Peninsula Valdes

The Valdes Peninsula (Spanish: Península Valdés or En Peninsula Valdes) is a peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean in the Biedma Department of north-east Chubut Province, Argentina. Around 3,625 km2 (896,000 acres; 1,400 sq mi) in size (not taking into account the isthmus of Carlos Ameghino which connects the peninsula to the mainland), it is an important nature reserve which was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. [1]

The Valdes Peninsula is a unique land formation and global conservation site, home to an abundance of marine life as well as countless weird and wonderful land mammals and birds. There is some fascinating history to be discovered here too, as you explore the vast open steppe, steep sandstone cliffs and salt flats at 42m below sea level.

The Valdes Peninsula (Spanish: Península Valdés or En Peninsula Valdes) is a peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean in the Biedma Department of north-east Chubut Province, Argentina
The Valdes Peninsula (Spanish: Península Valdés or En Peninsula Valdes) is a peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean in the Biedma Department of north-east Chubut Province, Argentina

Geography

The nearest large town is Puerto Madryn. The only town on the peninsula is the small settlement of Puerto Pirámides. There are also a number of estancias, where sheep are raised.

Most of the peninsula is barren land with some salt lakes. The largest of these lakes is at an elevation of about 40 m below sea level (see extremes on Earth), until recently thought to be the lowest elevation in Argentina and South America (the lowest point actually being Laguna del Carbón, Argentina).

Fauna

The coastline is inhabited by marine mammals, like sea lions, elephant seals and fur seals. Southern right whales can be found in Golfo Nuevo and Golfo San José, protected bodies of water located between the peninsula and the Patagonian mainland. These baleen whales arrive between May and December, for mating and giving birth, because the water in the gulf is quieter and warmer than in the open sea. Orcas can be found off the coast, in the open sea off the peninsula. They are known to beach themselves on shore to capture sea lions and elephant seals.

The inner part of the peninsula is inhabited by rheas, guanacos and maras. A high diversity and range of birds live in the peninsula as well; at least 181 bird species, 66 of which migratory, live in the area, including the Antarctic pigeon.

Climate

Valdes Peninsula has a semi-arid climate. It has a climate typical of northern Patagonia that is modified with interactions between atmospheric circulation patterns and the adjacent ocean. The peninsula is located between the subtropical high pressure belt (located at 30oS) and the subpolar low pressure zone (located between 60o–70oS), resulting in the wind being predominantly from the west. The mean annual temperature is 10.6 °C (51.1 °F), ranging from a mean monthly temperature of 8 °C (46.4 °F) in winter to 18 °C (64.4 °F) in summer. During winter, temperatures fluctuate between 0 to 15 °C (32.0 to 59.0 °F) with frosts being common, averaging 12–20 days during the season. Temperatures in the summer can fluctuate between 15 to 35 °C (59.0 to 95.0 °F).

Source: Secretaria de Mineria
Source: Secretaria de Mineria

Mean annual precipitation is low, averaging 240 mm (9.4 in) although this is highly variable from year to year. The interior of the peninsula receives slightly lower precipitation than the coastal areas, receiving 200 to 225 mm (7.9 to 8.9 in) per year. Precipitation is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year though April–June receives the most precipitation. The El Niño Southern Oscillation strongly influences the climate of the peninsula. During an El Niño year, precipitation is higher from November to February.[2]

Península Valdés – UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Península Valdés in Patagonia is a site of global significance for the conservation of marine mammals. It is home to an important breeding population of the endangered southern right whale as well as important breeding populations of southern elephant seals and southern sea lions. The orcas in this area have developed a unique hunting strategy to adapt to local coastal conditions.

Brief Synthesis Outstanding Universal Value

Peninsula Valdes is located in the Argentinean Province of Chubut. The peninsula of approximately 360,000 hectares reaches more than 100 kilometres eastwards into the South Atlantic Ocean. Its roughly 400 kilometres of shoreline include a series of gulfs, including the extensive Golfo San Matias to the North and Golfo Nuevo to the South, both covering several thousand square kilometres. The dynamic coastal zone features rocky cliffs of up to 100 metres in height, shallow bays and shifting coastal lagoons with extensive mudflats, sandy and pebble beaches, active sand dunes, and small islands. The wetlands, some of them today also recognized as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, are associated with the tidal areas of the Peninsula and provide significant nesting and resting sites for numerous migratory shorebirds. The diverse terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems of Peninsula Valdes contain natural habitats of extraordinary value from both a scientific and a conservation perspective.

Connected to the mainland only through a narrow strip of land, the mushroom-shaped peninsula and its shore are almost insular in nature. Its calm gulfs, sheltered from the rough South Atlantic, are key breeding, calving and nursing areas of the Southern Right Whale and many other marine mammals, such as Southern Elephant Seal, Southern Sea Lion and Orca. There are important breeding colonies of shorebirds and tens of thousands of nesting Magellanic Penguin. The land ecosystem is dominated by Patagonian Desert Steppe, representing more than half of the plant communities distinguished in Argentinean Patagonia despite its relatively modest size. Terrestrial wildlife includes Guanacos, one of South America’s native camelid species, and the Patagonian Mara, a rodent endemic to Argentina. There are 181 recorded bird species, including the Lesser Rhea, the White-headed Steamer Duck, endemic to Argentina, and the migratory Snowy Sheathbill.

Criterion (x): With more than 1,500 specimens visiting the area annually Peninsula Valdes contains the globally most important breeding grounds of the Southern Right Whale, a species that had severely suffered from commercial whaling. The conservation efforts in Peninsula Valdes have been playing and continue to play an important role in the ongoing recovery of this whale species, an encouraging success story in global conservation. The property is also noteworthy for several other marine mammals, in particular major breeding populations of Southern Sea Lion and Southern Elephant Seal. As for the latter species, Peninsula Valdes harbors the northernmost colonies, and the only breeding population of this species in continental Argentina. The small local population of Orca has developed a spectacular hunting method by intentionally stranding on the shores to catch offspring of Southern Sea Lion and Southern Elephant Seals. Both the coastal areas, a diverse mosaic of wetlands, mudflats, dunes and cliffs, and the land area, a distinct and relatively intact part of the Patagonian Desert Steppe, harbour diverse flora and fauna of high conservation value.

Integrity

The peninsula is a naturally defined unit of the Patagonian landscape. It covers the terrestrial habitats with its remarkable flora and fauna in its entirety, including the particularly valuable coastal habitats. The original habitants of the area were the Tehuelche, which lived off the land and sea prior to colonization. Later on sheep farming emerged as a dominant land use to this day with heavy exploitation of marine mammals as an additional source of employment and income. Despite ongoing sheep grazing and related competition between livestock and native herbivores, as well as persecution of native predators, the property continues to support diverse communities of native vegetation and wildlife. The property is sparsely populated and infrastructure is modest. No industrial development has occurred with the exception of an aluminium smelter in the town of Puerto Madryn, located on the mainland but on the shore of Golfo Nuevo.

Historically, the Southern Right Whale population had almost collapsed due to excessive whaling but eventually its global protection was achieved in 1935. Southern Sea Lion was also heavily hunted for oil and skins on the peninsula, legally until 1953 and illegally into the 1970s. The populations of both species have responded to the conservation measures with impressive recoveries.

The marine areas are similarly intact. Despite the good overall state of conservation the property illustrates some inherent limitations of protected areas. All of the charismatic species Peninsula Valdes is globally renowned for are seasonal visitors only. While the property adequately conserves critical and sensitive habitat it is clear that the future of the populations also depends on suitable and intact habitat elsewhere.

Protection and management requirements

The formal conservation history of Peninsula Valdes started in the 1960s when provincial legislation established the first Touristic Nature Reserves, Punta Norte and Isla de los Pájaros. Several other provincial protected areas have since been established in particularly valuable areas, including Golfo San Jose Provincial Marine Park in 1974. In 1983, a comprehensive Nature Reserve for Integrated Tourism Development was declared to guide responsible tourism development, integrating all previously designated protected areas. A strict marine reserve was created in Golfo Nuevo in 1995 to strengthen the protection of the Southern Right Whale, extending five nautical miles from the shore around most of the peninsula. The Chubut Provincial Tourism Organisation is in charge of the reserves. Since the 1970s, there are wildlife guards supporting local police and the National Coast Guard. Most of the land is privately owned in large “estancias”. Decision-making requires a dialogue with representatives of all stakeholders, of which landowners are a major group. The management of the property encompasses a strong research component involving the National Centre for Patagonia and many national and international academic and non-governmental partners. In-situ conservation measures are complemented by national and international instruments applicable to the Southern Right Whale. The species not only received international protection from commercial whaling but was also declared a natural monument by the National Congress of Argentina in 1985.

On land adapted livestock numbers are needed to prevent further degradation and to restore habitats. Tourism, a vital sector of the local economy, is a central management issue with major potential for securing conservation finance. At the same time, tourism has complex environmental impacts in the property. Uncontrolled whale-watching and other forms of wildlife viewing can result in disturbances of sensitive breeding populations both on land and water. Careful monitoring and where required limitation is indispensable. Tourism increases the consumption of scarce freshwater in the arid environment and inevitably augments solid waste and wastewater. Pollution from sewage treatment facilities, fish processing plants, and industry around the town of Puerto Madryn needs adequate environmental management. Solid waste management is required to prevent impacts from artificial inflation of gulls and rat populations which predate key species within the property.

The Peninsula System Management Plan, with a participatory strategic planning methodology, was undertaken since 1998. Completion, effective implementation and ongoing monitoring of management plans for the property is essential.

The leading causes of human-induced mortality of Southern Right Whales are ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear. Consequently, increased vessel traffic through whale-watching, the aluminium smelter in Puerto Madryn and commercial fishing are concerns requiring ongoing protection and management measures. Passing marine traffic bears the additional great risk of spills that can only be mitigated by appropriate disaster preparedness.

A more complex challenge is the fact that all the marine mammals mating, calving and nursing in Peninsula Valdes are vulnerable to pollution, accidents and the direct and indirect effects of excessive fishing throughout their vast ranges – this challenge can only be addressed through international cooperation.

Peninsula Valdes Travel

Reasons to go

  • Whale-watching: The only place in the world where orcas (killer whales) beach themselves to hunt sea lion pups. Southern right whales also gather just metres from the shore, close enough be seen from your hotel balcony.
  • Wildlife: Walk among huge colonies of southern elephant seals and Magellanic penguins, kayak or snorkel with sea lions. Time to spare? Look out for dolphins, guanacos, maras and hairy armadillos.
  • Bird-watching: Tick up to 181 different bird species off your list, including flamingos, burrowing owls and rheas.
  • Scenery: Valdes has a stunning coastline. Long shingle beaches that appear to go on forever, dramatic sandy cliffs that drop perilously into the ocean, and crystal clear blue waters for wildlife watching.

Top 5 ways to see Valdes’ wildlife and scenery

1. Kayaking

ea Lions

Throughout the year you can expect to get up close and personal with groups of inquisitive sea lions whilst kayaking in the calm waters of the Golfo Nuevo from either Puerto Madryn or Puerto Piramides.

Reasons to kayak in Peninsula Valdes
Reasons to kayak in Peninsula Valdes

Southern Right Whales

Between June and December you’ll also have the chance to kayak within 50 metres of a southern right whale: often a mother with a calf in tow. Both are incredibly special experiences not to be missed by marine wildlife fans!

2. Whale watching

You can spot whales right from the shoreline, but to get up close it’s best to take a trip out by boat or kayak, both of which are easy to do around the peninsula. You can even step the adventure up a notch and go whale-watching by plane or submarine!

Both southern right whales and orcas are present along the coast of Valdes, and there are certain times of the year that are optimal for sighting each, as well as multiple ways of seeing them
Both southern right whales and orcas are present along the coast of Valdes, and there are certain times of the year that are optimal for sighting each, as well as multiple ways of seeing them

Depending on which whale you want to see, you can base yourself from Puerto Madryn, Puerto Piramides, or one of the estancias on the peninsula. They each offer incredible sightings, but you’ll need to make sure you travel at the right time of year for the whales you want to see, and allow enough time to travel between different areas.

3. Stay at an estancia

Escape the crowds, switch off and allow yourself to relax into the wilderness of the Valdes region. Rustic, restored estancias are dotted along the peninsula, and a few nights stay is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the scenery.

Stay at an estancia
Stay at an estancia

With vast swathes of private land to themselves, most of the estancias have private colonies of sea lions, elephant seals, and/or magellanic penguins that you can visit at your leisure.

Some of the ranches are also very unique spots for whale sightings, offering you the best chances of wildlife spotting in the region.

4. Self drive trips

Explore the Valdes peninsula under your own steam, with the freedom to drive yourself whenever and wherever you please.

You’ll need to be comfortable with some long drives on remote and poorly maintained dirt roads, but the freedom, flexibility and privacy of self driving around this stunning region make the adventure worthwhile!

5. Peninsula fly-over

See the Valdes Peninsula from a totally different perspective, and take some incredible photos of the whales and wildlife along the coastline. The flight takes one hour and the main goal is to see the geography, topography and the whales from the air.

Peninsula fly-over
Peninsula fly-over

The Cessna 182 (or similar) can take three passengers plus the pilot. Big windows next to the back seats provide incredible views during the flight. The journey takes you to the southern shores of Golfo Nuevo (New Gulf) and continues towards the north, for up close sightings of the southern right whales in the San Jose Gulf.

Plan your trip to Peninsula Valdes

How to get to Valdes

The Valdes peninsula and surrounding areas can be complicated to get to and navigate around. You need to be organised and allow enough time for travel in order to make the most of your time in the area.

Maps by swoop-patagonia
Maps by swoop-patagonia

Where to stay in Valdes

A variety of accommodations are on offer, from friendly eco-lodges and contemporary hotels, to remote ranches and authentic farm houses.

Puerto Madryn lies just outside of the Península Valdés and is the largest town in the area. Founded by Welsh settlers, it has unique origins, but today is known as the entrance to the Valdés. You can take a 2 hour flight from Buenos Aires, base yourself here, and then book a day tour into the reserve. There’s a selection of accommodation, interesting restaurants, and sightings of distant whales during whale season.

Puerto Piramides is the only town on the Valdés, a seaside spot which is rather more like a village in size. The hotels and hostels are dotted along one main road and restaurants and some shops on the other. You’ll be a few moments walk from the beach, from where you can watch the whales and sea lions playing.

For some even more secluded options, there are some special lodges and hotels nestled in the Valdes itself or situated further out, along the Southern coast.

When to go

Plan your trip to Peninsula Valdes
Plan your trip to Peninsula Valdes
  • Southern right whales are present from June to December only.
  • Orcas are present all year round, but tend only to be seen beaching in March and April.
  • Magellanic penguins are present from September to April.
  • Sea lions & elephant seals are present all year round, but in varying numbers depending on where and when you go.
  • Dolphins are present from December to March.Numerous birds and land mammals can be found
  • throughout the year.

Maps Peninsula Valdes

[1] – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valdes_Peninsula