The Valdes Peninsula offers some of the most spectacular scenery and unique fauna to be found anywhere in Argentina. It is a small peninsula located about halfway down the country’s Atlantic Ocean coastline in the Patagonia region and is rich in spectacular scenery, lovely beaches, and an abundance of rare and unique fauna. The city of Puerto Madryn is the gateway to this beautiful and wild place that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Puerto Piramides (so named for the pyramid shaped cliffs that surround it) is the only village actually within the pristine peninsula.
Valdes Peninsula Whale Watching
If you’re looking for tours that include whale watching, then you want to come to the Valdes Peninsula between October and March. The whales spend the cold northern winter in this area where they breed and raise their calves until they are old enough to navigate the open oceans. During this time, the southern right whales can be seen from the town of Puerto Madryn – often within 1,000 feet. Orcas are also seen in the waters at this time. Here, they have developed a unique hunting strategy whereby they beach themselves to snatch seals and sea lions near the shore. If very lucky, you might witness this unusual behavior. The town of Puerto Madryn has a number of whale watching operators, and it’s possible to book tours from them. Whale watching can also be booked as part of longer South America or Argentina tours. There are numerous choices for Puerto Madryn hotels, but if you want to stay in the charming village of Puerto Piramides during the height of the whale watching season, you should make your arrangements as far in advance as possible.
Valdes Peninsula Tours
Tours of the Valdes Peninsula can include any number of activities. There is excellent scuba diving and snorkeling here virtually all year long, and the beaches are beautiful. Although you can book whale watching cruises in the little town of Piramides, there are few guided excursions through the peninsula available; it’s best to book these in Puerto Madryn. The vast majority of tours are day excursions. It is a realistic expectation to fit in the major attractions of the visitor center, Punta Norte (best place for Orca spotting), the Calleta Valdes penguin sanctuary, and the village of Piramides all in a single day. You can also do self-drive tours through the peninsula for more independence and flexibility. Car rentals are available in Puerto Madryn where you also have a wide choice of accommodation, including some estancias, working ranches where you experience the history and traditions of the Argentina gauchos. If you have the time, you might consider the sheep ranch Estancia Rincon Chico (“little corner”), which is located on the far southeastern corner of the peninsula about 45 miles southeast of Piramides. It is set on the coast with lovely views of the sea. There are eight charming double bedrooms, and the ranch offers guided nature tours and other activities.
Valdes Peninsula Trekking
One thing to remember about trekking in the Valdes Peninsula is that this is a wild and pristine place. The ecosystem – flora and fauna – are fragile, and there are strict guidelines for how the land is used. You cannot just hike in with a backpack and sleeping bag and camp wherever you like. Permits are required, you may camp only in designated areas, and there are some areas where you can only travel in the company of approved professionals. If you intend on trekking on your own without a guide, it is a good idea to bring along a good Valdes Peninsula map. Fortunately, traveling in a small group with experienced naturalist guides gives you the most in-depth understanding of the region. In many areas, there is horseback riding available and the mountain biking is excellent. The major attraction of the peninsula has to do with the ocean and its denizens – whales, seals, sea lions, penguins, and more. So, one of the most popular “trekking” techniques is sea kayaking. Trips are typically four to seven days in length, and combine kayaking as well as hiking. Most nights are spent camping, usually on beaches, and one or two nights might be spent in a guesthouse or modest hotel. Adventure companies offering these kinds of tours are also apt to offer similar tours in Tierra del Fuego or Los Glaciares National Park and the Patagonia glaciers.
Valdes Peninsula Animals
The fauna here is quite unique, with some species found nowhere else and a number that are rare and endangered. Along the coast is a wealth of marine mammals, including fur seals, elephant seals, sea lions, southern right whales, and orca whales. In the interior, you will find the rhea (a large flightless bird not unlike the emu of Australia and ostrich of Africa), the guanaco (a relative of the llama and alpaca), the rare giant armadillo (which can weigh more than 60 pounds), the mara (a large rodent related to the guinea pig), and the southern grey fox. Everywhere there are birds, including the rare Antarctic pigeon and the Magellanic penguin. It is this wealth of unique fauna and the important breeding grounds for endangered marine mammals that are the primary bases for this beautiful peninsula being designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In many respects the uniqueness of the rare wildlife here can be compared to that found on the fragile Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador.