Boat trips are one of the best days out on the sunny holiday island of Tenerife.

The boat sails away from the busy harbourside, towards the towering cliffs of Los Gigantes. Passengers gaze back as El Teide mountain reveals itself, reaching into the clouds behind Tenerife’s popular coastal strip.

The resort beaches’ heat and crowds are soon left far behind, replaced by a cooling sea breeze and the gentle splash of waves on the hull. However, as much as visitors are enjoying their holiday, it feels liberating to be away from the lively island. As the guide points out seabirds and jellyfish, passengers slumber in the boat’s relaxing bobbling motion.

Suddenly a shout goes up: “Look! Whales!” Breaking the surface a few meters away is a real live whale. Then there’s more, lazing in the water on the other side. And then some dolphins start playfully following the bow wave. The boat has cruised right into one of the world’s finest whale-watching sites.

That first sighting is a very exciting moment for everyone. Some visitors say it’s like being part of a David Attenborough wildlife film. And for many, a whale-watching cruise is the highlight of their time in Tenerife.

The luckiest trips will be graced by the visit of an inquisitive whale calf gliding up to the boat and lifting itself as far out of the water as it can… to have a good look at the passengers. Or there may be an acrobatic display by dolphins, showing off by leaping and twisting out of the waves while the cameras click.

Wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled by the variety of species in this narrow channel. It’s possible to see giant sperm, minke, white and blue whales. But the most likely sights will be the members of the 500-strong colony of pilot whales that live and breed off the south coast. Pilots are smaller whales that seem to have permanently smiling faces. The pod usually includes some very young whales being shepherded by an older relative.

Sightings can’t be guaranteed but, it is rare NOT to see some whales. 90% of trips see whales, according to local sources. Spotting dolphins, they say, is more like a 50/50 chance.

Tenerife’s great natural fortune is that it is sited right on a major whale migration route. Whales pass through the deep water channel between Tenerife and the neighboring island of La Gomera throughout the year.

That’s why most boat trips leave from the southwest of the island, particularly Los Gigantes harbour, Porto Colon at the southern end of Playa Las Americas, and the pier at Los Cristianos. However, larger boat operators organize coach pick-ups from resorts around the island.

The available trips vary from an hour on a pleasure boat to a week on a sailing yacht. There are catamarans, sailing ships and glass-bottomed boats to choose from.

It’s important to take suntan lotion, sunglasses and a hat. It feels cooler at sea but the sun is often stronger. And your eyes will feel tired from the sun reflecting on the water without sunglasses.

Happily, the waters of the south of the island are generally calm. The island itself protects this channel from any prevailing winds from the north and east. And if the weather is likely to bad, trips are canceled.

Tenerife’s whale watching operators

There are dozens on boat operators offering trips from Tenerife. A few are unlicensed and may not follow strict rules to protect the very creatures you’ve come to see. Local officials recommend visitors use the main established operators.

Note that the longer trips usually include a stop for swimming from the boat, a free meal, and drinks.