According to National Geographic, one of the best places for whale watching around the world is Peninsula Valdes, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Chubut Province at coast of central Argentina. This is where Southern Right Whales and Killer Whales are seen from boats and even the shore. And so much more!
Hey dude, how are you doin’?
Wildlife on Peninsula Valdes
Peninsula Valdes is one of South America’s finest wildlife reserves, a 3600 km2 paradise for lovers of nature and wildlife. For example there are several rare bird species like the Andes Condor, guanacos (wild lama), armadillos, the Patagonian Mara (jackrabbit), ostriches, foxes, horses, elephant seals, sea lions, sheep, lizards, etc. The Puma lives in Patagonia but not on Peninsula Valdes; they live around Aysen and Torres del Paine.
Whales around Patagonia
In the waters around Patagonia four types of whales can be found:
- Southern Right Whale
- Killer Whale (orca)
- Humpback Whale
- Blue Whale
Your best chances to see the Humpback Whale would be at the Marino Francisco Coloane Park in southern Chili. The Blue Whale is difficult to spot but you may want to give it a shot at the Corcovado Gulf, also in Chili. For the first two mentioned whale species, you are on the right address on Peninsula Valdes!
A huge whale jumping out of the ocean. Now that was that was something I needed to see myself for real!
The tail of a whale at Peninsula Valdes (photos: Edith Schreurs)
Southern Right Whales
Basically the Southern Right Whales use the tranquil waters of Golfo San José, Golfo Nuevo and the coastline at Caleta Valdés from Punta Norte to Punta Hércules as their bed room and delivery room. This is where they date, mate and give birth to baby whales. The Southern Right Whales hang around Peninsula Valdes from June till mid-December. According to experts, perfect spotting conditions (almost like a guarantee) are the months of August, September and October. You can book a special whale-watching boat trip to get close.
Should the above mentioned tour be full on the day you want to go, then check out this alternative, similar Peninsula Valdes Day Tour with Whale Watching from Puerto Madryn.
In addition, there are also kayak trips that you can take from Puerto Piramides and Puerto Madryn to see the whales and sea lions from up close. Semi-submarine boats allow tourists to view them from underwater. Or who knows, you might be lucky and already see them while standing on the beach of Puerto Madryn, Playa Doradillo or Puerto Piramides! Below is not my video but gives a good impression.
Take your time
And then reality kicks in. Unfortunately, the weather ruined our whale-watching by boat plan. Due to strong wind, the waves were too high and they closed the harbor. Consequently, no ships could sail out and we could only watch the whales from the shore. Thank God for my camera’s zoom! It was cool to see them from the beach but my dream of seeing them really close from a boat sunk away there & then…
The next morning we flew already out to Buenos Aires, so we had no opportunity to try again the next morning. Looking back, based on our experience, my advice would be to take your time and make sure you have at least 2-3 full days to anticipate, should the whale watching be seriously on your to-do-list. Otherwise, you may miss the boat…
Reality check: spotting whales from the shore when the harbour is closed
Killer whales (orca)
Killer whales (orcas) also like hanging around Peninsula Valdes. Seeing them in their natural habitat is already really amazing, with their fin upright. Watching their hunting technique is even more spectacular. The orcas jump on the beach once the sea lion pups just start exploring their surroundings. This is the only place around the world where this hunting technique can be witnessed. Not an easy thing to be there at the right time, and for some not an easy thing to watch.
The best time to spot orcas at Peninsula Valdes is debatable. You may want to get to Punta Norte from February to May, whereas in September till November you better head out to Caleta Valdes. The attack channel at Punta Norte is said to be a good spot especially in April and May. Planning to see orcas hunt the sea lion pups is a difficult mission as the high season is only 10-15 days at Loberia Punta Norte. For sure high tide helps; the attacks occurs between two hours before to 2 hours after high tide. Unfortunately I did not see any orcas at Peninsula Valdes myself as we prioritized seeing the whales during this visit, but next time I will definitely want to go for it!
The Magellanic penguin is a South American penguin who breeds in coastal Argentina, Chile, the Falkland Islands and Brazil. Peninsula Valdes is ‘just one of the 66 places’ where the Magellanic penguin can be found. However, the quite unique thing about it here is that they can be spotted from up close. They are so cute!! There is a big colony at for example Estancia San Lorenzo, and many at Punta Delgada, along with elephant seals and sea lions, all on Peninsula Valudes.
The best time of the year to spot Magellanic penguins in this area is from September to April. A big colony of Magellanic penguins live at Punta Tombo Penguin Reserve. You can visit them by rental car or take a group tour with optional dolphin watching. In addition, there is also a private Punta Tombo tour option.
The salt flats of Salina Grande and Salina Chica – 42m below sea level – are worth a visit too!
Elhant seals and sea lions can be spotted on the beaches of Peninsula Valdes year round. Punta Delgada is a good place to watch them. Or go to Complejo El Faro, where you can walk up pretty close to the elephant seals and sea lions chilling at the beach. This is also a popular lunch spot for tours, open September till Easter.
When to visit Peninsula Valdes
September, October and November are the perfect months to visit Peninsula Valdes. These months fall in the Argentinian spring, the time when many animal species breed in the area. The penguins will come ashore to hatch their eggs, the males will fight for the females, and the orcas will get close to the shore to hunt baby seals.
Less perfect circumstances are in April, May and June, meaning fewer animals than in the rest of the year. Seals, sea lions, different bird species, etc. can be seen all year round on Peninsula Valdes.
We saved one cute yet scared young guanaco who was stuck on a barbwire fence. Poor thing!
Where to stay in/near Peninsula Valdes
Unless you have a camper van that can take you wherever whenever you want, you will need to make a choice where to stay when visiting Peninsula Valdes: Puerto Madryn or Puerto Piramides. Whichever you choose, I would at least advise to make a reservation for accommodation in advance in this area, especially for the Argentinian spring and summer (high season).
Puerto Piramides is the capital of whale watching in Argentina and the gateway to Peninsula Valdes. It is the only village on the peninsula, no more than 500 inhabitants. Puerto Piramides is the little harbor from where the whale watching boats depart. Perfect spot to stay closest to the whales all the time. Del Nomade Hosteria Ecologica is the perfect place to stay in Puerto Piramides, should it be available when you plan to be there.
Puerto Madryn is the largest city closest to Peninsula Valdes, at about 1 hour driving distance. This is where most tours that you will find depart from, as most people stay in Puerto Madryn. There are many shops, restaurants, hotels, etc. available in Puerto Madryn.
To be honest the city is not so pretty and it did not really steal our hearts. The fact that we ate our worst steak ever here did not help either haha But yeah, Puerto Madryn is a good base to visit Peninsula Valdes and that is what we came for. You will be out all day anyway. Personally, if you decide to stay in Puerto Madryn, I would recommend staying at Hotel Tolosa with its beautiful décor, great location and reasonable prices.
Should you want to stay in Puerto Madryn on a lower budget, then La Tosca Hostel is a smart choice.
Entrance fees in Argentina usually depend on multiple factors: where you come from, your age group, etc. To the Área Natural Protegida Península Valdés, the current admission price for non-Argentinean adults is AR$ 850. Plus AR$ 120 per vehicle.
How to get to Peninsula Valdes
Most likely you will fly to Trelew from Ushuaia or Buenos Aires. We flew with Aerolíneas Argentinas, a Skyteam alliance member. To find suitable flights, check availability and prices, use Skyscanner. I would highly recommend you to book flights in time as the availability is rather limited and prices rise.
Direct flights between Trelew (REL) and Buenos Aires are available to Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Newbery (AEP), not Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini (EZE). If you are persistent to fly on EZE airport of Buenos Aires from Trelew for some reason, there are only indirect flights available via either Cordoba (COR), Ushuaia (USH) or El Calafate (FTE).
Tip: If you make a round trip, best is to book all flights to/from/in Argentina as one big flight ticket. The total price may be significantly lower compared to all separate individual flight tickets for each leg. Check with your travel agent. This saved us app. EUR 250 per person.
If you decide to stay for accommodation in Puerto Madryn and visit Peninsula Valdes by tour, the easiest and cheapest way to get from Trelew airport to Puerto Madryn (and back) is by shuttle. Count on app. EUR 20 per person per ride. The ride takes about 45 min (60 km).
Renting a car will give you more freedom and the choice to stay in Puerto Piramides, right at the harbor where the whale watching boats depart (instead of as part of a bigger tour from Puerto Madryn). It is not difficult to drive around, only you will miss out on tour guide expertise, unless you take a small tour locally. The ride from Trelew Airport to Puerto Piramides takes app. 1 hour and 45 min (150 km) by car.
For rental cars, I am a big fan of Sunny Cars. Most Dutch professional travel agents use them and they are SMART! Sunny Cars is an all-inclusive, worry free rental concept with affordable, fair prices, great service and no unpleasant surprises upon pick up or drop off. Ideal, I use them all the time!
From Bariloche, Buenos Aires and Ushuaia you can also take the bus to Trelew; it takes longer but is (slighlty) cheaper.
- Bariloche – Trelew by bus: 14 hours, app. EUR 25-35
- Buenos Aires – Trelew by bus: 22 hours, app. EUR 35-60
- Ushuaia – Trelew by bus: 26 hours, app. EUR 50-90
- El Calafate – Trelew by bus: 20 hours, app. EUR 40-70
The busses to/from El Calafate and Ushuaia both (usually) go via Rio Gallegos.
To compare when you fly:
- Buenos Aires (AEP) – Trelew by airplane: 1h 50min, app EUR 126
- Ushuaia – Trelew by airplane: 2h 10 min, app. EUR 95
Check Rome2Rio for more details.
Map Peninsula Valdes
This mobile friendly map includes most things mentioned in this article and more! It is smartphone friendly; you can use it easily via Google Maps. Click on the top left icon to open the menu. To customize the map to your interests, simply (un)select categories. Via Google Drive you can copy it to your folder of My Google Maps.
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