The ultimate guide to whale watching in Gran Canarias. the Canary Islands in general are an excellent place for whale watching, one of the best in the world in fact. In this article you will find all the best tips, and information for planning the perfect whale watching outing during your visit to the tropical island of Gran Canaria. … Read More
Spain is well known for a great number of things: the food, the weather, the culture, etc. but Spain is also a natural oasis and is home to some to some of the great nature parks and wildlife reserves in Europe. One of Spain’s greatest natural treasures are the pods of whales and dolphins that inhabit that pass through the Iberian coasts. Over 30 cetacean species live or pass by Spain shores, in the Atlantic, the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean Sea. Whale watching in Spain is something you may want to consider if you are on the right area!
This article will go over where you can find the different species and the best times of the year to find them. Finding these amazing ocean mammals is relatively simple in Spain and it is a much better alternative to see them in their natural habitat than in a marine park. Spain is in fact one of the best if not THE best place in Europe for whale (and dolphin) watching.
Best places in Spain for whale watching
The Canary Islands are located to the south of Spain, off the coast of Morrocco. These Islands are located in an area of the Atlantic Ocean where the cold water from the north meets the warmer tropical waters from the south making it an ideal place to find whales and dolphins. A convergence occurs of species that prefer warmer climates, those that prefer colder waters as well as species that migrate migrate between both climates during the year. Whale watching in the Canary islands has become a popular activity for many of the local tourists that arrive to the islands every year.
30 different species have been identified in the waters of the Canary Islands, making it one of the places with the highest diversity of cetaceans in the world. Puerto Colon in Tenerife alone attracts over 500,000 enthusiasts every year.
Another reason why the Canary Islands are an ideal place for whale watching is the depth of its waters, averaging more than 1,000 meters between islands, at some points reaching 2,500 meters. This makes for a perfect for numerous species of fish that patrol the waters in search of food, inevitably attracting whales and dolphins, in search of sustenance themselves. You will even find sperm whales who come to these waters chasing their favorite prey: giant squid. Sperm whale sightings aren’t very common but the best chance you will have is in Spring, between the islands of Tenerife and La Palma. Groups of up to 6 have been seen in this area at that time of year accompanied by their calves.
The Islands of LA Gomera and Tenerife are the best for whale watching, but if you had to choose between the two, Tenerife takes the top prize. 21 different species have been identified of the coast of Tenerife alone. There are an estimated 500 resident pilot whales in the waters of Tenerife and 250 of bottle-nose dolphins. The southern coast of Tenerife is considered one of the largest breeding areas of this species in Europe. Minke whales are also very common to see as they reach the island chasing shoals of sardines all year long. But you can also enjoy whale watching in Gran Canaria as well as in the other islands.
Tenerife and the Canary islands in general are lucky to have a resident population of both pilot whales and dolphins. This basically implies sightings are guaranteed all year round since there is no dependency on migration movements. During some times of the years the number of species on sight increase. We have all details in our Tenerife whale watching guide.
Another common species that can be found in the Canary Islands and in particular in Tenerife is the Atlantic spotted dolphin that can be seen from autumn to early summer. The common dolphin is also easy to spot but only during the winter months.
Many other species of cetaceans visit the Canary Islands which are harder to find. Killer Whales and false Killer Whales pass through the islands chasing bluefin tuna on their way to the Mediterranean Sea. Humpback whales also visit the during the summer on their way to their breeding grounds in the Cape Verde Islands and foraging into the North Atlantic in summer. One of the most elusive species, the blue whale, has also been seen near the Islands in winter but it is one of the rarest whales to find.
Tarifa is a paradise for people who enjoy surfing in Spain and for visitors who look for kite surfing in Spain from all over the world. The winds from the Atlantic and the long beaches provide excellent conditions for water sports. Fun, easy-going, and very different from the commercial coast of Costa del Sol in Málaga,
The Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet here, at the heart of The Estrecho. Lots of varied sealife gathers here. The tuna fish migration every year brings along hundreds of killer whales in search for an easy hunt. You can witness this from boats that depart from Tarifa! You will be able to find more information on whale watching in Tarifa in this link.
The town of Tarifa is located in the most southerly point of Continental Europe. The only European territories more southern than Tarifa are Cyprus, Malta and the Greek islands of Crete and Gavdos. Tarifa is just 15 km from Morocco, and, on a clear day the African continent is visible from the beach.
This location also makes Tarifa the unofficial kitesurfing capital of Europe. Tarifa’s is also located at the meeting point of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic. This junction creates a unique climate characterized by intense winds. For most of the year, Tarifa experiences strong winds that sweep across the beach: the Levante winds blowing east from Africa, and the Poniente, from the west from the Atlantic. This can be uncomfortable if you just want to lounge around in the sand, but it’s ideal for kite surfing. It is so windy in fact that it is said that the winds can drive people mad if they are not used to the odd climate.
This unique natural setting isn’t only good for kite surfing. The narrow stretch of water that separates Tarifa from north Africa is home to a large population of different whale and dolphin species. Long-finned pilot whales, minke whales, sperm whales and orcas (killer whales) are common in this area. From April to October it is easy to spot different types of whales just off the coast hunting and frolicking. But the real show kicks off in mid-July to mid-September. This is the orcas hunting season, when they patrol the straight searching for schools of tuna heading for the Atlantic.
The people of Tarifa have had a long relationship with these whales, developing a symbiosis with them. In centuries past, fishermen would see the long dorsal fins of the orca and knew they where hunting tuna. The orca pods would push the tuna into the fishermen’s path and the fishermen would would do the same for the orcas. The local fishermen call orcas “Espartel” from y the Spanish word for sword (espada) because the orcas dorsal fin looks like a black sword pointing out of the water. It is very common for fishermen to hook tuna on a line and before they are able to get it on board for the orcas to eat the tuna and leave only the head. This behaviour is unique to the pods of orcas from this area. Young orcas in particular benefit from this strategy since a hooked tuna is a much easier pray to catch.
There are currently at least 3 known pods that call the strait of Gibraltar home and at least 25 different individuals. These 3 families of orcas apparently take turns hunting the area of Tarifa depending on the amount of fish available.
Although whale sightings occur in different parts of the Mediterranean Sea, from the Cape de Creus through Columbretes and Balearic Islands is where you will have the highest chances of finding whales and dolphins in their natural habitat. Tarifa and the straight of Gibraltar in particular are prime places to find one elusive species in particular: killer whales.
From early spring, and especially in the summer months, pods of killer whales arrive to the entrance of the Mediterranean chasing tuna as we mentioned earlier. When they reach the straight and the coast of Tarifa that is the best time to find them. Bluefin tuna can weigh up to 500kg and they head to the Mediterranean after their migration across the Atlantic Ocean, to the same place where they were born, to spawn in June and July in the western and central Mediterranean Sea. As they do so, pods of up to 18 killer whales appear as do local fishermen from Morocco and Spain. These whales need this important food source so that they can continue their migration. Later in August when the tuna leaves the Mediterranean Sea to start their migration routes across the Atlantic Ocean, killer whales follow suit
Tarifa is also home to other species such as the common dolphin, the striped dolphin, the bottle-nose dolphin, and the long-finned pilot whale. All are permanent residents of these waters.
Other species that aren’t residents but have been seen passing through the straight of Gibraltar are sperm whales. These specimens have been seen mainly in spring and summer. Two other species can be seen with some frequency in this area on their way into the Mediterranean: the fin whale and the common Minke whale.
Cabo de Palos and Cabo de Gata on the Mediterranean coast of Spain are also good spots to go whale watching. In this area, the water can get very deep, reaching over 1,000 meters. Such depths make if a great habitat for all the things whales and dolphins like to eat, and they are more than happy to flock there to fill their bellies. Striped dolphins, common dolphins, bottle-nose dolphins, pilot whales, Risso’s dolphins, fin whales, and sperm whales, all show up during spring and summer to gorge themselves.
Here you will find different cetacean sightings companies with interesting fleets of schooners where you can spend quite a few interesting days together with marine biologists.
The Cantabrian Sea in Northern Spain is another excellent area for whale watching. Located of the northern coast of Spain, and spanning from the Rias Baixas (Galicia) to the Bay of Biscay, The Cantabrian see hosts 27 different species who are either residents or just pass through. In these waters you will find rarer species such as different kinds of beaked whales can more easily can be found. Out of the 20 different species of beaked whales 7 have been sighted in the Bay of Biscay in the waters off of Galicia.
In the Cantabrian sea, the best chances of finding whales and dolphins is off the shores of the Basque country. Whale watching excursions set off from Guetaria and Cape Matxitxaco towards the pit at Capbreton. The trench reaches depths of over 2000 meters deep and is rich in all of these cetaceans’ favorite foods. 20 miles of the coast and especially during summer and spring it is common to find pilot whales, striped dolphins, bottle-nose dolphins, common dolphins and harbor porpoises.
History of the Nerja Caves
the Caves of Nerja were discovered by accident by a group of 5 friends on January 12th, 1959. The friends observed bats streaming out of a hole in the ground. This entrance is known as La Mina hole and gives access to the caves’ chambers below. With some difficulty, they were able to access the main cavern and marveled at the astonishing sight.
Just south of the Sierras of Tejeda, Almijara, and Alhama Natural Park, a third entrance was created in 1960, to allow guests to access the caves with ease.
The cave is divided into two main sections: known as Nerja I and Nerja II. Nerja I is comprised of the Show Galleries which are open to the public and is relatively easy to access via a flight of stairs and concreted pathways.
Nerja II, which is not open to the public. It is formed by the Upper Gallery discovered in 1960 and the New Gallery discovered in 1969. The Upper and New Gallery are each divided into two halls.
In the Upper Hall you will find the Columns of Hercules or Columnas de Hércules and the Hall of Immensity or Sala de la Inmensidad. The New Gallery features the Hall of the Lance or Sala de la Lanza and the Hall of the Mountain or the Sala de la Montaña.
These two areas contain a wide collection of ancient cave paintings and are therefore closed to the general public. Tourist access is restricted to specialized caving “speleothem tourism”
In February 2012 it was announced that possibly Neanderthal cave paintings dated in 42,000 years have been discovered in the Caves of Nerja. Organic remains associated with several paintings of seals have been dated 42,000 years. These might well be the first known works of art in the history of humanity.
The visit to the Nerja Cave consists of: a previous audiovisual projection and an audio-guided or guided visit.
Ticket for Special visits
With this ticket, you can enter the Cave when they close to the general public. You will be able to explore all its ins and outs with a small group of privileged people and a Spanish guide, who will guide you through all its rooms.
There are 2 types:
- The secrets of the Cave. On this special excursion, you will learn all the secrets of the cave that are not known in a normal visit. The tour is given in Spanish and English.
- Night visit. You will be provided with a head torch, so you can enter the silence of the night and experience the sensations felt by its first explorers.
In Spanish and English.
The Nerja Museum is located in the Plaza de España in Nerja and it’s open 363 days a year. Closing only on January 1 and May 15.
In the museum, you will find a projection on the importance of the Nerja Cave, a journey through the history of the site. Also, you will find a multitude of prehistoric tools from prehistoric on displayed.
The General Visiting Hours are from 10:00 to 16:30.
The Special Hours are from 10:00 to 19:00.
Friday and Saturday.
Last access time: at 18:30 in Special Hours and at 16:00 in General Hours.
General: € 3
Child (-6 years): € 0
Child (6-12 years): € 2
Free: every Monday, for EU citizens.
Free: February 28 (Andalusia Day), May 18 (International Museum Day) and September 27 (Tourist Day).
Discounts for retirees, unemployed and students of € 1
Cueva Tren – the cave train
The price includes a visit to the Cueva de Nerja and the Museum of Nerja.
Cave train price
€ 15 for adults.
€ 10 for children from 6 years to 12.
Free for children under 6 years old.
When can I visit the Nerja Caves?
The cave is open to the public 363 days a year, the caves only close on January 1st for the new year and the 15 for the Romería de San Isidro, patrón de los labradores.
Opening hours are between 9:30 in the morning until 16:30 in the evening.
Caves of Nerja concerts
During the summer months, the Festival Internacional de Música y Danza de las Cuevas de Nerja is held every year. the main hall is big enough to house these type of concerts and recitals and has attracted a-list acts over the years. For the time being though, unfortunately, concerts have been cancelled until the COVI-19 epidemic gets under control.
How to get to the Nerja Caves from Málaga
The best option is to get there by car. The drive takes about 50 minutes.
Where are the Nerja Caves?