Along the coast of Argentina almost halfway between Buenos Aires and Tierra del Fuego there is a large quadrangular peninsula which is joined to the rest of the country by a narrow isthmus: the Isthmus Carlos Ameghino. This peninsula, the Valdes Peninsula, which covers over 3,600 sq km, is made up of a semi-desert territory. The peninsula is a natural reserve of global importance for the conservation of marine mammals. Here there are large colonies of animals where sea lions, fur seals and elephants seals breed.
A NATURALISTIC PARADISE
In the waters in front of the peninsula, between June and December, whales, humpback whales and rorquals reproduce. While the killer whales come here to hunt elephants seals and sea lions. The killer whales adopt an ingenious hunting tactic here which consists, at high tide, of approaching the shore as much as possible by the waves and attacking the prey unaware of their presence in the shallow water. In the interior of the peninsula live animals such as rhea or nandù, a bird similar to ostrich and emu. The marà, also known as the Patagonian hare, and the guanaco, an animal similar to the lama. Precisely for these natural features, in 1999 the Valdes Peninsula was included by UNESCO among the Argentine sites of the world heritage of humanity.
A SINGLE SMALL INHABITED CENTER
The entry base for the peninsula is the port city of Puerto Madryn which is located about 50 km south-west of the isthmus which connects the peninsula with the mainland. The only inhabited center of this peninsula is the tourist resort of Puerto Pirámides. A small settlement of about 500 inhabitants, named after the pyramidal rock formations that are located in its surroundings. Outside Puerto Pirámides there are only about thirty farms that have sheep farming as their main activity.
The coasts of the peninsula are characterized by beaches, cliffs and banks of outcropping rocks. The coasts are washed to the north by the waters of the Gulf of San José and the Gulf of San Matias, to the south by the Gulf Nuevo and to the east by the Atlantic ocean. This plurality of currents and marine environments favors the formation of a great variety and diversity of flora and fauna which makes the Valdés peninsula one of the most interesting places in the world to observe nature in all its aspects.
AN IDEAL PLACE TO OBSERVE: SEA LIONS, ELEPHANTS SEALS, FUR SEALS, ORCAS AND WHALES
At the center of the isthmus, at the entrance of the peninsula is the interesting visitor center (Centro de Visitantes Istmo Carlos Ameghino) where you can find out about what there is to see on the peninsula and where you will find information on history, fauna and on the flora of the area. Not far from the visitor center is the small isla de los Pajaros, the island cannot be visited, but there are fixed positions with binoculars from which you can admire the birds that populate it numerous.
The best known places on the peninsula are those where large colonies of marine mammals are found. At the northern end of the peninsula, in Punta Norte, there is an important colony of sea lions and elephants seals, this is also the point where killer whales attack the animals of the colony at high tide trying to catch some of them with the help of waves. The best time to see them is between February and May, an essential condition is that there is high tide.
Halfway along the Atlantic coast of the peninsula, another place to visit is Caleta Valdés. It is a beautiful stretch of coast where there is a small colony of penguins. In nearby Punta Cantor there is a colony of elephants seals. Further south we arrive at Punta Delgada where there is another large colony of elephants seals. In the vicinity of Puerto Pirámides, a place to see is Punta Pirámide, a coast with high cliffs overlooking the sea where there is a colony of sea lions and sea birds and where you can observe whales.