Whale watching weekend getaway 

10.09.20 09:20 PM By Putri

Apparently, whenever I’m being quiet, it gives Nico the creeps. As if whenever I’m quiet meaning I’m horsing around or plotting shenanigans ideas. Usually, I’d break my silence blurting words like “hey, I have an idea”, or “I was thinking..”, and then Nico may jump a little as he slowly stops whatever he was doing in sheer terror, and exasperatedly says, “what now?” or "what did you do??", while at the same time giving me a bombastic side eye, like I'm going to ask him to join my monkey business ideas or something.

No chéri. Not this time. 

This time I was thinking of something simple to do for this weekend, like whale watching. We might not share the same definition of what simple activity means, but whale watching is one of the best wildlife activities you can do in Quebec and it's easy to do during Whale season. In fact, Quebec province is super known for this activity. Yep, we can easily go whale watching from May to October  from the sea or from the shore, for cheap or even for free. WHAAAT?? FRREEEE?? Calm your broke ass, but yes, you can do it for free when it’s the Whale season. 

The northern shores of Quebec's St-Lawrence river or what we call la Côte-Nord is the downstream of the river and upstream of the Gulf or St. Lawrence before it flows to the Atlantic ocean. This is where the fresh water and salt waters mix between the river and the gulf. This mix streams are the best environment for krill and small fish which brings all sorts of whales and other big fishes to the region. This area is known as St. Lawrence estuary and it’s one of the largest estuaries in the world . 
The Route 138 that goes along this estuary has a number of marine mammal observations including whales; so much so that it has been nicknamed as the Whale Route or La Route des Baleines. The route stretches for 850 km from Tadoussac up to Blanc-Sablon on the border of Labrador. 
Route 138 from Quebec City (A), to Tadoussac (B), and Escoumins (C)

Whale watching weekend 

Tadoussac, the start point of the Whale route is a world known place for whale watching in Quebec, and it’s only three hours away by car from Quebec City. Although we can do it as a day trip, we decided to spend the weekend specifically for whale watching so we could at the same time enjoy the scenic coastal route. We also went up further north to Escoumins because Tadoussac during the peak of the Whale season can be packed with visitors. 

Morning scenic route 

The scenery from Quebec City up to the beginning of the Whale route is amazing. We'd started first thing in the morning and drove through mountains and passed quaint villages all the way to the coastal part of the route 138. Right before noon, we arrived at the mouth of the Saguenay fjord at Baie Sainte Catherine village. This is where we haveto take a ferry to go across the Sainte Catherine bay to Tadoussac, the first village of the famous touristic Route of the Whales. The 10 minute ferry ride from/to Baie Sainte Catherine is free and it runs 24 hours all year long with a few departures every hour. 

The ferry to Tadoussac

Lunch break at Tadoussac

We arrived at Tadoussac right on lunch time and I was famished! We decided to take a break and have lunch at one of the cute restaurants at Tadoussac bay. Tadoussac bay is considered one of the most beautiful bay in the world, while the village itself is part of Quebec's most beautiful village list. Tadoussac is also internationally famous as a destination for whale watching. There are a lot of sea excursion whale watching tours that start from the Tadoussac bay. This tiny charming village becomes extremely busy during the peak season. 

Afternoon walk at Les Dunes

After recharging our energy at Tadoussac, we drove a tiny bit further from Tadoussac to have an afternoon walk by the beach at the giant dunes. Tadoussac dunes or locally known as Les Dunes is a desert-like hill of sand dunes. IMHO, the scenery from these dunes felt like I was somewhere else. It almost looks tropical with the yellow sand and  blue water.  

Night by the cliff

Lodging around Tadoussac can be expensive and hard to get a room unless you book it a lot in advance. We decided to go further north to Escoumins and rent a cottage or chalet at Chalet Shipek. Shipek means saltwater in Innuit language. That explains why the tap water isn’t drinkable there. 

The cottage sits on the banks of St. Lawrence river. The view of sunset and sunrise from the cottage patio was spectacular. It was so relaxing to watch the sky and the river from this spot. From time to time we saw big fishes and or seals passing by in the water, waving their fins or popping their heads above the water for air. -free whale watching alert-

Sunset view from our Shipek chalet

Whale watching from the sea 

Zodiac boat sea excursion - paid

Our ride for the day; the Zodiac boat

Whale watching sea excursions can be done with cruise boats, kayaks, or zodiac boats.  We chose to take a zodiac boat tour. Zodiac boat, although it looks like a motorised inflatable boat, it’s very very fast. Okay, it runs up to 30mph but it feels so fast especially when the boat hits the water, and it gets very bumpy. The wind, the water splashing, and the bumpy ride made quite the adventure by itself. Our boat was small and fitted 12 passengers and the captain. The good thing about taking a zodiac compared to a much larger vessel is that the zodiac can get much closer to the whales without bothering them too much, and it is much safer than getting closer to a whale on kayak. Obvi

We went on the whale watching sea excursion with Les Escumeurs and departed from Les Escoumins first thing in the morning. For 65$ per person, we got a 3 hours excursion with (almost) guarantee that we’d see some whales. They also provide clean fisherman suits to keep us warm (splash proof trousers and jackets) because even on peak summer, the temperature drops as much as teen degrees or lower when we’re out on the water. 

Tips on taking zodiac tours:

  1. Ask the provider if they provide splash proof trousers and jacket, 

  2. It can be very cold out there, so wear something warm like under-layers, tuque, scarf, and gloves. Although it might seem overkill and not instagramable, 3 hours can be very long if you’re wet and cold,

  3. Although stable, zodiac boats can be very bumpy when it hits the water, definitely not safe for the preggos and not recommended for those with motion sickness, and back pain,

  4. Besides being very bumpy, there is nowhere to hide from the wind and water splashes on a Zodiac, making taking photos a challenge, 

  5. Sunglasses! The glare from the water can be strong,

  6. Don’t forget sunscreen. Although you’re covered head to toe, your face still has the risk to get sunburnt, 

  7. Bring a small towel to dry up because you’re gonna be wet from salt water once you're back to the shore,

  8. Be patient, whales return to the surface to breath every 15-30 minutes, the captain will point out where to look out, be close to him to listen to his cues.

Ferry crossing at the Ste. Catherine bay to Tadoussac - free

Yep, you can even see whales or belugas during the ferry crossing or while waiting to get to the ferry, especially during the peak of their active season. No, I’m not kidding. I’ve seen it myself; I saw two belugas and some seals when we were lining up to get to the ferry. But I’m not one of those fast thinking people, so instead of grabbing my cam to take pictures, I just stood there watching them belugas, cheering, waving and fangirling at them. 

Whale watching from the land 

Cap de Bon-Désir, Les Bergeronnes - paid

On the way back to Québec after our sea excursion, we stopped at the Cap de Bon-Désir, an interpretation and observation for marine mammals of the St Lawrence estuary. Upon arrival, you can explore the lighthouse station, than take the Harbour Porpoise trail to the shores of St. Lawrence river estuary. I really enjoyed spending time at the massive flat rocks lookout. The scenery from this look out is incredible. Naturalists from the observation center will go around and share interesting facts and knowlegde about marine mammals, including how to spot whales and better understand what you are looking out. 

The ticket costs around 8,5$ per adult and free for kids below 17 years old. The ticket is valid for visiting other marine mammals observations centres on the same day including : Centre d'interprétation et d'observation de Pointe-Noire and Marine Environment Discovery Centre (Centre de découverte du milieu marin (Marine Environment Discovery Centre)). These observations centres open only from mid-June to early October, check their website for schedule before visiting.

La Pointe-Islet trail, Tadoussac - free

La Point-Islet trail is a looped footpath by the Tadoussac marina. You can access this trail for free. The trail starts with a short walk in the forest that leads to a massive rock lookout point facing the St. Lawrence river and the edge of the Fjord Saguenay. If you’re lucky you can spot white belugas, seals, and even whales! Pack a blanket and food, and just hang out on the massive rocks with the stunning scenery Tadoussac is famous for. 

So there you go. No wonder why the north shore of Quebec (Côte nord) is famous for whale watching. I guess naming the route as
The Whale Route or Route des B
aleines is appropriate, because for 6 months a year from May to October, you can easily spot whales and other marine mammals throughout this route.