Gaspe (Photo:Erika J Mitchell/Shutterstock)
3.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Diane Bair
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Gaspe

If you're lucky, you might be escorted to Gaspe (GAS-pay), in Quebec, Canada, by the whales that favor the bay here in summertime through late fall; the region is home to seven species, including minkes, humpbacks and right whales. The latter could also impact your visit; when they are sighted in the area, cruise ships are required to slow their speeds, causing occasional port call adjustments -- albeit for a very good cause.

Even without whale sightings, anticipation will build as you glide past the craggy coastline of the Gaspe Peninsula toward the city that sits at its tip. During autumn, the peninsula's landscape of russet leaves and rocky shoreline make it a favorite stop on New England-to-Canada fall foliage voyages. Add mountains, lakes and three major rivers (not to mention the brilliant blue Atlantic Ocean) and you've got an embarrassment of natural beauty that rivals anyplace else in the Canadian Maritimes.

Located in the Gaspesie region of Eastern Quebec, this city of 15,000 people gets its name from the Micmac Indian word gespeg, meaning "end of the lands." There's definitely a lands' end feel to this place, where, as guides will tell you, "Gaspesians live for the outdoors." The word "city" is a bit of a misnomer, though, since the City of Gaspe is 87 miles long and encompasses 17 coastal villages. The best way to get a feel for it is to do as the locals do and celebrate nature: Explore the rock formations, woodsy trails and glorious seascapes of Forillon National Park, located an hour's drive north of the city, where residents include black bear and moose. Or, head an hour south to Perce and take a ferry for close-up views of Perce Rock and Bonaventure Island, home to the largest bird sanctuary in North America: a rocky islet that hosts 122,000 nesting gannets, the largest colony of these birds in the world.

A quick chat with any local will reveal another source of pride: the history of French Canada started here. In the summer of 1534, Jacques Cartier sheltered his fleet in Gaspe, and officially took possession by planting a wooden cross with the king's coat of arms. History-lovers can learn more at the Musee de la Gaspesie, located at the edge of town.

About Gaspe


Pro

It's common to spot whales in Gaspe Bay during summer and fall.

Con

During fall, especially around Canadian Thanksgiving, some shops in nearby Perce close down for the season.

Bottom Line

This collection of coastal villages is the perfect gateway port for excursions to Forillon National Park, Bonaventure Island and other natural sites.


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Good to Know

Getting in and out of the ferry to Perce Rock and Bonaventure Island can be bumpy, which makes it challenging for those with mobility issues. Also, for those visiting Gaspe in the fall, note that some of the shops in Perce, a touristy fishing village known for its shopping, will be closed for the season. (Thanksgiving in Canada is typically held in early October.) Despite limited shopping, the town is beautiful, especially its reclaimed coastline with seaside boardwalk.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Gaspe's currency is the Canadian dollar. Credit cards are accepted nearly everywhere, especially Visa and MasterCard. Most retail shops and restaurants will accept U.S. dollars, but will give you change in Canadian currency. The closest bank to the cruise terminal is Banque Nationale in the Carrefour Gaspe Mall, just up the hill from the cruise terminal, or the TD Canada Trust at 134 Rue de la Reine in Gaspe.

Language

Gaspe is primarily French-speaking, but English is widely spoken and well understood, especially by those in the tourism and service businesses, and at cruise port terminals. Signage is mostly in French and, if you rent a car, note that mileage is given in kilometers.

Shopping

Given that this area is famous for its gannet bird colony, anything with gannets on it is a cool keepsake from Perce. Gannet sculptures range in price and artisanship, and you can find them in virtually every gift shop and gallery. Look for ceramics by local artist Marie-Josee Tommi, and nature-inspired jewelry by Martin Boucher Arsenault.