Reasons to go
- Orcas: The only place in the world where orcas beach themselves on the shore in order to hunt sea lion pups.
- Southern right whales: These gentle giants gather just metres from the shore, and can be seen from your hotel balcony, on the beaches and cliffs, and by boat, plane, kayak, or even submarine!
- Diverse wildlife: Walk among huge colonies of southern elephant seals and Magellanic penguins (some of the biggest colonies in South America), scuba dive, kayak and snorkel with sea lions, and spot weird and wonderful land mammals and birds, including flamingos, burrowing owls, maras, rheas and guanacos
- Scenery: Enjoy the vastness and tranquility of the steppe, flanked with dramatic sandstone cliffs and crystal clear blue waters.
Reasons to go to Valdes
Southern Right Whales
The two gulfs on the north and south coasts of Peninsula Valdes are home to an important breeding population of the endangered southern right whale from June to December. The gulfs are perfect calm safe havens in which the whales can breed and raise their young en route to their Antarctic feeding grounds in the south.
Orcas (Killer Whales)
Another magnificent spectacle that draws many whale fanatics to the area is the unique hunting strategy displayed by the orcas of Valdes. The resident pod are believed to be one of only two in the world who, by tuning into the sea lion breeding cycles and adapting to the local coastal conditions, have learned to beach themselves in order to hunt! Not only that, but they have cleverly passed down their knowledge from generation to generation.
As well as whales, a whole host of other wildlife can also be spotted on the coast of the Peninsula and in the surrounding area. From southern elephant and fur seals and southern sea lions, to magellanic penguins, dolphins, guanacos, an estimated 181 different bird species, and even the odd hairy armadillo, Peninsula Valdes has the lot!
When you land in Trelew or Puerto Madryn you’d be forgiven for thinking that the scenery of Valdes is pretty uninspiring. But once you make your way across the vast and incredibly flat and barren open steppe, you find yourself on the edge of some stunning coastline: long shingle beaches that appear to go on forever; dramatic sandy cliffs that drop perilously into the ocean; bustling colonies of penguins, sea lions and elephant seals going about their business; and the crashing of waves in a crystal blue ocean.
There are different wildlife experiences to be had at different times of the year. Plan the timing of your trip carefully to be sure to see everything that you want to, allowing sufficient time to travel between areas – distances are long and many of the roads are in poor condition.
Top 5 Ways to See Valdes’ Wildlife and Scenery
Throughout the year you can expect to get up close and personal with groups of inquisitive sea lions whilst kayaking in the calm waters of the Golfo Nuevo from either Puerto Madryn or Puerto Piramides.
Southern Right Whales
Between June and December you'll also have the chance to kayak within 50 metres of a southern right whale: often a mother with a calf in tow. Both are incredibly special experiences not to be missed by marine wildlife fans!
There are a number of ways to see the magnificent southern right whales and orcas of Peninsula Valdes: right from the shore line, by boat, submarine, kayak or plane, and even from your hotel window if you're lucky!
Depending on which whale you want to see, you can base yourself from Puerto Madryn, Puerto Piramides, or one of the estancias on the peninsula, each of which offers incredible sightings.
You'll need to make sure you travel at the right time of year for the whales you want to see, and allow enough time to travel between different areas.
A wonderful way to escape the crowds and fully immerse yourself in the charm and wilderness of the Valdes region is by basing yourself at one of its rustic estancias/ranches for a few nights.
With vast swathes of private land to themselves, most of the Valdes estancias have private colonies of sea lions, elephant seals, and/or magellanic penguins that you can visit at your leisure.
Some of the ranches are also very unique spots for whale sightings, offering you the best chances of wildlife spotting in the region.
Explore the Valdes peninsula under your own steam, with the freedom to drive yourself whenever and wherever you please. You’ll need to be comfortable with some long drives on remote and poorly maintained dirt roads, but the freedom, flexibility and privacy of self driving around this stunning region make the adventure worthwhile!
See the Valdes Peninsula from a totally different perspective, and take some incredible photos of the whales and wildlife along the coastline. The flight takes one hour and the main goal is to see the geography, topography and the whales from the air. The Cessna 182 (or similar) can take three passengers plus the pilot. Big windows next to the back seats provide incredible views during the flight. The journey takes you to the southern shores of Golfo Nuevo (New Gulf) and continues towards the north, for up close sightings of the southern right whales in the San Jose Gulf.
The people of Valdes will greet you with big smiles and warm hugs and go out of their way to help you. I took several long journeys along flooded and pothole ridden dirt roads (often in the dark!), and there was always someone waiting at the end of the phone to know that I arrived safely.
Chloe O'Keeffe Wildlife & Cruise Specialist
When to Go
There are many wildlife experiences to be had all year round, but you'll want to choose your time of year carefully in order to ensure you get to see all of the species you'd like to see.
- Southern right whales are present from June to December only.
- Orcas are present all year round, but tend only to be seen beaching in March and April.
- Magellanic penguins are present from September to April.
- Sea lions & elephant seals are present all year round, but in varying numbers depending on where and when you go.
- Dolphins are present from December to March.
- Numerous birds and land mammals can be found throughout the year.
How to Get There
The Valdes peninsula and surrounding areas can be complicated to get to and navigate around. You need to be organised and allow enough time to get around in order to make the most of your time in the area.
Where to Stay
A variety of accommodations are on offer, from rustic ranches to comfortable tourist hotels. There are fantastic wildlife experiences to be had based from hotels in Puerto Madryn, and in Puerto Piramides there are some more remote and unique ranches with acres of private land full of wildlife spotting opportunities.
Our Top Trips in Valdes
Enjoy leisurely walks and kayak within the Peninsula Valdes Nature Reserve. You'll paddle up to sea lion colonies and spot killer whales whilst enjoying the rocky scenery around you. Accommodation wide you'll camp under the stars for 3 nights and…
Kayak in Peninsula Valdes during the whale season, when you'll get within 50 metres of majestic, rare, Southern Right whales. You'll spend 6 nights camping out under the stars and one night at a local estancia and get the chance…
This self-drive itinerary is perfect for wildlife spotters who want to explore the Valdes Peninsula under their own steam. Spend 7 nights on the peninsula enjoying a vast range of wildlife, from penguins to orcas, with a choice of overnight…
You will have the opportunity to experience an authentic Patagonian ranch, go whale watching and see some of the best wildlife offered by the region, whilst relaxing on this stay at a peaceful, traditional estancia.…
Stay in a secluded seaside lodge surrounded by nature. Trek along the coastline, sail to see the marine life and visit a working estancia.…
A perfect trip for independent, wildlife enthusiasts. All the logistics and car hire organised for you to explore the Peninsula under your own steam. You will spend two nights on the Peninsula itself and one night in the nearby Puerto…
A truly special way to enjoy up close encounters with these gentle giants from various different perspectives: from the shore, by boat, by kayak, and by…
FAQs about Valdes
Depending on how long you have and what you want to do, we’d recommend a few nights in Puerto Madryn, and a few nights on the peninsula itself at either a remote estancia or in the town of Puerto Piramides. If you have time, venturing to one of the estancias along the Southern Atlantic Coast is a wonderful experience.
If you’re keen to see a variety of wildlife, a minimum of four days/five nights would be recommended.
If you plan your trip carefully you can time it so that you see all/most of the wildlife you’re interested in. Generally, if you’re there at the right time of year, and have good guides, the chances of sightings are very good indeed.
Self driving is a great way to explore with freedom and flexibility, but people often prefer to avoid the perilous roads and take guided excursions with transfers from place to place.
Puerto Madryn and Trelew are just a few hours by plane from Buenos Aires, which connects you to the rest of Argentina. People often like to combine a visit to Valdes with some time in Southern Patagonia, for example some hiking in Los Glaciares National Park, combined with some puma spotting Torres del Paine, humpback whales in the Chilean Fjords, or King penguins in Tierra del Fuego.
Landmarks in Peninsula Valdes
Images (c) Carlos Passera
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