AN UNFORGETTABLE JOURNEY TO PENINSULA VALDES
For a long while traveling to Peninsula Valdes had been on my bucket list. I must admit it was an awaiting place to visit. Sometimes life has unknown paths and after I had to give up another trip I had planned with a friend for months, I began looking for somewhere else to go. I didn´t care about traveling alone, sometimes I need to rest from noisy, hectic life and replace my museum fanatic visits for contact with nature, silence and wildlife.
After browsing a couple of places, I had never been before, I began exploring about Peninsula Valdes…penguins, whales, sea lions and a lot more wildlife sea animals where there, just within a 2-hour flight. The ideal time of the year to visit Peninsula Valdes is the Argentine spring, so it was the perfect moment to go. I got my plane ticket from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn, a sea facing city, very small, quiet, safe and nice located between many of my visiting points. Hotels are very good and you have hosting for any budget. From the plane´s window I could catch a glimpse of the Peninsula and was already so excited to land! I wasn´t wrong at all!
DAY 1: WHALE COAST SIGHTSEING
I got to Puerto Madryn on time for lunch and then take a tour to «El Doradillo» beach to watch the «Franca Austral» whales from the coast. For this adventure we (yes, we, my best friend Jimena decided to join me, so I was very happy. She knows I need some time on my own for myself and my photo shooting) hired a private tour. I had very high expectations for this visit, I had read so many traveler´s opinions I almost felt I had already been there. Why a private tour? Because the difference in money was not so big and the advantage was we could stay as long as we wanted to and without sharing that precious time with other people, and hurrying up with any kind of schedules.
Our guide took us to «El Doradillo» but recommended to go to «La Cantera» beach, which is more secluded and only 2 minutes away from the first one. My legs ran on this pebble beach, my eyes were filled with joy and emotions and my photographic lenses couldn´t stop shooting. I felt blessed, happy and with all my expectations fulfilled! Spring is the time when whales are breeding their babies. The baby is always playing with the mother, close to her as she cares for her sweetie. The caressing between them is impressive along with the tail movements and loud splashes (an adult whale weighs about 50 tons, so when they lash their tails, the sound can be heard pretty forceful). It´s an awesome performance. It´s pure beauty!
We saw a gorgeous sunset and were back at 9pm in our hotel, and went directly to a restaurant to grab something to eat.
DAY 2: VISIT TO PENINSULA VALDES NATIONAL RESERVE
Sleeping is not a priority in Peninsula Valdes. Trips are long, so agencies pick up their passengers before 8 am…which means an early wake up. The day trip from Madryn to Peninsula Valdes would round up about 250 miles. The agencies pick you up from Madryn, then drive you to Peninsula Valdes, which is a national reserve and then to «Puerto Piramides», a tiny town to pick the whale sighting on boat. It has the benefit to be geographically protected, although if winds are strong the sightseeing is cancelled and switched to another day.
It´s amazing to see how close the whales approach the boats, one can always seem them swimming underneath the vessel, smiling and throwing air and water through their breathing holes. Grab your cameras, it´s a worthwhile memory! The ride lasts about 45 minutes and you can also watch seals, sea lions, birds and other species sunbathing on the coast. Unforgettable!
That day we also visited other sites such as «Punta Norte», «Punta Cantor» and «Punta Delgada» where you´ll get the chance to understand the geography (what is called «Caleta Valdes or Valdes Cove) and also observe other type of animals, the typical fauna from the Valdes Reserve, such as «guanacos», «ñandús», sheep and local birds among other species.
We had lunch at a restaurant in «Punta Delgada», next to the old lighthouse (not included in the trip budget) which was ok (at least they had wi-fi! There were some parts in teh Reserve where we didn´t have mobile signal at all). We got back to the hotel at 6 pm totally exhausted but happy!
DAY 3: VISIT TO PUNTA TOMBO: THE MAGELLAN PENGUINS
It was a very windy day. But expectations where as strong as the winds, so we took a day trip to the Natural Reserve «Punta Tombo» that each year receives 1 million Magellan penguins. These penguins are very short -they look almost as a plush toy- but with amazing habits. Every year, once they get to the shore, they walk to the same cave. As a monogamous specie, the males arrive first and wait for their females which reach the coast 15 days later. The reserve is so big that it can take 1 and ½ day for a penguin to rejoin his cave.
It takes 2 and ½ hours driving from Puerto Madryn to Punta Tombo, so I felt it was that 2 hours was a short stay in the Reserve. But we had the chance to see them coming out from the sea, sunbathing on the rocks and pebbles and then marching to their caves. One must be very respectful of these little animals because they are on their journey to their caves and you can find them just in front of you in the middle of the paths. They are completely pacific, but do not approach them, they might hurt you mainly because they are afraid of humans.
After the visit to «Punta Tombo», the largest penguin reserve in Patagonia, we head to Trelew for a 1-hour stop. Something not worthy from my point of view. The city has a Paleontological Museum, but nobody from our tour went in (not included in the budget, of course). Most of us had a coffee while waiting to return to Puerto Madryn.
I strongly recommend visiting «Punta Tombo». If you have the chance to avoid Trelew, take that tour!
DAY 4: «EL PEDRAL» NATURAL RESERVE
At this point you might have guessed that wildlife conservation and preservation is a top priority in Patagonia. Many places are Reserves or private properties that host reduced groups of people for the day. We first visited «Punta Ninfas» where I didn´t know what I was going to see. OMG! The panoramic view from the white cliffs, the turquoise waters and the silence was a breathtaking combination. Until I saw them…the elephant and sea lions lying down the cliffs along the coast, so beautiful. I didn´t know one can spend the night in Punta Ninfas (I have to say I don´t know anything about the lodging there) as I saw 3 persons fishing in the coast with all these precious creatures so near them. But at least I already know what I will do when I go back to this gorgeous location!
The tour took us to «El Pedral» a farm that has a beautiful house from the mid 1900 hundred and which has also a small penguin reserve. The advantage of this reserve is that one can access the beach where the penguins are at leisure. We walked along the penguin colony, trying not to bother them and got to a pebble beach where these adorable animals where standing in groups. As water is their natural environment if we wanted to get close to them they will drop into the water. As a difference with «Punta Tombo» where you can blend with unlimited people, in «El Pedral», visitors cannot be more than 15 persons, so you can walk peacefully and silently, enjoying the view and this unique experience, although also with very short watching the colony. The visit finished with a barbecue, «empanadas», salads and desert. And then an extra hour just for leisure. I went photo shooting some farm species such as gooses, which was fun to do. Other people played soccer!
It´s impossible to compare the sensations between visiting «Punta Tombo» and «El Pedral». They are completely different. In «Punta Tombo» you´ll get to see many more penguins as well as tons of people. In «El Pedral» you´ll get to have a more secluded visit but less species (and you wont see them arriving fresh from the sea, because in this reserve they do that very early in the morning). It depends on what you´re looking for. I think it was good to have visited both, I would specially suggest to visit «Punta Tombo» first, as you see them arriving from the sea. But you cannot access the beach at «Punta Tombo» as you can in «El Pedral», so each place has its owns pros and cons. Accommodations at «El Pedral» are excellent, but expensive.
DAY 5: GOODBYE PUERTO MADRYN
That morning we slept a little more. No tours were scheduled for that morning as our plane was booked to departure about 2 pm. We decided to walk down to the beach and watch the whales just from there. Whales approach the coast when the tide is high (I had downloaded a «tide app» that indicated these movements). We enjoyed the best whale show I would remember. The sun had just risen and plenty of whales were playing around. How much did this cost? Nothing!
As they said goodbye, we stop by the Oceanographic Museum, only 3 blocks from our hotel. Surprise! The entrance was free. And the Museum has a nice layout and is well shown. We couldn´t believe we had a morning on a budget!
My memory and my heart are so full of emotions after that trip. I will sure return: next time I will swim with seals and will watch the killer whales (but that takes place in the summer!). I can´t wait to go back. So long Puerto Madryn!
TIPS: stop in Puerto Madryn, don´t stay in Trelew. My reasons? Trelew is not as safe as Madryn, is very far from Peninsula Valdes and is not a seashore city. Although it offers many more flights. To Madryn you have one flight per day only.
Take a cab from the airport to your hotel in Madryn. A private transportation will cost you many bucks and cabs are modern, safer and cheaper.
If you´re planning to rent a car (tours are expensive but worthy because one can learn a lot with good guide explanations. However, if you´re traveling as a family, renting a car might be a lot cheaper, believe me!) consider having enough gas, because there are very few gas stations and none inside the Peninsula Valdes Reserve. Also take into account that most of the roads are made of gravel, so driving fast is not allowed inside the Reserves at all. Also, you should drive more carefully because is a little more risky than common roads.
Always carry enough bottles of water with you. You don´t have drugstores inside the reserves (there might be some selling points at one or two places).
Don´t forget your cameras!