The Valdes Peninsula is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is accessible by car from the town of Puerto Madryn. It is world-renowned for its rich biodiversity including burrowing owls, guanacos, Magellanic penguins, sea lions, and elephant seals. The area is also the world’s largest breeding ground for the endangered southern right whale. If that isn’t enough, it is home to one of the most breathtaking wildlife encounters anywhere on the planet. Being the only place you can see orcas intentionally stranding themselves to snatch sea lions from the shore.
Average rating: 4.5 (very good)
Average spend per person: $57 ($11 – $112)
Number of reports: 4
Best time to visit: February – April and October – December
Typical activities: animal watching, bike riding, bird watching, boat trip, whale watching
Wildlife in the Valdes Peninsula
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are as follows:
Burrowing owl – 50% of visitors to the Peninsula (1/2) reported sightings
These unusual owls nest and roost in burrows excavated by foxes and other animals. They can be found in grasslands, rangelands, farmlands, deserts, and pretty much any dry open area with low lying vegetation. Burrowing owls are widespread in the Punta Delgada region of the Peninsula and around Caleta Valdes. They can be seen year-round standing beside the road next to their burrows – apparently quite unconcerned by humans who want to take a close up look!
Elephant seal – 100% of visitors to the Peninsula and Isla Escondida (3/3) reported sightings
The Valdes Peninsula is home to the only continental reproductive southern elephant seal colony in the world. It is estimated that around 20,000 elephant seals arrive in the Peninsula each year between August and March to mate, give birth, and shed their skin. They can be seen in large numbers at several points along the coastline including Caleta Valdes, Punta Delgada, and Punta Ninfas. For close encounters with these monsters, WildSide recommends taking a tour to Isla Escondida. Arrieros Patagonicos offer a recommended day trip that visits Isla Escondida and Punta Tombo (~$60). The guides are passionate about elephant seals and will get you within touching distance of the big males providing an unforgettable experience.
Guanaco – 67% of visitors to the Peninsula and Punta Tombo (2/3) reported sightings
Guanacos inhabit the Peninsula and are relatively easy to spot along the roadsides when driving through the area. They can present a hazard to drivers when running across the roads – particularly in the early morning or at night. They can be seen year-round in the Peninsula as well as at the penguin colony at Punta Tombo. The lack of TripAdvisor sightings from May to August is due to fewer visitors in the winter months rather than fewer guanacos!
Orca – 50% of visitors to the Peninsula (1/2) reported sightings
The Valdes Peninsula is home to a population of around 30 resident orcas. Individuals in this group have developed a spectacular hunting technique that involves intentionally stranding themselves in a bid to snatch sea lions from the shores. It is an absolutely breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime experience to see this in person. There are two clear seasons when sightings of the attacks are possible. The main season runs from February to April. During this time the best place to see orcas is Punta Norte although sightings are not guaranteed by any means. The secondary season is October to December where they can be seen off Caleta Valdes – although this season is even more unpredictable!
Even during the season, you need a lot of luck to see an attack. The best way is to hire a car and get to either site around 2-3 hours before high tide. The local Tourist Office can provide tide times. The roads are gravel so allow plenty of time to get there – particularly if you are staying in Puerto Madryn. Staying at Puerto Piramides or one of the estancias on the Peninsula reduces driving time significantly. WildSide recommends Centauro as a good local car hire business with a comprehensive and easy to understand insurance policy. Reports on TripAdvisor suggest that orcas can also be seen off Punta Ninfas around 80 km east of Puerto Madryn.
Magellanic penguin – 100% of visitors to the Peninsula and Punta Tombo (3/3) reported sightings
There are two main Magellanic penguin colonies on the Peninsula. The largest is at San Lorenzo Estancia close to Punta Norte which has a population of around 270,000 penguins. The second is a much smaller colony – although it is free to access once you have your paid entrance to the Peninsula – located at Punta Cantor near to Caleta Valdes. There is another large colony at Punta Tombo – around 190 km from Puerto Madryn. The population here can reach as high as one million penguins although the most recent census recorded around 400,000.
The penguins start to arrive in September in order to build nests. By April most will have left. They have little fear of humans and you can get great views of their nests and adorable chicks. WildSide recommends taking a day tour (~$60) with Arrieros Patagonicos to see the elephant seals at Isla Escondida and the penguins at Punta Tombo in a single day trip.
Sea lion – 50% of visitors to the Peninsula (1/2) reported sightings
There are a number of South American sea lion colonies in the Peninsula and surrounding coastline which can be seen year-round. For a truly spectacular wildlife experience, you can try to spot them evading orca attacks at Punta Norte and Caleta Valdes. They can also be seen at Puerto Piramides on whale watching tours operating from the bay. Alternatively, you can cycle or drive 16 km from Puerto Madryn to the Lobreria de Punta Loma. Or for even closer encounters, there are a number of highly-rated ‘snorkelling and diving with sea lions’ tours offered by agencies in Puerto Madryn.
Southern right whale – 100% of visitors to the Peninsula and Playa la Cantera (3/3) reported sightings
The Valdes Peninsula is home to over 2,000 southern right whales – the largest concentration of any breeding area around the world. The season runs from June to December although numbers are highest in September and October. There are several ways to see these magnificent whales in and around the Peninsula.
The first is to take a whale watching tour from Puerto Piramides. This offers the chance for intimate encounters with mothers and calves in the bay. There are numerous tour operators leaving throughout the day during whale watching season. The tours last around 1.5 hours and cost around $50. This doesn’t include entrance to the Peninsula. Sightings are guaranteed up until 15 December. WildSide recommends taking the 16:00 or 18:00 boats – allowing you to spend the morning looking for orcas! Tours can be arranged from Puerto Madryn or if you have your own transport you can just turn up at Puerto Piramides.
A cheaper option is to cycle, drive, hitchhike, or pay for a tour to Playa la Cantera. This is a beach around 20 km north of Puerto Madryn where southern right whales congregate metres from the shore. Check the tide times to time your arrival with high tide. They can also be seen from the shore in the bays around Puerto Madryn and Puerto Piramides. Alternatively, there are tour operators which provide specialist activities such as kayaking with the whales.