Península Valdés was my first introduction to Patagonia and what a way to start!
Prior to visiting Patagonia, I envisioned landscapes dominated by snow-capped mountains, verdant forests and glacial lakes, and while that may be true if you travel along the Andes, there is so much more to Patagonia than that! Península Valdés introduced me to the diversity that can be found within Patagonia by showing me the complete opposite of what I expected; I’m talking about arid steppes, salt lakes and pebbly shores dotted with all sorts of marine wildlife! Who knew?
Sam and I ended up spending a total of 3 days on Península Valdés, but today I’m going to talk about our first day adventuring along the northern part of the peninsula with Argentina Vision. This day was one of the highlights of our travels in Patagonia and hopefully, the photos will speak for themselves.
Driving out to Península Valdés
While it’s perfectly feasible to rent a car and drive out to Península Valdés, we opted to take a tour. I always find driving in a new country a little nerve-wracking, so a small guided tour out of Puerto Madryn was a good fit for us.
We were picked up from our hotel shortly past 8:00 in the morning, said hello to our 12 fellow passengers, and started the drive out towards the peninsula. It would be a 400-kilometre journey that day – 200 kilometres on paved roads and another 200 kilometres on dirt roads. Hello road trip!
It was about 1 hour of driving before we reached the entrance to the park which is a protected area. The cost was $650 (ARS) for foreign visitors, $330 for Argentines, and $100 for residents of the province of Chubut.
Shortly after paying our admission fee, we stopped at the Istmo Ameghino Interpretation Centre, which is a bit like a small museum that serves as an introduction to the local biodiversity on the peninsula with accompanying facts about each species, their behaviour and migration patterns.
There were two central displays that really captured our attention: the massive skeleton of a 2-year old whale, and the skull of an orca, better known as a killer whale, complete with a set of sharp pearly whites.
After touring the interpretation centre, we climbed up to the lookout point for some photos, and then it was time to hit the road again on our quest to view wildlife. Well, it wasn’t long before we started seeing guanacos – lots and lots of guanacos!
Camera shutters started going off as our guide and driver brought the bus to a halt. “Don’t worry, you’ll see so many guanacos on the peninsula that you won’t even be reaching for your camera by the end of the day,” she told us. But still, we clicked away, because it’s not every day you get to see guanacos hopping over fences in search of greener pastures and fresh water. We also learned that the baby guanacos are called chulengos – how cute is that?
Sea lions & elephant seals at Punta Norte
After a bit more oooh-ing and ahhh-ing at the guanacos, we reached Punta Norte.
We followed the boardwalk to the edge of the bluffs and there before us lay countless sea lions basking in the sun. We visited in mid-February so there were lots of pups playing in the water and familiarizing themselves with their surroundings. It was so fun to watch, especially because the sea lions make the funniest of sounds – sometimes they sounded like bahhh-ing sheep and other times like screeching dinosaurs!
There was a group of elephant seals a bit further down the beach, but it was a much smaller group as it was towards the end of the season for them.
As a tip, if you enjoy photographing wildlife, this is one place where you’ll want to bring a zoom lens as you do view the animals from a bit of a distance so as to not disturb them.
Lunch at Estancia San Lorenzo
From there, we continued on to Estancia San Lorenzo for lunch – something that Sam and I had been very much looking forward to!
Since we were in Patagonia, we decided to order the Patagonian lamb that had been highly recommended to us. We opted for the set meal which came with empanadas as a starter, followed by a platter with various cuts of lamb alongside a salad, and then a flan with dulce de leche for dessert.
The lamb was wonderful! Our guide explained that the lamb from the peninsula has a very distinct flavour. Because the salt air permeates the vegetation the sheep feed on, that gives the meat a subtle saltiness. Now, I couldn’t tell you how much salt was added while the lamb was cooking, but it definitely was salty, juicy and delicious! The real highlight were the ribs with crispy bits of meat which we picked clean.
The biggest Magellanic penguin rookery
After that meal, it was time to hop aboard the bus and go in search of penguins!
Thankfully, we didn’t have to drive very far as the penguin colony we were visiting is located on private land belonging to Estancia San Lorenzo. We followed a dirt trail out towards the coast and it wasn’t long before we started seeing penguins out the window.
Once we were out of the car, our guide pointed out a carefully marked trail running through the penguin colony. The path to follow was marked with white stones, but we were reminded that penguins always have the right of way and that we needed to keep at least a metre’s distance as they waddled about.
Once we got on the trail, we saw so many penguins in their nests which they build in burrows and under bushes. It was a hot summer’s day and the ones that weren’t seeking shade in their nests were down at the beach.
It was here at Punta Norte where we learned that this is currently the biggest penguin rookery in the world. Punta Tombo had that title for a while, but recently up to 150,000 Magellanic penguin nests were counted on these shores, so that means 300,000 mating penguins, and that doesn’t even take into account the younger penguins who need to reach the age of 4-5 years old before they begin mating.
That’s a lot of penguins!
I didn’t realize the magnitude of that number until we reached a lookout point and we saw tens of thousands of penguins lining the pebbly shores as far as the eye could see!
We also learned that Magellanic penguins live about 25 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity, but not too long ago a 33-year-old penguin was tracked on these very shores – the senior of the colony!
This stop was the highlight of my day. There’s nothing like waddling penguins to put a smile on your face.
A quick stop in Puerto Pirámides
After visiting Punta Norte, we drove to the hippie beachside town of Puerto Pirámides, which just so happens to be the only town on Península Valdés!
We were given about 30 minutes to wander the colourful little town – most people opted for cool drinks and ice cream since we visited on one of the hottest days of the year! – and then it was time for the group to return to Puerto Madryn.
This is the part where Sam and I bid our group farewell since we’d be staying in Puerto Pirámides and exploring Punta Delgada and Caleta Valdés over the next 2 days. More wildlife, magical sunrises, and scenic hikes to come, but for now, here’s a video of our first day on the peninsula!
Have you visited Península Valdés?