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Península Valdés

Puerto Madryn’s must-see destination is Península Valdés. Much of the bubble-shaped landmass is protected by Área Natural Protegida Península Valdés, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. Land and marine animals are easily observed. On the eastern coast are sea lion and elephant seal colonies. On the north point, orcas hunt. Many visitors flock to Puerto Pirámides, the peninsula’s only village, to board whale-watching cruises. Those travelers with a deeper pocket may stay at the several estancias (ranches) that offer lodging.



Istmo Ameghino, a 7-kilometer (4.4-mi) wide land bridge, connects the mainland to Península Valdés. To the south is Golfo Nuevo. On the north side is Golfo San José. At the beginning of the isthmus is the control point Puesto de Ingreso El Desempeño where the park entry fee is paid (Tel: 02965-1567-0900, E-mail: eldesempenio@peninsulavaldes.org.ar).



Down Ruta Nacional 2 is the Centro de Visitantes (21 km /13 mi). Three of the Visitor Center’s salons explain the peninsula’s mainland and coastal flora, fauna and ecosystems. A third gallery, discussing marine fauna, displays a complete Southern right whale skeleton. Another room covers the geologic history of Valdés and a fifth, the human presence. A tower allows a panoramic views.



From the Center, a road heads 5 kilometers (3 mi) north to Isla de los Pájaros viewpoint. The observation tower has binoculars for birdwatching. The isle, lying only 800 meters (0.5 mi) offshore, is a nesting ground for Kelp Gull, Rock and Neotropic Cormorants, Oystercatcher, Great Egret, Night Heron, Steamer and Patagonian Crested Ducks and Magellanic Penguins.



After 25 kilometers (15.5 mi) on Ruta 2 is the turn-off for Puerto Pirámides, the port from where whale-watching boats depart. One kilometer (0.6 mi) before this is a road that heads to Punta Pirámide with a small sea lion rookery.



Ruta 2 cuts across the southern sector of Península Valdés, passing by Salina Grande and Salina Chica salt flats. After 70 kilometers (43.5 mi), it reaches Punta Delgada. On the beach below these low cliffs, female elephant seals nurse while males fight over harems. Near Punta Delgada are a lighthouse and estancia-lodge.



From Punta Delgada, Ruta Nacional 47 follows Península Valdes’eastern coast. Punta Cantor has another elephant seal colony (48 km / 30 mi north of Punta Delgada). A trail head downhill to the left, to a natural viewpoint of the marine mammals (350 m / 0.25 mi round trip; 40 min; many steps). Fauna along this path are American and Black Oystercatchers, elephant seals, a few sea lions, and sometimes Magellanic Penguins and orca (end of September). Another trail, with vistas of the cove, goes left along the coast (1.5 km / 1 mi round trip; 1 hr). Punta Cantor has a café and gift shop. Estancia La Elvira is nearby. Four kilometers (2.5 mi) north is the crossroads with Ruta 52, which cuts west across the steppe to meet up with Ruta 3.



Caleta Valdés begins five kilometers (3 mi) north of Punta Cantor. This is a major hangout for majestic Magellanic Penguins, who pose for the tourists. Ruta 47 continues north to Punta Norte (46 km / 28.6 mi). The most dramatic time to visit this northern-most point of Valdés is February-April, when orcas come hunting the sea lion and elephant seal rookeries there. Ruta Nacional 3 goes south to met back up with Ruta 2 (79 km / 49 mi).



Península Valdes isn’t just about marine mammals and coastal birds, though. While riding across the plains, keep an eye out for rhea, guanaco, grey fox, Patagonian mara, puma and multitudes of prairie birds.



Entry fees into Área Natural Protegida Península Valdés are, for Argentine residents: $6, children (6-11 years old) $3. For foreigners they are: adults $20, children $10. All kids 5 years old and younger get in free. A five-passenger car pays an additional $1.50.



Guests of hotels in Puerto Pirámides or at estancias receive a voucher from their hostel, so they don’t have to pay the entry fee more than once. For those who come to take a whale-watching boat tour, only to discover inclement weather has closed the port, should stop by the entry gate. Rangers can give a stamp to allow re-entry on another day.



The main administrative office for Natural Protected Area Peninsula Valdes is in Puerto Madryn (25 de Mayo 130, Tel: 02965-45-0489, E-mail: administracion@peninsulavaldes.org.ar, URL: www.peninsulavaldes.org.ar). Rangers are on duty at the Interpretive Center, Isla de los Pájaros, and Puntas Pirámide, Delgada, Cantor and Norte.



Several estancias open their doors to guests, including Estancia San Lorenzo near Punta Norte (17 km / 10.6 mi; in town office: Av Roca 536, Tel: 45-5888, E-mail: begin_of_the_skype_highlightingpinguinerasanlorenzo@argentinavision.com, URL: www.pinguinospuntanorte.com.ar) and Rincón Chico, near Punta Delgada (Tel: 47-1733 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting, E-mail: rinconchico@infovia.com.ar, URL: www.rinconchico.com.ar). Midways between those two ranches, at the junction of Rutas 47 and 52, is Estancia La Elvira (in Puerto Madryn: Av. Yrigoyen 257, oficina 2, Tel: 47-4248, E-mail: laelvira@laelvira.com.ar, URL: www.laelvira.com.ar). Many lodges have bilingual guides.

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Other places nearby Península Valdés: Puerto San Julián , El Cóndor , Sarmiento, Río Gallegos, Viedma and Carmen de Patagones , Las Grutas, Comodoro Rivadavia, Monumento Natural Bosques Petrificados, Camarones and Trelew.







By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

11 Oct 2010

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