A Trip Around The Valdes Peninsula

We’d come to Puerto Madryn to lay low in a lovely beach town but it’s probably against some manner of law to not visit the Valdes Peninsula whilst you’re here. It would probably have been cheaper to do a tour but we’re trying to avoid close proximity to other humans and their various disease carrying snot particles before our Antarctica cruise, plus we like the freedom of a car. So we rented one.

The roads are pretty much all like this on the peninsula. If it’s been raining you’ll need to check that the roads are open.

We were on the road by 5.45am, the aim being to get to the other side of the actually quite large peninsula for the high tide around 9am. There’s a higher chance of spotting orcas at high tide and it’s easier to see the seals sprawled along the beach. It’s a good, sealed highway as far as Puerto Pirámides then I wouldn’t say the roads go to shit but they’re gravel and you definitely don’t want to be going too fast in case a sheep jumps out at you.

These guys are everywhere yet somehow you don’t get bored of them.

When we were going around the car rental shops getting prices they told us the excess should we crash the car, and there was a higher excess should we overturn it. This was mentioned at every shop. Like, seriously? Is this such a common thing? Yeah so it turns out if you brake suddenly on a gravel road there’s a very real risk of ending up upside down in a ditch whilst things that looks like llamas but aren’t llamas stare at you like the idiot you are. We slowed down.

Guanaco. Not a llama.

These not-a-llamas are going to be the first things you see but apparently yelling, “NOT A LLAMA!” out of the window is not conducive to getting photos of anything other than their arses as they run away. To be fair they’d run away anyway. I feel like we’re going to be getting a lot of pictures of not-a-llama butts today. They’re actually called guanacos and Wikipedia informs me that llamas are the domesticated descendants of these gorgeous beasts. I do love a camelid.

It’s not the best photo but this is a turkey vulture.

We made it to Punta Cantor (I believe it’s called), near Caleta Valdes, bang on high tide. There were a metric shit tonne of what I think were elephant seals just sprawled out along the beach. It was pretty epic. I didn’t spot any of large males with the daft trunks on their faces though. The seals were just sunbathing, occasionally flicking sand onto their backs. I could definitely get on board with being a seal, just slobbing about all fat and stinking of fish. In fact catch me on any given Sunday and I’m nearly there.

We studied the water for the dorsal fins of orcas we not-so-secretly wanted to see but we weren’t lucky this time. Come on, orcas! All these tasty, blubbery morsals all lined up on the beach for you! Easy pickings! I think it’s quite the privilege to see the orcas and we weren’t holding out much hope but to be fair there were so many things to spot on the peninsula that we’d never seen in real life before. The marine shit is just a small part of it. People usually come here for the whales but we’d missed that season so we were mostly here for the seals and the penguins.

They’ve got the skulls of male and female elephant seals on display.

So off we fucked, heading north, stopping at a penguin lookout point on the way. We fully expected the penguins to be little dots on a distant beach. We figured we’d rock up, stare a while, take the best zoomed in photo we could then head off. Guys, they’re right fucking there! Even as we pulled the car in we could see them just chilling by the carpark. What an absolute honour.

They gave zero fucks about the starey, cooing apes. They were just hanging out, mostly in their couples, some of them occasionally braying like donkeys. One of them waddled onto the boardwalk to inspect us a bit closer before it realised we weren’t that interesting and waddled back off. They were so close you could see every detail in their feathers. It took every single fibre of my willpower not to reach out to pet one of them. They might be cute but I bet they could still remove a finger if they felt like it.

This guy was a noisy bugger.

It took a while but we eventually tore ourselves away from the magellanic penguins and we continued north. It took a fucking long time! You have to drive so slowly to avoid ending up a statistic and/or US$800 out of pocket because the lovely car you rented is spinning on its roof. Fortunately there’s a lot to keep you entertained as the odd 4WD belts past and showers your vehicle with stones.

This is how close they were. Incredible!

We saw so many more guanacos but we still excitedly pointed them out to each other. A zorro gris, grey fox, scurried across the road and we managed to get a good look at it before it disappeared into the scrub. There were these huge rabbit-like things which turned out to be Patagonian Cavys. Then we saw some deer-like things which also are, apparently, Patagonian Cavys. We were so confused and Google isn’t helping. Sometimes they look like rabbits, sometimes they look like deer. Who fucking knows but we’re ticking the mara (as it’s called here) off our Valdes bingo sheet.

Patagonian cavys. We think.

We also realised we’d missed the turn onto the coast road and were casually driving 30 kilometres out of our way but we’d already gone so far it wasn’t worth turning back so we just took the right turn that led to Punta Norte. Turned out that was the correct decision on account of the coast road being closed from Punta Norte to Caleta Valdes. I don’t know if this is temporary on account of the really quite biblical rains we’d had a couple of nights ago or if it’s a long term thing but it did mean we’d have to slog the long way back too.

I’m not sure what this little guy is but he was very interested in our sandwiches.

Punte Norte is home to even more seals, and we were even closer. There were several lobo marino, sealion, males, easily identified by their huge manes. They were chilling with their females, occasionally rushing at any other male that got too close. We wandered from viewpoint to viewpoint watching them flick sand onto themselves and shout at each other.

This fella approached another male, was chased off, then just sat there shouting at the sky.

Tarrant spotted an armadillo in the scrub which was quite exciting, we’ve never seen one in the wild before. There are two types of armadillo on the peninsula and this one was a peludo, a larger hair armadillo. We stalked it for a while and got done photos, mostly of its bum as it waddled away, but we were so chuffed. Tarrant also spotted what we think is a lagartija de Darwin, a Darwin’s lizard. She’s pretty good at spotting wildlife. I probably would see half the shit I do without Tarrant pointing at it.

After what felt like 84 years of driving we swung by the first viewpoint to use the toilet and were secretly pleased that no orcas had shown up. If we can’t see them then no one can because we’re miserable bastards like that. We took a different route out of the peninsula which took us close to the pink salt lakes. There seems to be a road that leads to the small one but it was narrow and didn’t look too suitable for a conventional vehicle. Best not risk it. There’s no phone signal out here and we didn’t want the embarrassment of having to flag down a passing 4WD for a tow. You can see them shimmering in the distance though, they’re pretty cool.


The final gravel stretch before the asphalt started again was an absolute bastard though. You know the kind of corrugations that slow you down to a 20kph crawl lest you knock yourself out with your jiggly bits? I’m a bit of a chonk at the moment, I’m at the stage where I have to hold my stomach when I go downstairs. I don’t think my bingo wings will ever stop wobbling after that particular stretch of road.

Look at its hairy little butt!

Obviously there’s shit to gawp at as you bounce along though. There’s this bird that looks like a tiny emu but isn’t an emu and there were loads of them around here. They’re called a choique, or a lesser rhea. They strode off into the scrub as we crawled by like massive creeps, pointing enthusiastically and shouting, “NOT AN EMU!” Again, we have many photos of not-an-emu butts.

Darwin’s lizard. Adorable.

We’d already ruled out popping into Puerto Pirámides for a cuppa as we’d done the peninsula in a really cockeyed way in a bid to get to certain points at high tide. Most people to a much saner circuit with less double backs thus leaving time for shit like this. We were going to go to the visitor centre but guys, I was fucking knackered. My right foot had taken umbrage with pressing an accelerator all fucking day which was weird as I’ve driven longer distances with no issues. I wanted to get back, stretch my poor ankle out and apply a tasty cold motor impairment beverage to my facehole.

Choique. Not an emu.

But what an incredible day! It was worth it just for those penguins but we saw so much cool stuff, animals I didn’t even know existed. I’m really pleased we came here. I’m also really pleased we rented a car rather than going on a tour even though it costs a fucking packet to rent a vehicle here. It’s nice to have the freedom. It was lovely to just bum around, stopping to wave photographic devices at various creatures whenever we damn well pleased. Though if we were to come here again I think we’d stay in Puerto Pirámides. I like driving but that last hour back into Puerto Madryn can fuck right off.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

Península Valdés, Chubut, Argentina

Stayed at: Coiron, Puerto Madryn

Coiron. We found it on Booking.com but it’s basically just a one bedroom flat. It’s perfect. Well equipped kitchen, comfy bed, sofa with a TV with Netflix, balcony. It’s in a perfect location too, a couple of minutes walk from the beach. Perfect to lay low over Christmas.

Useful shit to know…

  • Car rental isn’t cheap! We went to every rental shop and the cheapest was actually Eco Patagonia at AR$23000 a day (currently GB£110 at the official exchange rate, much less at Blue Dollar rate) but that only came with 400 kilometres. He charged AR$90 per extra kilometre. No English spoken.
  • We went with Centauro which was the second cheapest at AR$27000 a day with unlimited kilometres. He speaks excellent English and we just got a really good vibe off him. You can WhatsApp or call him on +54 280 434 0400.
  • The others were all AR$30000 a day, mostly with unlimited kilometres but Fugu Travel had 500 free kilometres which should actually be plenty for the Peninsula.
  • We did around 480 kilometres but we did it in a really cockeyed way with double backs.
  • If it’s been raining the gravel roads within the Peninsula might be completely closed, or 4WD only. Tourist Information will be able to tell you the situation.
  • High tide is the best time to see seals lounging on the beach and, if you’re really lucky, orcas. The high tide time is different at Punte Norte to Calete Valdes. Tourist Information will have the times.
  • The roads are mostly (not entirely) good but they’re gravel. You need to take your time and don’t brake suddenly or you could lose control of your vehicle.
  • The speed limit is mostly 60kph within the Peninsula, but we tended to drive slower. You’ve more chance of seeing wildlife if you’re slow anyway.
  • The entrance fee at the time of writing was AR$2800 each plus AR$300 for the car. The cost of the car depends on the size of it, and the cost for the humans depends on where you’re from.
  • Prices will rapidly change on account of the insane inflation here but the latest information should be on their website.
  • There are toilets and a café at Punta Norte and Punta Cantor. There are probably things in the town of Puerto Pirámides but we didn’t go there.

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