When my daughter and I went to Spain, we had a day in Funchal. We enjoyed our day in Portugal dolphin watching on a catamaran, and I can’t recommend it enough. We paid for our excursion, but this post does include affiliate links that earn me a commission if you purchase through them.
Portugal is an amazing country, and Madeira is an absolutely gorgeous coastal area. We had just a single day in Funchal, and spending our time in Portugal dolphin watching was a perfect change for us.
My original fear was that January would be too cold on the water and that we would not see the sea life we wanted to. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
While yes, we wore pants and long sleeves – though my daughter eventually took off her light jacket and was happy in her t-shirt – the sun and surprising lack of wind kept us comfortable. Beyond that, we saw two pods of dolphins. The day before they saw sperm whales and the week before, the trip found pilot whales.
Book your dolphin and whale watching trip with Viator, a TripAdvisor company, for the guaranteed lowest rates.
What to Expect on Your Portugal Dolphin Watching Trip
Make sure you check in the 15 to 3o minutes before your tour as stated on your ticket. They are strict about the cutoff time to ensure the whole trip runs smoothly for everyone.
You meet at the office for the tour then walk less than a minute to the pier where the catamaran is docked. If you show up late, you don’t have time to get to the pier – and two people didn’t show up for our trip.
Aboard the catamaran, you have both indoor and outdoor seating. On the front of the boat, there are comfy flat cushions, which are nice. And yes, you are allowed to sit on the nets, but be aware that you may get sprayed!
As on many boats, you do have access to a head if needed. Just remember to put any paper in the basket instead inside the toilet bowl!
If you choose, you can purchase snacks and drinks during your dolphin and whale watching excursion. Just talk to a crew member. Soda is 2 euro, while a family size Pringles costs 4 euro, for example. They even offer beer for 2.50 euro.
The catamaran leaves on time and heads out past the breakers to look for the sea life. You can relax, however, as the crew scans with binoculars then heads toward any dolphins or whales they spot.
Once you reach the animals, the boat floats near them, but they can stay for only 10 minutes. The government is strict about not stressing out animals (and watches from shore), which ensures the animals keep coming back. If the crew finds a second different pod, you spend an additional ten minutes with those animals.
The dolphins we saw came right up to the boat and swam under and around it repeatedly. They also jumped and played further out, which made for a fantastic experience.
After spending time with animals, the boat heads towards the tip of Madeira and returns to the port along the shore line. The crew provides information about the various sights and highlights, which adds a new dimension to the tour.
While waiting to find sea life, the guides also provided information about species you may see and the differences amongst them. They patiently answer any questions you have both during their presentations and at any other time during the tour.
We loved learning about the natural salt water pools that the ocean fills at each high tide and the impact of recent hurricanes. The guides also shared about the importance of the cultivation of bananas and more.
Once you return, tip the guides and exit the catamaran to continue on your way. The whole tour lasts three hours, and our tour lasted the full promised length.
Our tour happened in January, but in warmer months, the boat also stops in Cabo Girao for a swim. You also have the opportunity in summer to use their complimentary mask to look for sea life underwater – if you choose. You can also choose to stay on the catamaran.
What if We See No Sea Life on Our Portugal Dolphin Watching Trip?
Obviously, the company cannot guarantee animals on this Portugal dolphin watching tour, but they look for dolphins, whales, and turtles. They find whales all year long, while the common dolphin we saw appears during the winter only.
If you don’t find any dolphins, whales, or sea turtles, the company provides you with a voucher for a free return sail. If this happens, rebook immediately to ensure the best availability. They don’t, however, offer refunds.
How Much Does the Portugal Dolphin Watching Trip Cost?
The dolphin and whale watching offers different prices for adults and kids (ages 0-10). They offer tours every day of the week, with up to five trips a day.
Adults generally cost $28.75 and children $14.37, but a few days and times have adults at $34.50 and children at $17.25. Check your specific date for exact prices. For a three hours catamaran tour that includes the information and experiences with the animals, I find this a bargain no matter what!
This also includes free wifi on the boat. That means you can share your pictures and experience real time with family and friends. Or just check your email, but honestly the experience keeps you engrossed and off your phone.
Pick the time that works best for your schedule. Depending on the day, you have options in both the morning and afternoon:
Will I Get Seasick?
It’s possible. You are on a small boat on the water. That said, the dolphin and whale watching stays relatively close to shore where waves are smaller.
The day we sailed, we barely felt the waves. I asked, however, and the crew let me know that the weather has been unusually calm the past few weeks and they can get rougher seas.
If you suffer from seasickness, take your usual precautions. Take your Dramamine if that works for you. My kids prefer sea bands, which use accupressure to prevent seasickness. Yes, they really really work. You can learn more about them in my sea band article.
And if you get seasick on the boat, you won’t be the first. Most people will have no issues.
What Animals Did We See?
As a heads up, the catamaran travels relatively slowly, which helps to not scare the animals. This gives you a more relaxing experience, and the crew has a better chance to spot animals.
We saw two pods of common dolphin, one with just three and the other closer to ten. Both swam right up to the boat, some jumped around.
They all periodically came to the surface – because they have to breathe – that made beautiful photos. My daughter choose to put down her camera and just observe, as she was so mesmerized. It truly is also super fun to watch.
What to Bring on Your Portugal Dolphin Watching Trip
It is a little cooler on the water, especially with the wind so take that into account when planning your dress. A light windbreaker or sweatshirt may keep you more comfortable.
Bring your charged phone or camera to take photos, if you choose. Because you are around water and in warmer months may swim, consider bringing a waterproof case for your phone to protect it.
If you travel in the summer, wear a swimsuit and cover up. You have the option to change in the head, if you choose. In that case, make sure you bring a towel, too – I love to travel with a microfiber towel that dries so quickly and doesn’t take much space.
Are you ready to book your Portugal Dolphin Watching Trip?
If you book this dolphin and whale watching trip through Viator a TripAdvisor Company, they provide a lowest price guarantee. You also can cancel up to 24 hours before the tour with no penalty. Needless to say, this is where I book all my excursions, regardless of where I travel!
Would you rather do something else while in Funchal or Madeira? Viator offers so many different options that you’ll find something fun for anyone! They have over 400 different options for Madeira activities and tours!