Valdes Peninsular - A wildlife wonderland

Trip Start Feb 26, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Hi Patagonia Hostel

Flag of Argentina  , Patagonia,
Monday, November 22, 2010

At 6.45am the alarm went off and despite being bleary eyed we quickly got ready and went down to breakfast trying not to wake the rest of the dorm. A couple of strong coffees and bread and jams later we packed our days sacks with what we might need for the day (sun cream, windproof jacket, fully charged camera battery, empty memory card etc) and waited in the common room for our 8am collection.  The weather couldn't have been better there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, it was warm and there wasn’t a breath of wind.  We got chatting to an older couple from Halifax, who now lived in Canada (they hadn’t lost their accents surprisingly) who were doing a tour of the largest Magallanic Penguin Colony outside Antarctica, there are in the region of 500,000 breeding pairs here with chicks, at Punta Tombo 180km South of Puerto Madryn.  Unfortunately we couldn’t afford to do both trips so chose to take the Peninsula Valdes tour which takes you around the protected reserve to see a whole host of wildlife including the Southern Right Whale (the bays act as safe havens for mothers to rear their young), Orca (Punta Norte is the famous beach and only one of two places in the world where between February and April killer whales have developed and use the technique of almost beaching themselves to grab Elephant seal pups off the beach), Elephant seals and Magallanic Penguins.       

Herman, our guide, collected us at 8am in his car and we picked up just one other couple on the way who were from Amsterdam and great fun, it turned out that there were just four of us in the whole group which was great it was a lot more personal than being on a big tour bus in a big crowd.  Our first stop was El Doradillo where we saw a Southern Right Whale very close to the beach (our guide told us that the whale actually give birth here and he actually got to see a baby and mother within minutes of this happening).  We are so amazed at how close the whales actually come to the shore this one had to be about 20m from us it was just incredible.  Great start to the day already.  We stopped at a few more vantage points and beaches along the way up to the reserve and Herman showed us a group of seals that have the same routine every day, they sit in a group in the water about 30m out from the beach and bob about as if they are having a meeting or are in a hot tub apparently Herman told us that in this area this behaviour is unique to this group of seals.

We got back on the road towards the peninsula and had to stop abruptly as we saw a HUGE spider on the road in front of us (the fact that we could actually see it walking across the road gives you a clue to just how big it was).  I’m not sure what type it was but it was the size of a tarantula and very hairy.  After he had been handling it someone asked whether it was venomous or not to which he replied "I don’t think so"....hmmm thank god I didn’t have the inclination to touch it.  Next we paid our entrance to the natural reserve of 70 Peso and stopped at the information centre to read up on the history and the geography of the area.  They had a full skeleton of a whale there and information revealing that the fin contains all the same bones as a human arm!  There was also a viewing platform which afforded us great views of both gulfs it was beautiful.

Back  in the car as we drove over to Punta Cantor on the east of the peninsula Herman gave us loads of information about the area and all the wildlife, he was so enthusiastic and knowledgable and answered all of our questions despite mine being sometimes a little odd.  From Punta Cantor we saw a large colony of Elephant seals all basking in the sunshine in a perfect line along the shore.  The reef here acts as a natural barrier from predators like Orca.  Further north up the coast at Caleta Valdes we visited a Magellanic Penguin colony where the penguins were almost on the car park – we all thought that the closest two were fake at first as they just stood like statues with their heads to the sun.  It turned out that they were very real and there were about 50 or more further down the embankment, some swimming, washing and others just lying down on their bellies, very cute.

We made a few more stops on the way to Punta Norte which was to be our lunch stop where we saw more Elephant seals, penguins and Guanacos (South American Llama/Deer type animal).  Arriving at Punta Norte we had lunch across from the car park (the empanadas that we had bought yesterday) and we were quickly joined by a cheeky Armadillo who wanted some of our lunch.  Forget the whales, this was what I had come to see!  It trotted around us circling us just like a dog and suddenly everyone else there emerged for a photograph of it.  After watching the Armadillo for a while we went down to the beach to find more Elephant seals but alas no Orcas trying to pluck them from the beach, despite the guide book telling us that it was not the right time of year apparently someone had seen a pack of Orcas yesterday!  I don’t think that I’m meant to see my favourite animal OF ALL TIME!

Anyway, it was nearing 1.30pm and we had to head back to Puerto Piramides for our 3pm rendezvous up close and personal with some Southern Right Whales.  We donned our life jackets and boarded the boat on the beach – strange- before we were transported on a tractor to the water.  After 15 minutes sailing out we saw a few other boats which were watching a whale EACH!  After Kaikoura in New Zealand where we only saw one Sperm whale, here we were SURROUNDED by Southern Right whales.  It was incredible and we didn’t know where to look next.  After a couple of hours we had seen so many whales with calves it was getting ridiculous and it was like they were putting on a performance for us, rolling, fin slapping, heads out of the water and more tail shots than you could shake a stick at – after the one chance for a tail shot that we got in Kaikoura we were truly spoiled here, one even had its tail in the air for a good five minutes.

On the way back to Puerto Madryn Herman took us to some less known beaches where only locals go and we got to see a Sea lion colony where a very dominant male (with about 100 bee-at-ches) spent his time chasing off other males who chanced their arm (or fin) at infiltrating the happy group.  We got back at about 7.30pm after a good 11 hours tour – great value for money at approximately 50 pounds each.  I was a bit annoyed that Andrew refused to tip Herman as he had been absolutely brilliant and one of the best tour guides that we have had – hopefully by reading this other people will decide to book with him (or the company that he works for) and that will make up somewhat for our tightness! (Andrew edit – Of course Erica had a go at me and she neglects to mention that she had the money however as always its all my fault!!!)  You will find UALAN TOUR on Avenue Roca the main street in Puerto Madryn and ask for Herman by name as he is free lance so works for himself (he couldn’t do enough for us and I would not hesitate to recommend him to anyone).

We got dropped off and said our goodbyes to the Dutch couple that we had enjoyed the trip with (incidentally they did tip which made me feel even worse) then went to the supermarket for some pasta and sauce – a very cheap tea after our expensive trip.  On the way back we saw a man driving a car down the main street in Puerto Madryn with a dog stood on the roof of the car!  We got back to the hostel and chatted to a Dutch girl for a while who gave us lots of tips for Brazil and the rest of Argentina and then went to bed at 10pm – Andrew still hasn’t got his early night despite threatening to be in bed at 7pm every night, anyway he might get his chance as we are on another 16 hour bus journey tomorrow night!  Oh what fun!
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Rorie on

You guys can see now why Patagonia was our favourite area of any of the places we visited, it will only get better for ye the further south ye go.

Oh ya and why the hell did you sound surprised when Lady E slept the entire time on public transport again as usual. Dont think i ever remember her lasting more than 30 min before conking out every time, lucky thing!!!!

Hope the antartic thing works out for ye, 700 quid is still a real bargain by the sounds of the prices that were being quoted when we were in Patagonia!!!

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