Peninsula Valdes is located north of Puerto Madryn. If you plan to arrive by plane, there are airports in Puerto Madryn and Trelew. Depending on the time of your travel (Oct-Feb) the trip can be combined with a visit to Punta Tombo. Peninsula Valdes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is particularly known for its wildlife. There is only one village on the island, Puerto Piramides. If you come to the island, you have to pay an entrance fee and an extra fee if you have a car. You can find the prices here: http://peninsulavaldes.org.ar/tarifas/
If you have your accommodation in Puerto Piramides, you only have to pay the entry once, even if you leave the peninsula in between. To do this, however, you have to inform your hotel, so that they can register you to enter again without a fee. The car, on the other hand, has to be paid again every time. A few kilometers after you arrived at the Peninsula Valdes, you come to a visitor center. Here you get some information about the island and which animals can be seen in which months. You can get a map and information about high and low tide times. At high tide the chance to spot orcas and whales is better.
At the right time, Peninsula Valdes is one of the best places to see whales. In the whale season, the peninsula is well visited and whales are often visible from the beach.
It wasn’t whale season when I was there, so I cannot show you any pictures of them. However, there were other animals. I could see guanacos, sea lions and elephant seals, armadillos, penguins and a few birds. It was Orca’s low season, so with luck I could have seen Orcas. Unfortunately I was not lucky.
Orcas are also a huge highlight on the island because they use the unique technique of sandboarding for hunting. That means they strand themselves on the beach to grab a seal.
You can find the information which animals are visible in which time of the year here: http://peninsulavaldes.org.ar/calendario-de-fauna/
Current information about high and low tide, the animals and the last orca sighting can be found here: https://peninsulavaldes.org.ar/informe-diario-2/
The Peninsula Valdes is very large and it takes you 1-2 hours by car if you want to go from the town Puerto Piramides to the viewpoint Punta Norte in the north of the island. Only the path from the entrance to Puerto Piramides is paved, otherwise only gravel roads. In the following I describe the availabe viewpoints and show you pictures from there.
I would recommend at least 2 full days for the peninsula, more in whale season.
Puerto Piramides is the only city on the island. A paved road leads from the entrance of the peninsula to the city. In Puerto Piramides you will find supermarkets, restaurants and accommodations. The city is relatively small, but quite touristy. There is a bathing beach with dark sand. In the whale season, whales should be visible from the beach sometimes.
Isla de los Parajos
The bird island (Isla de los Parajos) is not far from the visitor center. The recommended time to visit is in the evening before sunset, when the birds become more active. Since it is located close to the main street, you can do a short stop. The bird island actually has many birds, but these are very far away. You can only see with the eye that something is flying and not much more even with a standard binocular.
There is a small exhibition about the birds. There were 2 large fixed binoculars that worked free of charge and with which you could see the birds. On a lookout point there is another pair of binoculars, which allows you to look for a moment for 1 peso. This also helped me to verify that there were flamingos in the distance. Overall, only conditionally recommended, because the birds are just too far away.
Punta Piramide is located just outside the city and can be reached by car in a few minutes. When I was traveling, it was the place that I liked the most. Here is a whale viewpoint to which I cannot say anything because there was no whale season and a viewpoint for sea lions. There were really a lot of sea lions to be seen sunbathing on the rock. The distance was still okay so that you could see them quite well. With sea lions there is always action somewhere. The animals roar or do a little fight to show who is the mucho lion. From time to time you can see the sea lions jumping into the water to go swimming.
While you can see a larger salt flat on the island only from the road, you can visit the smaller one (Salina Chica) directly. A narrow road branches off to the salt flat The last 200m of the road were so bad that I left the car in front of it and walked the last 3min, I was worried that I would touch down with the car otherwise. The salt flat was a light pink and was very nice to look at. Otherwise there was nothing else except for a faded sign. If you have ever seen a real salt flat somewhere, the salt flat is only worthwhile if it is on your way.
There should be many seals here. Unfortunately the point was closed at the time I was there. I apparently misunderstood the information in the visitor center. I just thought the restaurant wasn’t open, but access to the entire area was closed. So I went there for nothing. I dont’ know if it was a temporary closing or is closed completly. I would recommend to get the latest information at the visitors center.
In Caleta Valdes you can see sea elephants. However, these are relatively little active compared to the sea lions and are mainly just lying around at the beach. Every now and then a seal moves for 5m before it takes another break.
In addition to the main viewpoint, there is a small hiking trail that heads for other viewpoints. The distance of maybe 1km is also manageable for everyone.
If you are lucky, you will see orcas. A sign showed the last sighting of the orcas. When I was there, 5 orcas were seen 9 days earlier. During the whale season you can also see whales here. I could see several armadillos walking along the paths and across the parking lot.
About 3 minutes north of Caleta Valdes you will find a lookout point and a few hundred meters further a stop with a Magelan Pingunin colony. There is only a small platform in front of the colony, but the pingunins are very close. If you don’t have time for Punta Tombo, you can at least see a few penguins up close.
Punta Norte is located in the north of the island. There are sea lions and elephant seals here. While the sea lions are always in action, the elephant seals mainly lie around. The viewpoint is relatively wide and the coast is filled with seals. If you are lucky, you will see orcas. This is supposed to be the best place for it. When I was there, the last orca sighting was 3 days ago when 10 orcas visited the place. Unfortunately I was not there for the Orca high season. A small exhibition showed pictures of the famous sandboarding when the orcas strand themselves on the beach to catch a seal.
San Lorenzo is not far from Punta Norte. A little south of Punta Norte, a 6km long, relatively bad road leads to San Lorenzo. On the way there is a sign telling, that it is not included in the admission fee.
Once there, there is a restaurant, which made a pretty good impression. You have the option of a 1,5h long guided tour from here. With the tour you can see many Magelan penguins up close. The penguins can only be visited with the tour which cost as of Jan 2020 USD 45. It’s probably similar to Punta Tombo, a bit smaller and you can only do it by tour and not by your own here. While the entrance fee was less than 10 USD in Punta Tombo, it would be more expensive here.
I have been to Punta Tombo before, so I decided to not do that tour. Anyway, if you don’t have that time and only visit Peninsula Valdes, but want to see more pingunins than in Caleta Valdes, it could be a good option. A visit is only possible between September and March because the penguins are not there during the rest of the year. At the end the 6km mud path was also not completely useless for me either, because at least an owl greeted me in the parking lot.
Find more information here: http://pinguinospuntanorte.com.ar/home/
If there is only a small town on a relatively large peninsula, that means little light pollution. When the sky is clear, the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye. If you stay in Puerto Piramides, it’s best to drive out of the city for 5 minutes, e.g. to the junction where the gravel road to Punta Norte begins. Now the city has disappeared behind the hill and it is even darker and the view even better.