The sight of a mother and baby whale basking in quiet waters just a few metres from your boat is an unforgettably moving sight. Not, perhaps, what you expected to see after travelling for days in the wild unpopulated open plains of Patagonia. But the whole Atlantic coast hosts huge colonies of marine life, and there is no region quite as spectacular as Península Valdés.
This wide splay of land stretching into the Atlantic from a narrow isthmus enclosing a gulf of protected water attracts an astonishing array of wildlife which comes to breed here each spring, most famously the southern right whales, who can be seen from September to November. The small breezy town of Puerto Madryn is the best base for exploring the peninsula, though there are estancias on Valdés itself. Just to the south, Trelew is worth a visit for its superb palaeontological museum, and to reach the old Welsh pioneer villages of Gaiman and Dolavon further west.
If you’re heading south by road, consider stopping off at historic Carmen de Patagones, a quaint Patagonian town. Patagonia’s fine estancias start here, with riding and sheep mustering at La Luisa.
Whatever time of year you visit Península Valdés you’ll find a wonderful array of marine life, birds and a profusion of Patagonian wildlife such as guanacos, rheas, Patagonian hares and armadillos. But in spring (September-November), this treeless splay of land is host to a quite spectacular numbers of whales, penguins and seals, who come to breed in the sheltered waters of the gulf south of the narrow isthmus Ameghino, and on beaches at the foot of the peninsula’s chalky cliffs.
The land is almost flat, though greener than much of Patagonia, and at the heart of the peninsula are large salt flats, one of which, Salina Grande, is 42 m below sea level. The peninsula is privately owned – many of its estancias offering comfortable and wonderfully remote places to stay in the middle of the wild beauty – but it is also a nature reserve and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.