Posted by: adventuressetravels | October 14, 2011

Peninsula Valdes: Treasure Trove of Wildlife

Halfway down Coast of Argentina, in the Chubut province lies a magical place.  Here Southern right whales come to breed, killer whales feast on the huge sea lion population, and sea elephants bask on the beautiful pristine beaches.  Maras (a relative of the guinea pig that looks more like a hare) and guanacos (a relative of the llama) frisk on the Patagonian steppe.  Peninsula Valdes nature reserve is a paradise for bird watchers, animal enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, this national park is truly unique.  1,400 square miles (3,625 square km), this amazing area is host to a plethora of species.  The Patagonian short-grassed steppes that make up the interior of the peninsula are home to grey foxes, maras, guanacos, and an abundance of birds.  But the coasts are where the action is really at.  Breathtaking drop-off cliffs give way to sandy beaches with limpid pools of blue.

But the inhabitants of these waters are really what make them special:  sea lions, orcas, Southern Right Whales, sea elephants, penguins, and more call the peninsula home.  But just to keep things interesting these residents are constantly rotating.  You needn’t worry though.  There is something exciting to see all year in this extraordinary nature preserve.

For many, the best time of year to visit is from June through December to watch the endangered Southern Right Whales in their breeding season.  There is the option of taking a whale-watching boat from Puerto Piramides, the only settlement on the peninsula.  The tour lasts about an hour and can only be described as amazing.   These little motor boats hold 30 people and the vessels get so close to the whales that if they were any smaller or rode lower in the water then the passengers could practically reach out their hands and touch the animals.

Whales float on their back raising their flippers skyward, relaxing in the sun, and beckoning potential mates.  Some poke their massive heads out of the water to peak at the equally curious humans sailing out to gape at them.  Still others build up the unspeakable momentum to rocket their 100 ton forms out of the water, leaving awed onlookers speechless.  It is a completely unforgettable experience.

But Peninsula Valdez is not only an excellent place for whale watching.  This animal preserve also boasts the fourth largest elephant seal colony in the world.  The best season to see sea elephants is in September through November.  The males lounge on the beach their layers of fat spreading around them like a raja surrounded by pillows.  Occasionally he finds the need to move and humps his form awkwardly across the sand like some bulbous worm.  However, as ungainly and awkward as these rotund creatures appear on land, in the water they are quick, streamlined, and the very definition of grace.  It is like night and day

Killer whales are another of the peninsula’s main draws.  Though they are occasionally spotted at other times of the year, the best time of year to see orcas is March and April.  This is the time of year sea lion pups are just learning to swim, and are easy prey for the killer whales.

These animals are truly impressive to behold, the black coloring on their back wrapping around them like a villain’s cape.  To Peninsula Valdes’ sea lion colonies they are villains, snatching their children away from them as there are taking their first dip in the Atlantic. The magnificent black and white creatures occasionally even go so far as to hurl their huge bodies onto the beach to snatch one of their sea lion snacks.  The season ends almost before it begins though and soon the whales are off to other parts of the world.

There is also a small colony of Magellanic Penguins that comes to Peninsula Valdes late September through May to build nests and raise their young.  These medium-sized penguins are fascinating to watch and really not afraid of anything.  Though if you really want to see these birds at their best, Punta Tombo, just 124 miles (200 km) away from Puerto Madryn, boasts the largest colony of Magellanic Penguins in the world.  There even the most avid penguin lover will get more than their share of the tuxedoed birds and their antics.

Puerto Madryn is the closest city to the park, and has accommodations from posh hotels to humble hostels.   It is easy to arrange an all-day tour from there to Peninsula Valdes with one of the many tour agencies in English or Spanish.  If you want a little more independence car rentals are available, but you miss out on all of the tour guide’s information.  However either way entrance to the park is $45 Argentine pesos for foreigners ($15 pesos for Argentineans).

Peninsula Valdes is truly a wonder of nature.  If you are anywhere near Argentina, do not miss the chance to see this marvelous place and these amazing animals in their natural habitat.  Watching whales and dolphins frolic in the ocean, untouched beaches with seals basking on them, and seemingly endless stretches of open grasslands… there is something about immersing oneself in this natural beauty that is just good for the soul.

If you go:

http://www.patagonia.com.ar/chubut/puertomadryn/peninsuladevaldes2.php

http://www.worldheritagesite.org/sites/peninsulavaldes.html

 

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Responses

  1. What a treasure trove of info for the naturalist!

  2. Here we are in Puerto Piramides, inside Peninsula Valdes and we confirm that is a real Fauna Paradise!!


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