There are few places in the world that can compare with the Nature
Reserve of Peninsula Valdes: a microcosm of heavenly peace where the
ripples of a calm sea gently stroke the skins of the resident species,
and the traveler who lays foot on its warm sands will temporarily
lose track of time.
Peninsula Valdes is a wildlife sanctuary that is unique. It is the
ideal place for close-up watching of whales, penguins, dark dolphins,
elephant seals and sea lions, birds and Patagonian land-based species
such as lesser rhea, mara (Patagonian hare), foxes, skunks or flocks
On the eastern tip of central Patagonia, Peninsula Valdes is a virtual
island, only joined to the continent by a narrow strip of land 35
kilometers long called Ameghino Isthmus.
It is on the northeast of Chubut province, 77 kilometers from Puerto Madryn (only one hour's drive away).
From its narrowest point (around 7 kilometers) the gulfs of San José, in the north and Nuevo, in the south, are both visible.
The peninsula is 3,625 square kilometers in area, 63 kilometers long and 97 wide. An interesting basin (42 meters below sea level) contains two salt flats, "Salinas Chica", 12 km2 in area, and "Salinas Grande", 35 km2.
Together, they form the deepest basin in South America.
Puerto Piramides is the only city in Peninsula Valdes. This small
tourist village, built on the shores of Golfo Nuevo, is a center for
The protected area of the Peninsula Valdes reserve starts at the Carlos
Ameghino Isthmus. That is where the eco-center is located: this is
an official body belonging to the Chubut Tourism Secretariat, dedicated
to studying the coastal and ocean eco-systems, which makes it the
ideal place to receive information about flora, fauna, and the geography
and history of the surrounding area.
The predominant biome or landscape type in Peninsula Valdes is the
high coastal plateau type, covering 90% of its surface; the remaining
10% is formed by closed basins (salt flats) and coastal environments
featuring cliff-backed sandy and rocky beaches.
The rest of its surface is a mosaic of reserves and private properties, because meaning to protect the Patagonian fauna, the provincial government decreed that the whole surface of the peninsula should become a single Fauna Reserve.
The UNESCO has declared the Peninsula to be a Natural World Heritage.
MARINE FAUNA SPOTTING
Marine fauna spotting is the main activity in Puerto Madryn and the surrounding area.
One can view a wide variety and great number of specimens of marine fauna from the coast or from boats.
Enormous whales, only a few meters away, elephant seals and sea lions, penguins, birds of all kinds, guanacos and other land-based species mill around this 360 hectare Nature Reserve, practically its only inhabitants and the "stars" of its stage.
The reduced size of Golfo Nuevo and its landscape offers many possibilities for boat excursions.
There is a wide variety of offers to observe two of the most fascinating wildlife spectacles in the world: the Punta Tombo Magellanic penguin rookery (September through March) and the viewing of the southern right whale in Península Valdés (June through December). In both cases one can view elephant seal and sea lion colonies as well.
There are many transport options for the excursions: catamarans, sailboats, speedboats or kayaks. They all offer the tourist the chance of viewing birds, dolphins and sea lions, and even of sailing around the wreckage of sunken ships.
This is why the landscape suddenly takes on larger dimensions for the tourist who is enjoying a long boat trip around its cliff-lined coasts.
Species that may be observed and viewing periods:
- Istmo Carlos Ameghino.
- Isla de los Pajaros.
- Puerto Piramides.
- Punta Delgada.
- Punta Cantor.
- Punta Norte.
- Whales: June through December. Recommendation: August or September.
- Orcas: all year round. Better chances in March-April in Punta
Norte; September in Caleta Valdes; April in Peninsula Valdes.
- Dolphins: July through March.
- Sea lions: all year round. Mating season: December through April.
- Elephant seals: all year round. Recommendation: September and October. During the November - April period they are seen in large numbers, but they are inactive. From April through August they can be seen in isolated molting groups.
- Penguins: September through March.
- Sea birds: southern spring and summer.
- Land birds: all year round.
- Guanacos: all year round.
- Maras (Patagonian hares): all year round. Recommendation: September through February.
- Gray and red foxes: all year round. Recommendation: southern hemisphere summer.
- Armadillos and piches: all year round.
HOW TO GET THERE AND WHAT TO SEE
You leave from Puerto Madryn northward along Provincial Route Nº 1. After doing 17 kilometers you enter the area using Provincial Route Nº 2. They are both paved.
You must take this road eastward to enter the Peninsula.
By bus, plane or car, the starting point to get to this Nature Reserve is usually Puerto Madryn, offering all services as well as a port, an airport and travel agencies.
In the whale season (June through December) it is worthwhile taking
the old route to Piramides (Provincial Route Nº 4, gravel track).
This is an opportunity to make a first coastal sighting of whales
near the El Doradillo beach, which is considered one of the natural
Returning to Provincial Route Nº 2, after another 77 kilometers and once you have paid the visitor's fee at the Reserve (at the El Desempeño checkpoint), you arrive at Carlos Ameghino Isthmus, a narrow strip of land linking the peninsula to the continent.
Here the tourist will also have to stop and pay an entry fee to the
Integrated Fauna Reserve of Peninsula Valdes.
The access point to the peninsula affords a magnificent view. To your left and to your right all that is visible is the blue Patagonian sea, stretching from horizon to horizon.
On one side you will see Golfo Nuevo and, on the other, Golfo San José. If you lower your car window pane you will be able to hear the noisy chirping of the winged inhabitants of the nearby Isla de los Pájaros (Bird Island), that seem to greet all visitors.
An excellent service here is the "F. Ameghino Interpretation Center" and the "Regional Museum Fuerte San José", where the traveler can obtain abundant information on the flora, fauna and history of the Peninsula and recommendations on what places to visit.
Some 5 kilometers from this place, one goes down a gravel track to the Isla de los Pájaros (on the Golfo de San José). This is an important sea bird colony, that also has a small interpreting and information center and binoculars to watch the island denizens close up.
After 25 kilometers one gets to the seashore community of Puerto Piramides,
where one will be able to board vessels for boating excursions to
view the fauna.
From this area one can visit Lobería de Punta Piramides, where in
the mating and breeding seasons (December through March) a colony
of sea lions occupies the whole area, both land and sea.
From Puerto Piramides you can travel along gravel tracks to Caleta
Valdes, an elephant seal colony, and Punta Norte, where you will find
elephant seals and sea lions, all within a radius of 75 kilometers,
From Puerto Piramides and towards Punta Delgada you go through the
Salinas Grande and Chica, which together form a major depression or
basin that lies 42 meters below sea level.
Before starting out on the whole tour, it is important to tank up
and get a good supply of drinking water in the Puerto Piramides gas
Travelers should be aware that they are touring one of the few spots in the world that preserve intact all the features that amazed Sir Charles Darwin over 160 years ago.