Puerto Madryn and the Peninsula Valdes

Hello again from further South and cooler climates! We spent four fun, eye-opening, and treasured days in the Chubut province of Argentina in a town called Puerto Madryn. This happy coastal city is nestled right next to the Peninsula Valdes, an Argentine National Park that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a true gem of an ecosystem filled with all kinds of amazing animals, both marine and terrestrial. It is a truly special place where people can come to be close to a diverse amount of animals, many of which you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world. A wildlife-lover’s heaven!


Puerto Madryn is filled with friendly Argentine people happy to have a conversation with you and proud to tell you about why this area of Argentina is so freakin’ cool. Primarily, it’s the marine life. Sea lions gallore, elephant seals, fur seals, Magellanic penguins, various types of oceanic dolphins, more fish and bird species than you can wrap your head around, and WHALES! So many species of whales are known to come to this area that the town restaurants, shops, bars, and businesses are covered with images of whale tails and iconic whale shapes. Some of the best whale sight-seeing tours can be found right here in Puerto Madryn in the Gulfo Nuevo and surrounding waters.


Their “flagship” whale, so-to-speak, is the Franca Austral – Southern Right Whale. Humpbacks and orcas too, among many others. We (sadly) did not see any whales in our time here on the coast, but the locals tell us that a lot of it can come down to luck. The weather, the time of year, the time of the tide, the wind, etc…all off this can come into play when trying to sightsee whales. Ah, well, it just means we’ll have to come back another time to do a full-blown whale boat tour. 😀


As it is, we rented a car and drove around the peninsula for a day. That thing is HUGE! It took us around 2 hours to get to the Northernmost point of the island, slower driving than normal because of gravel roads, and flat shrub-steppe in every direction as far as you can see. The thing that really gets you is just how wide and expansive it is. We would be driving for long stretches of time without radio signal, lost in our thoughts and without talking and feeling like the tiniest drop in a bucket of planet life.


I think it is a healthy and humbling feeling people should have more often. Like a combination of awe, timidity, and peace.

We made a short stop at Punto Pyramides on the Southwest side of the peninsula before making the trek north – this point was known to have a couple sea lion colonies. Very happy we did! Dramatic cliff dropoffs as backdrop for a couple different groups (called harems, lol) of lively sea lions. Love it.

And David got a few amazing photos of a bunch of young ones playing around in the water!


Then it was onward with our driving on the plains. We did, however, have plenty of land animals and birds to keep us company!


And Punta Norte…it was worth the wait and drive. This is the nothernmost part of the peninsula, a point of convergence for all the water out at sea and that coming off the Golfo San Matias. An isolated, remote point just FILLED with loud, gregarious sea lion harems, scattered elephant seals and fur seals, and an abundance of sea birds the likes of which I wouldn’t be able to identify if I tried. Probably better that way. The sounds the sea lions make are just out-of-this-world WEIRD! And hilarious.

The behavior of the sea lion harems was super intriguing. They would grunt, snort, howl, and belch (at least that’s what it sounded like) almost constantly. The males, indicative by their much larger size and their “lion’s manes,” fight each other for rights to a harem, which can consist of a few females or up to 20 females. The strongest and largest usually had the biggest harems, and they had a few battle scars from their prior fights with the “losing males.” Even as we watched, if a lone male would get too close to another’s female, the “big boy” (that’s what David and I kept calling the lead males) would emit a distinctively lower toned roar and rush at them. But here’s the kicker…the majority of the time it was just posturing. Before they collided, both the big boy and offending male would stop, stick their heads straight up in the air, and just sit like that. As if they were like “…it’s cool. It’s cool. But look at me, I’m sitting up straighter than you!” “No, I’M sitting the straightest!”


Again, I felt lucky to be present to bear witness to such a happy place where marine beasts live freely. You can’t help but come away with a smile.


And the lagoon/point itself is just as inviting with its splendid color and soothing wave crashing.
At other times of the year, Punta Norte of the Peninsula Valdes houses many whales. We found it hard to pull ourselves away from the scenes and sounds, but we only had the car rental for one day and there was still so much to see! Note to other travellers: Maybe do this peninsula over a few days, staying at Puerto Pyramides (the solo town within the park). That way, you can take your time to do and see more, you don’t have to keep paying the entrance fee each day, and it’s closer to where you are trying to explore.

Punta Norte, Peninsula Valdes


After Punta Norte…our first experience with PENGUINS!! Oh my gosh, me gusta los penguinos<3 Driving South along the coast of the Peninsula Valdes, there are a bunch of cliffside “residences” of the Magellanic pengins, who burrow in tunnels of the edges of the cliffs. It was the coolest damn thing to park the car, walk over, and be within a few arm’s lengths.


OMG!


The penguinos are so used to humans being around, they just go about their busines. It’s nice, though, because it’s just common courtesy that no one reaches out to pet them or cause any type of harm. Just observe in their natural habitat, not disrupt. I sat for a while and just watched a couple (at least I think it was a couple) cleaning each other and just being content in the life of that moment. Makes you think different about things. :{D A while ago, part of me thought I’d never see penguins in the wild. I am glad now that I have. And this the first of many, I hope, if luck and the Earth hold steady.

About the middle of the peninsula on the coast was Caleta Valdes, a nice spot with some trails through the coastal dunes and delightful beach flowers all over. We saw the highest concentration of elephant seals at this point! I think our day at the Valdes Peninsula consisted of a lot less spoken words than normal. A lot of listening, a lot of just taking it in. Breathing.


Inevitably, the sun began to get lower in the sky and we had to head back into town. Not to say the town wasn’t great in itself – but it’s hard to tear yourself away from the wonder of…wildness, I guess.


We stayed a few nights in the spare room in a family-run yoga studio called Crisalida. Great backyard for reading in the shade-dappled sunlight, with friendly golden retrievers wanting all your attention.


The other few nights were at the airbnb of a delightful host named Julia who is a science teacher at a local school as well as a fellow seasoned traveller herself! Thanks for everything, Julia, we appreciated your flexibility and bright, inviting home more than you know 🙂


It’s great meeting other adventurers/backpackers, hearing their stories, and knowing we are building a new network of friends and support all over this crazy, unpredictable continent. Surprises every day (seriously). Better Spanish every day. And the dry, cool weather of the South is a welcome and familiar small joy.

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