Have you ever seen a whale up close? The experience is otherworldly. I recently snorkeled within a few feet of a mother whale and her baby calf in Silver Bank, a humpback whale breeding ground 90 miles north of Puerto Plata. Let me tell you: A baby whale, while a baby, is not small.
I was traveling with Aquatic Adventures, a Dominican Republic-based tour operator that organizes week-long excursions to see the whales up close. In many ways, these trips transcend the modern age of Instagram-inspired travel. You’ll learn quickly that whales explicitly don’t do it for the gram; the animals have this great power to remind you that nature often trumps technology.
It’s refreshing. Even when when your fellow passengers point behind you, and you turn around just seconds too late.
Aquatic Adventures’ 124-foot boat departs out of Puerto Plata, a beach city with direct flights from the U.S. on several major carriers. They operate from January through April — humpback season, when thousands of whales travel down to the warmer waters around Hispaniola. I embarked on a Saturday night, with a 10-hour overnight trip to Silver Bank before me. The miraculousness of whale watching will hopefully make you forget about the turbulent ride out: Dramamine is your friend, and the boat is fully stocked with other remedies lest your pride gets in the way of careful packing.
The crew aboard the Turks & Caicos Explorer II runs a pretty tight ship, if you will: Tom Conlin, who has led Aquatic Adventures since 1991, is a bonafide whale expert. He and his team, most of whom have some kind of marine biology degree, do as much as they can to ensure guests are comfortable both on and off the boat. This is a true expedition vessel, but it’s not without its comforts: there are 10 cabins, each of which is equipped with a private bathroom with running hot water (a true plus for sleeping out on the open ocean). The Instagram factor is low, but that’s not the point. Your cabin a place to wash up, change, and sleep before heading back into the water — and the whales. (…)