How does Christmas with sea lions, penguins and with a sea front view sound to you? Not bad, right? Well, the great thing about having an as travelling-loving mum as one self, is that this was my Christmas present of 2016! Our Christmas days were spent in Puerto Pirámides on Peninsula Valdés in Argentine Patagonia.
Peninsula Valdés is filled with incredible wild life; everything from penguins over sea lions, elephant seals, dolphins to whales – depending on the season you visit.
However, the whales seem to be the big star of the show. Everything on in Puerto Pirámides circulates around them – also when they are not there! Because the whale season only runs from June to mid-December, and on Christmas they were all gone.
Then what to do when you didn’t take this into consideration when planning your trip, and you ended up visiting when the whales have left? Don’t worry! There are still stuff to do on Peninsula Valdés.
Here are some ideas on to what to do on Peninsula Valdés when the whales have left:
(... Of course, this can also be added to your do-to list in the whale season)
1) Swimming with sea lions
By far my high light of the trip! Swimming with sea lions was GREAT… like can’t get my arms down great! So of course, it ends on top of the list.
We went for about 15-20 minutes in a small boat from the beach of Puerto Pirámides with a small group of other visitors. All the gear was ready; wetsuit, snorkel mask and flippers. For a long time, it was just the crystal clear blue water against the sides of the boat.
Until then suddenly behind a curve in the cost on top of two rocks the colony of sea lions was taken a nap. The big male sea lion was lying in the middle of his crowd of girls keeping an eye on everything. When the boat stopped, we were only a couple of meter from the rocks. The sea lions looked puzzled at us. What was this for kind of animals on that strange nosy thing, they seem to think.
After getting the flippers and masks on, we were sent out in the water. After a while the sea lions got used to us being around, and started to swim closer and closer.
Actually, they got quicker used to us than I got to them. A couple of times they scared the hell out of me popping up just by my side. Otherwise, they were swimming around underneath us or looking curiously at us from their rock.
The guide said that we could touch them if they left close enough but honestly, I was a bit afraid to interrupt these huge animals. What if they got annoyed with me touching them? Maybe you dare more than me?
Good to know…
In Puerto Pirámides there are at least three operators that offer the snorkeling with sea lions (in Spanish: busceo con lobos marinos). The price they seem to have agreed pretty much on. All of them charges 2.000 pesos if you pay in cash and 2.300 pesos if you pay by credit card.
We went with Goos ballenas which we found fitted our needs the best. The guide spoke a very decent English, was very professional, and the tours run all year. Goos ballenas was the only one of the operators that we spoke to whom offered the tour in boat. The others do the transportation over land. Apart from the fact that there was strong wind the day we went, I liked the fact of arriving to the colony of the sea lions by boat.
2) Trek to Punta Pirámides and spy on the sea lions
Most points of interests on Peninsula Valdés are located kilometers apart. However, if you are staying in Puerto Pirámides a good place to discover on your own is Punta Pirámides. It is a view point above a Lobería. In Spanish Lobería means a part of the cost inhabited by sea lions. It is easy to get there by foot with a light trek of around an hour through the landscapes of Peninsula Valdés.
The trek offers great views over the majestic landscapes of the peninsula, and if you are lucky you will also be able to see some wild life of the area. The vegetation is a mix of dry grass and low bushes that never get higher than your legs and makes it easy to orientate.
How to get to Puenta Pirámides:
From Puerto Pirámides hit to the main road – Avenida de la Ballenas – and walk out of the city in direction of Puerto Madryn. Shortly after the main road crosses the street Primera Bajada al Mar (e.g. the first street down to the sea), on your left hand you will see a hotel, and by the side of the hotel a small house. By the side of the house there is a path leading up the hill.
Follow the path a little bit until you meet a sign saying Lobería pointing upwards, follow the smaller natural path leading further up the hill. Follow this path for around 20 minutes until you meet a bigger road.
If you zoom in on the map below, you can see that this road is called Acceso a Loberáa (e.g. access to the Lobería). The road is connected to the main road towards Puerto Pirámides and can be used to access the Loberia by car if you are not up for walking.
Follow the road for the remaining approximately 40 minutes until you first get to an area with a small house, a light house and a public toilet. A little bit further down the road ends, and you have the entrance to the Lobería.
The Lobería at Punta Pirámides seems like a less touristic place. While we visited, only a few others passed by, and the guardafauna (e.g. ranger) had plenty of time to drink his mate and chat with his chica.
3) Minivan trip to visit the elephant seals at Punta Cantor, the penguins at Caleta Valdés, and elephant seals and sea lions at Punta Norte
Even though Peninsula Valdes is just a little part of Argentine Patagonia – for not to speak of Argentina itself – the distances are big, and it takes a good amount of time to get around.
You can rent a car, and go around on your own. Or you can go on an excursion in minivan. We went for the minivan tour. Due to the big distances, it is hard to cover the whole peninsula in one day but the most points of interests are in the northern part of the peninsula.
We drove from Puerto Pirámides to Punta Cantor where are is a colony of elephant seals. Around 5 km north from Punta Cantor by the beginning of Caleta Valdés there is a small colony of penguins. Caleta Valdés is the long geographic formation which looks like a river. Check out the map above to get a better idea about where each point is located.
Finally, we went to Punta Norte which is about 85 km from Puerto Piramides. At Punta Norte there are colonies of sea lions and elephant seals living side by side.
Most of the places we visited on the tour the sea lions and elephant seals were far down on the beach away from the viewpoints but the penguins were “hanging out” just around the view point, and there are plenty of possibilities for getting a great picture if you are patient.
A note about visitors and animals…
I was shock when our guide told us stories about how some visitors have not only tried to touch and pet the animals but also hiting and kicking them just for the fun of it. Please accept the animals when you visit.
Leave them alone, do not feed them, take only pictures – and do not disturb them to get the right and perfect picture. Remember that you are visiting their home, not the other way around.
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Along the way around the peninsula you can also be lucky to see other of the peninsula’s wild life such as the guanaco which is a llama-looking animal, a Patagonian cavy, all kind of different birds… or maybe one of those: a larger hair armadillo. This little fellow was suddenly running around the parking lot of Punta Norte.
4) Relax on the beach in Puerto Pirámides
And then lastly the obvious thing to do when visiting a town by the cost: grab for towel and swimsuit, and take a relaxing day at the beach.
The beach at Puerto Pirámides is pretty clean, and it has lifeguards most of the time during the day.
Basics about Peninsula Valdés
Peninsula Valdés is located on the Atlantic coast of Argentina. The area is a desert and a natural park which is declared UNESCO World Heritage. Throughout the natural part there are only a few estancias (e.g. farms) and then the village of Puerto Pirámides which count around 500 inhabitants. Most of these seem to be working with and for the tourists (kind of a minus in my point of view).
Most visitors and tourists to Peninsula Valdés seem to stay outside the natural park in the larger city of Puerto Madryn which is around 1.5 hours’ drive from Puerto Pirámides. However, it is possible to stay in Puerto Pirámides, and then safe the transportation back and forth from Puerto Madryn.
One should always remember that Argentina is massive, and what looks like just "around the corner" is most properly not. Peninsula Valdés is no exception! So even though accommodation might be a bit more expensive out in Puerto Pirámides than in Puerto Madryn, it might be worth saving some of the back and forth travelling to Puerto Madryn - at least for a night or two.
How to get to Peninsula Valdes and Puerto Piramides
The bus company Mar y Valle runs busses from the bus station in Puerto Madryn to Puerto Pirámides three times a day during week days and once in weekends. The ticket costs $114 Argentina pesos – inflation might change that soon.
There is an entrance fee of $330 Argentine pesos per person to enter the natural park of Peninsula Valdés. If you are staying inside the park and want to leave and re-enter you must show a receipt of accommodation together which your ticket.
Have you ever visit Peninsula Valdés? What did you think about it? Or are you maybe planning to visit? Please let me know in the comments below what you think, and if the information here was useful to you.