Despite its World Heritage status, the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina’s Chubut Province is a little-known natural paradise outside the country, whose biodiversity is due to the sea.
On land, the peninsula, which only records 240mm of precipitation annually, shows a steppe to semi-desert-like vegetation, which consists mainly of grasses and scrubby bushes. There are also some salt lakes, the largest of which (Laguna Grande) is about 40m below sea level, marking the deepest point of the South American continent.
The flat peninsula is crossed by a few wide gravel roads, which can also be used without a four-wheel drive vehicle. However, you should drive slowly and keep an eye on the Guanacos, which cross the road frequently and unannounced in small groups.
The only settlement on the Valdes Peninsula is Puerto Pirámides, which consists of a few houses, including some guesthouses, pubs and whale watching tour operators and the only gas station on the peninsula.
Guanacos, grey foxes, armadillos, skunks, small nandus, turkey vultures, owls, maras, and so-called Patagonian hares (maras), which actually belong to the guinea pig family, live in the interior of the country.
The fauna of the peninsula along its coasts is sensational, however.
Especially marine mammals such as southern right whales, sea lions and elephants, dolphins and orcas have granted the peninsula World Heritage status, which is populated by nature photographers from all over the world during the season.
The southern Golfo Nuevo, formed by the peninsula and a headland of the Patagonian mainland, is the habitat of the southern right whales. This baleen whale comes here in the second half of the year to reproduce and calve, as the water in the Gulf is calmer and warmer than on the open sea.
Shortly after the birth of the whale cubs (October, November), mothers and their children can often be observed from the beach.
A worldwide unique spectacle is offered in March, when the resident but rarely seen orcas hunt the then newborn sea lions by letting themselves be carried ashore on rising tide to capture one of the young.
All the photographs and nature films documenting this deliberate beach were taken on the Valdés Peninsula. Two Orca males have taught the entire population this spectacular hunting technique, which has been passed down from generation to generation.
During the rest of the year it is more a matter of luck to see one or more of the up to 13 killer whales living here off the northern point of the peninsula.
Between September and March, Valdés also has its own small colony of Magellan penguins waddling on the beach near the Estancia San Lorenzo, who do not seem to be afraid of human bipeds. Magellanic penguins belong to the group of spectacled penguins and owe their name to the frequency of their occurrence in the “Terra Magellanica”, which corresponds approximately to the Patagonia region.