The Valdes Peninsula and the surrounding area are without doubt the whale watching highlight in the Southern Cone and few places on the planet can match the experience available here. Southern right whales are the main attraction but in addition the Orcas of the peninsula are world famous for the hunting technique they use to catch sea lion and seal pups (they beach themselves temporarily in order to catch their prey). Dusky dolphins can also be seen here.
This blog has up-to-date information about whale watching in the area.
Seeing the Southern Right whales
The whales arrive here around mid-May and remain until early December. August-September-October are good months to visit. They are present in large number and sightings are guaranteed. There are different places where whales can be watched. The 3 main options are listed below.
Puerto Madryn - this is the main town in the area and the base for most tourists visiting the Valdes Peninsula (1 hour away). It is a pleasant town situated on a large bay. Whales can be seen in the town bay most days, sometimes in good numbers. They can be seen from the beach but the best viewing spot is the centrally located pier. The best time of the year to see whales here is from May until September. Sometimes the whales will be quite distant but often they are reasonably close to the pier. Occasionally, if you are very patient and lucky a whale may approach the pier. If this happens the views are simply unbelievable. There is no boat-based viewing in the town.
Playa Doradillo - this beach is 17km north of Puerto Madryn. It is accessible by bicycle, private transport or with a short tour available in Puerto Madryn. Viewing is done from the shore. It is special because the whales here are so close to the beach. The best time of the year to see whales here is from May until September. The views are incredible and the number of whales can be high. There is also a viewing platform on top of the small cliffs at the end of the beach. This allows the viewer to look down into the water and possibly see the whole whale if weather conditions are favourable.
Puerto Piramides - this village is located on the Valdes Peninsula, about 1.5 hours away from Puerto Madryn. It is the only location where boat trips are available to see the whales which linger here until December. Trips are offered by 6 different operators (Hydrosport, Punta Ballenas, Southern Spirit, Tito Bottazzi, Peke Sosa and Whales Argentina) and depart very regularly in season. Most visitors take a day tour of the whole peninsula departing from Puerto Madryn. A stop will be included in Puerto Piramides and a 1.5 hour boat trip taken with whichever boat operator the tour agency works with. If you are here mainly for the whales this option is quite restrictive. It is possible to take boats independently by visiting Puerto Piramides for the day (daily public bus leaves Madryn 9.45am, departs Piramides 6.30pm) or by staying in the village for a few days (good accommodation is available). Boat trips are quite cheap, about £18. The boats here are all good quality and of similar specifications. However, Whales Argentina operate a larger catamaran. The extra height of this boat provides more viewing options but it does not operate in all conditions and sometimes it will be fully booked by a tour group. Flamenco Tour is an agency in Puerto Madryn that works with Whales Argentina. HI Patagonia is a great hotel/hostel to base yourself in Puerto Madryn. Gaston, the owner, used to be a guide on the whale boats. He is a terrific host and a great source of information.
A Southern Right whale blowing off Puerto Piramides, Peninsula Valdes.
Seeing the Orcas
The Orcas off the Valdes Peninsula are world famous and heavily promoted in the area. This is because of their spectacular hunting technique, not because they are present here in vast numbers or are particularly easy to see. They are found around the coast of the peninsula year-round although the famous attacks are only seen when seal and sea lion pups are present. The attack hot-spots are Caleta Valdes (September, October, November), Punta Delgada (September, October, November) and Punta Norte (February, March, April). High tides greatly increase the chances of attacks. Viewing is land-based. Tours of the peninsula usually visit the more accessible Caleta Valdes and Punta Delgada. During Orca season some tours may go to Punta Norte. However, the time spent at these locations as part of an organised tour is not long and if the visit does not coincide with high tide chances of seeing Orcas are moderate. To have a good chance of seeing Orcas time will be needed and ideally private transport available so that time can be spent at the most likely areas. There is no public transport to Punta Norte or Caleta Valdes.
Towards the end of the season when whale numbers are lower and the mothers are weaker after feeding the calves, the Orcas might turn their attention to the Right whales. For the last 3 years, right at the end of the whale watching season, Orcas have been seen pursuing adult whales.
Seeing the Dusky dolphins
The Right whales will have departed by December. The focus of boat trips from December to March will then switch to Dusky dolphins. The logistics are the same as for the whales although demand for boat trips may be less at this time of year and frequency of sightings less than for the whales. Time will also be spent viewing other wildlife during these trips.
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