at World Guides to Travel where he shares his love for the great outdoors. He also writes in-depth travel blogs for other websites around the world. Robert is passionate about the environment and uses his writing to educate people about the advantages and importance of sustainable living. Robert enjoys creative writing. In 2009, his children’s novel Sally Hemings & the Good Associates won the Children’s Fiction section of the You Write On Book of the Year Award.
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