This is one of the best places for watching walruses on the whole Patagonian coast.
It is on the west coast of Valdés Peninsula. Access from Pirámides is obtained along the gravel surfaced Provincial Route Nº 2, leading first to Punta Delgada Lighthouse, then turning left to traverse the final 40 kilometers up to this site.
Caleta Valdés is a narrow strip some 30 kilometers long, surrounding and almost cutting off a section of the ocean, leaving only a tiny connecting mouth to the bay.
Here one can see the endless rhythmic rise and fall of the tides.
The bay mouth, some years ago, was almost 600 meters wide. However, for the last eight years it has been gradually narrowing, to the current 150 meters. At the moment the northern horn of the bay is advancing southward, and according to some studies will cut the bay off completely at the end of this year.
If this happens, there will be two possibilities: a continental salt-water lake will be formed, or through the action of marine erosion and tide forces, at some weak spot in the huge circle, a new outlet will appear.
Naturally cut off from all the rest of the region by high and steep cliffs, the gravel beaches of the bay are the scenario for part of the walrus' life cycle.
In early August, the first adult males start arriving here.
After laying claim to a section of the beach, they start gathering enough females to form a harem. During the mating season, the males will not go hunting, and will live off the fat reserves they have accumulated in the open sea.
Most of the time is spent by them fending off other males that try to entice the females to their own territories. The females arrive at the coast pregnant from the previous season, and give birth to a pitch-black cub that bleats like a lamb.
They then suckle the cub for three weeks. Thanks to the high fatty content of the females' milk, the cubs grow rapidly and are soon weaned. After weaning their cubs, the females present estrus (go on heat) again.
During the molting period, the animals do not enter the ocean and remain lying on the beach. Their fur looks patchy, with brown areas of old fur interspersed with grey patches of new fur.
The bay also harbors large populations of Magellanic Penguins that nest on the spit of land separating the inner lake from the ocean.
These waters are alive with killer whales, that stalk prey such as walrus and sea lions, or even penguins.
The major tourist promotion of areas such as this one must always go hand in hand with efforts to preserve the natural resource which is its main attraction.
The lack of trained fauna ranger-keepers makes strict controlling of tourist groups that come down on the beaches to take shots of walrus extremely difficult.
This may be considered a unique reserve due to the chance it affords to observe a major part of the life cycle of marine mammals in their natural environment.
SHORT BACKGROUND HISTORY
The original inhabitants of the peninsula were the Tehuelche Indians. They used Caleta Valdés to hunt guanacos and choiques, and to dive for shellfish.
Caleta Valdés was perhaps sighted for the first time by Hernando de Magallanes (Magellan), when he discovered Península Valdés and Golfo Nuevo in 1520. Then it was explored from 1778 to 1810 by settlers in Fuerte San José and Fuentes de Villarino.
In the 18th century, several expeditions passed through the area, but the first people to do any detailed mapping were members of Alejandro Malaspina's expedition in 1779.
An expedition led by Juan Martínez de la Concha and José de la Peña, in 1895 arrived in Caleta Valdés on board the brigantine "Nuestra Señora del Carmen", and provided final details on the area.
WHAT CAN ONE SEE?
The mouth of the bay offers an excellent panorama from the road itself (one should be careful not to approach the cliff edges as they are apt to crumble fairly regularly).
Towards the south of the mouth of the bay is the Provincial Fauna Reservation of Punta Cantor, from which point the whole of the bay including its outlet can be observed.
This is an excellent place to watch walrus, foxes and armadillos.
The point and the islands contain large groups of guanacos, maras (Patagonian hare), armadillos, choiques, foxes and other mammals, as well as eagles, hawks, owls and other land birds.
On Penguin Island there is a nesting colony of Magellanic penguins, additional to the nesting colonies located on the external shore of the bay, and those of the internal shore (east shore, facing the bay).
Here also there are other avian species that nest in springtime, for example the Black-crowned Night-Heron), Steamer Ducks, Oystercatchers and the Chimango Caracara.
On some of the islands, and on the outer coast, in spring and summer one finds resting areas for southern walruses, while both inside the bay and on the outer coast are found whales, sea lions and killer whales.
Reptiles are also abundant, especially lizards of the genus Liolaemus that are very conspicuously colored in spring and summer.
This area is also widely populated by the Yarará Ñata snake (Bothrops ammodytoides). This is a poisonous species. It is generally shy of humans, but if it is provoked it will bite its attacker. It is no longer than 60 centimeters. Its triangular head is clearly separated from the neck and it has a snub-nosed snout (the origin of its name). Its coloring is generally light chestnut, and it has dark brown markings on its back that sometimes join to form a longitudinal zigzag pattern.
When a visitor has been bitten by this snake it is wise not to touch the wound nor apply a tourniquet. The snake should be identified without touching it, the ranger should be advised, and then one should go immediately to the first-aid center in Puerto Pirámides or Puerto Madryn. Snake bite serum antidote is available in the area.
The islands of Caleta Valdés have one very important feature: they are the only places in Patagonia where sheep were never introduced.
This area has been classified as a bushy steppe featuring Schinus Polygamus (Molle) and Lycium chilense (Piquillín), with a total 40% coverage.
Predominant herbs are Stipa tenuis, Stipa neaei, Stipa speciosa and Stipa humilis, but other species accompany them, such as Poa ligularis and Plantago patagónico.
The area can be subdivided into a mosaic formed by y types of environmental units, where the following species can be found: Schinus johnstonii, Atriplex sagittifolium, Chuquiraga avellanedae, Ephedra ochreata, Suaeda divaricata, Chuquiraga erinacea, Cyclolepis genistoides, and Aphanostelma candolleanum, as well as unidentified mosses and lichens.