Patagonia and Altiplano Expedition | #17 – Península Valdés Part I

Península Valdés is known as a wildlife paradise. If you read reviews about Valdés on travel forums it’s obvious that there is no common opinion about this place. Some loved it and many were severely disappointed. It’s a famous place shown countless times in BBC or National Geographic wildlife productions. Therefore the expectations about this place are always high. And it seems often not fulfilled.

We weren’t sure if a visit would make sense for us. It’s quite far away from the other places we wanted to visit in Argentina. The detour from the Ruta 40 was about 1500 km and would take us at least four days. But since Valdés is one of the few locations in the world where you can view Orcas from the shore (if you are lucky) we decided to give it a try.

After crossing the Chubut province of Argentina from west to east we finally arrived at the Península Valdés. As a base camp to explore the peninsula you have two options: either Puerto Madryn or Puerto Pirámides. Often Puerto Madryn is recommended as the better choice. But after a quick stop at a Western Union office in Puerto Madryn to get some more Argentinian pesos and reading some warnings on iOverlander about vehicle break-ins we decided that Puerto Pirámides is probably the better option for us. Puerto Madryn reminded us of Viña del Mar, loud, a bit dirty, and with lots of tourist infrastructure that we don’t care about like bars and nightclubs.

We never regretted this decision. Puerto Pirámides is a lovely small village with a nice beach and a very relaxed atmosphere, especially in the morning and late afternoon when all the tour buses are gone. We rented a nice apartment for a few days in Puerto Pirámides for 50€ per night and really enjoyed this place.

If you stay longer on the peninsula there is another big advantage of Puerto Pirámides over Puerto Madryn. It is located inside the nature reserve which means you have to pay the entrance of 10€ per person only on the first day. If you would stay in Puerto Madryn you would have to pay the fee every day.

One day, the wind was so strong, that none of the whale-watching boats left the shore.

Other days were very calm and warm. Perfect to relax and enjoy the beach life.

On a couple of days in Puerto Pirámides, we just rested in our apartment, talked to friends and family in Europe, and watched some videos. If you travel long-term it’s very important to do these breaks regularly. Otherwise, you burn out from all the new impressions. Long-term travel is not the same as a holiday trip. That’s important to realize.

Puerto Pirámides has a couple of nice cafés and restaurants.

Our favorite ones were the El Origen for breakfast and pizza, and the La Estación for dinner.

The sign left of me in La Estación brings back memories from the past (both Kerstin and myself were born in Berlin).

At Punta Pirámides, which is located a few km away from the village, you can find a colony of sea lions.

From Puerto Pirámides we did a day trip to the Mirador Isla de los Pájaros and from there via some gravel tracks to the short walking trail at the reserve entrance.

In the background, you can see the Isla de los pájaros with thousands of birds. It’s protected and therefore can’t be visited.

We were hoping to see some whales next to the island but sadly no luck in this place. But instead, we found many beautiful flowers and some interesting wildlife on land.

The next day, we had more luck with the whales. From the viewpoint at Punta Pirámides we were able to watch a couple of very active southern right whales. Some of the wildlife images in this blog post were again shot by my daughter Linnéa.

After this fascinating experience, we wanted to get closer to the whales and booked a whale-watching tour (50€ per person for 1.5 hours). The first offer we got, was to get the last 3 places together with 50 other tourists on a small boat. Didn’t sound very promising. Risking getting no tour at all we declined and decided to look again for an alternative on the next day. Luckily we found another tour at sunset with only 7 other people on a boat that could fit 50 people. Lovely evening light and enough space to freely move around. Just perfect!

The first whales appeared very soon (a mother and her calf).

The whales were coming extremely close to the boat but sadly they were not as active as the ones we watched from the shore. But that’s wildlife photography. You will never know what you will see on a certain day.

Nevertheless, it was a great experience and can definitely be recommended. But I’m not sure if we would have enjoyed the tour with 50 people on the same boat.

Next, we explored Punta Norte on a day trip from Puerto Pirámides (see the map at the beginning of this blog post).

You can find there a colony of elephant seals.

But the main attraction in this area is the Estancia San Lorenzo with its access to a large colony of Magellan-Penguins. Since it’s a private farm you have to pay an additional fee to visit the penguins (30€ per person). It’s a guided tour and lots of tour buses have this place on their itinerary. It’s not good for serious wildlife photography to be in a group with dozens of other tourists. Since nearly all tours start and end in Puerto Madryn, which is about 3 hours away from the estancia, our thought was that they probably won’t book the last tour at the estancia which ends close to sunset. Luckily this strategy fully paid off. We were the only guest at that time and had a private tour through the colony and could stop as long as we want at any place. We even stayed half an hour longer in the colony and thoroughly enjoyed the visit.

So far we were already quite impressed by the Península Valdés. But the main reason to visit Valdés was the hope to see Orcas in the wild. Will this dream come true? I’m afraid you have to wait for the next blog post for an answer.

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