Exploring and Whale Watching in Provincetown, MA
Originally published on Friday, May 20, 2022
I first saw Provincetown on Twitter and it was recommended a few more times. There are many small towns in Massachusetts’ famous Cape Cod but Provincetown looked like a good bet for a place to spend the day. I was so right – Provincetown is absolutely adorable!
Provincetown today is located at the end tip of the Cape Cod spiral. The area of Provincetown had been inhabited by the local Wampanoags and Nausets for millennia before the pilgrims from Europe arrived. The famous pilgrims first arrived in Provincetown before continuing onto Plymouth – another great stop (post coming soon). You can see even today that the terrain is very sandy, so that didn’t make for a great location for European settlers to set up a community. It didn’t become a big town until the mid-1800s, when the whaling industry actually made it the richest town in Massachusetts. Today, Provincetown relies more on its art and tourism scenes.
Things to Do in Provincetown
Two parts of Provincetown’s history are extremely prominent today. The first being its Portuguese heritage. Immigrants from Portugal flocked to Provincetown in the mid-1800s and the Portuguese community continued to grow in the decades that followed. Today, there are Portuguese flags everywhere – I think Provincetown is the only place in the U.S. I’ve been to that has more foreign flags than American flags. You can also find many Portuguese specialties marked on the menus of local restaurants.
Portuguese flags are everywhere!
Without much effort, you will also find that Provincetown is an extremely LGBTQ+-friendly community. There are rainbow and trans flags everywhere and many of the shops are filled with gay art. I did go during Pride Month but I had a feeling that Provincetown is always a bit friendlier than other parts of the country. However, the LGBTQ community has sought refuge in Provincetown for about 70 years. The local art scene brought lots of gay men and lesbians to the town in the 1950s and 60s, and Provincetown became a sort of a safe haven. I think that is so fascinating because, fortunately, when I visited in 2021, support for the LGBTQ community is not rare and very often typical. Back then, that was very much not the case. I haven’t delved too much into the history but I’m sure there are lots of amazing stories in Provincetown’s book.
Provincetown is a typical beach town destination. There are lots of free, fantastic beaches and you have the option to do water sports and whale watch – which I’ll write more about below. There’s a main road that has a variety of restaurants, art galleries, and stores of both local and tourist varieties. The town does err a bit on the tourist side but we still found it very charming and fun.
One of Provincetown’s most notable features is the Pilgrim Monument which, you can tell, was not built at the time of the pilgrims. I was actually completed in 1910 to commemorate the landing of the pilgrims in Provincetown. We actually didn’t pay much mind to the monument but you can see it for miles out off the shore, which I thought was cool.
Whale Watching in Provincetown
We decided that it would be fun and unique to go whale watching in Provincetown, one of the town’s most popular attractions. We went with Dolphin Fleet Whale Watch because they were the only company running at the time of our visit, but we still give them a thumbs up.
Whale spotting is guaranteed or you get another ride on the boat, though we were reassured that it’s very, very rare to not see whales. After purchasing tickets, the line to get on the boat was super long, but everyone ended up getting a good seat anyway. When you go out to the harbour, the wind chill makes it several degrees colder. You can also get splashed by water at such high speeds and there will be wind. I chose to wear a dress and this was a poor decision.
It took about 45 minutes to get out to where we saw our first whales. They were actually mother and calf humpback whales, and the mother’s name is Joss. Apparently whales have unique markings on their tails that help identify them. You can see them together in some of the pictures. Joss and her baby stuck around for our entire tour. I did not know anything about whales before embarking on our tour, but our guide was able to give us a lot of information on the whales as we observed them. Something cool is that their pectoral fins glow while underwater so you can still watch the whales swimming around between breaths.
Mother and child
We were also about to see another humpback whale, a 40-year-old named Stella.
I still cannot tell you the difference in these photographs but we also saw a fin whale named Flick. I do now know that fin whales sink so they don’t need to use their tails to push them down underwater like humpback whales do. The tail photos are all of humpback whales, but both species have a fin on their backs and I honestly cannot tell the difference. Maybe I need to keep whale watching and I’ll become a more seasoned marine biologist.
While whale sightings are virtually guaranteed, what I thought was really cool was how close the whales actually got to the boat. They popped up within feet of us and also swam under the boat at times. It was amazing! The photos below are to show how close they got.
We were out for about an hour and a half before heading back. We saw whales pretty early on in the tour so we got a good amount of time with them, but the company does extend their tours another hour in case it’s more difficult finding whales.
When we got back, we were greeted by a local seal in the marina!
The whale tour took up a lot of time but we had several hours to walk around and eat in Provincetown. My mom and I both found it to be extremely cute. If I’m ever in Cape Cod again, I’d definitely come back for another visit to use the beautiful beaches and maybe do some water sports. I’d also consider doing another whale tour.
Since I visited Provincetown, I’ve learned about noise pollution and whale tours. However Massachusetts and other New England states have laws in place to protect the whales from disturbances like noise pollution on these tours.
Good boat name, if I do say so myself.
I highly recommend putting Provincetown and a whale watching tour on your agenda for Cape Code and Massachusetts. If you’re very involved in the LGBTQ community then I’d say it’s a must-see particularly to meet all the people and community there. It’s a very upbeat beach town that has a unique history and is worth at least a few hours of your time, if not more.
Have you ever been to Provincetown? What did you think?
Tags: massachusetts, north america, provincetown, united states