The Peninsula Valdes is the absolute best place to view marine wildlife in Argentina.
Out of my many trips in Argentina it has always been one of my favorites and I’m happy to have been able to return again recently with my kids and see the excitement through their eyes.
You can go whale watching, walk among penguins, see sea lions and elephant seals, even orcas could make an exciting cameo appearance if you’re lucky!
This is the ultimate bucket list experience for wildlife lovers, and if you have time, combine it with a trip to the wetlands with this wildlife Argentina itinerary.
When you visit and where you stay (and booking in advance) are key to the perfect Peninsula Valdes itinerary.
Lucky for you, this guide will solve all those important questions.
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How to get to the Peninsula Valdes
To get to the Valdes Peninsula from Buenos Aires you can either fly into Puerto Madryn or Trelew.
Check flights into both cities to see which has the schedule and price point that best fits your trip.
Also take into account rental car rates, as prices and availability in each might differ and affect your trip/budget.
Flights are just 2 hours and prices are affordable if you book in advance thanks to the arrival and competition from budget airlines in recent years.
Once there, Trelew is a 2 hour drive to Puerto Piramides (the only village on the peninsula) and Puerto Madryn is one hour away.
Can you take a bus? The long distance bus may reign supreme across South America, but in Argentina I do not recommend them.
It takes 20 hours and prices are often more expensive than flights these days.
That said, if you do want to take the bus, check Busbud.
Peninsula Valdes Entrance & Visitor Center
Once you arrive at the Peninsula, you’ll stop at a booth where you’ll pay your entrance fee.
In 2023 it was 7,200 for foreign visitors and half that for Argentine residents. Check up to date fees here.
If staying in Puerto Madryn you will pay this fee every time you enter if coming multiple days.
If you’re staying in Puerto Piramides, you only need to pay the entrance fee once.
Save the tickets you’re given in your glove compartment to show upon re-entering if you leave and return during your stay to avoid paying again.
Welcome to the Peninsula Valdes, now make sure you stop at the Visitor’s Center.
It’s very informative and worth the time.
Where to Base Yourself: Puerto Piramides vs Puerto Madryn
Most people choose to stay in big city Puerto Madryn.
It has the airport, hotels, and a large variety of tours.
But my preference is and always will be basing yourself right on the peninsula by staying in Puerto Piramides.
It’s a small village but you won’t be bored here.
The village itself is charming versus the grunge of Puerto Madryn.
We’ve stayed here twice now for four days each visit and I have yet to get tired of Puerto Piramides.
The only caveat is you do need a car to properly enjoy being ON the peninsula.
If you prefer to travel via guided excursions you might be more comfortable in Puerto Madryn, where you can book excursions to various destinations.
Flying into Trelew? Do not even consider it as a base.
It is the ugliest city in Argentina and that is a hill I will die on (and it’s also farther from the sights, so there is that).
Where to stay on the Peninsula Valdes
So you decided to stay on the peninsula?
Here are the best hotels in Puerto Piramides.
It used to be more cost prohibitive but as the town has developed in recent years there are more options for all budgets.
Puerto Piramides Hotels:
- Oceano Patagonia – $$$ – The best place to stay, hands down. Oceano is an eco-friendly beachfront property and all rooms feature ocean views. When we stayed here we could watch and hear the whales in the bay right from our bed.
- La Reserva en el Mar – $$ – We stayed here on our recent trip, it’s a small complex of apartments by the “primera bajada al mar” not ON the beach but very close. It cost us the equivalent of 50 dollars a night for a one bedroom apartment but with beds in the living room it would sleep 4 (or more depending on the apartment).
- Hostel Aloha – $ – For the backpackers, book a classic hostel bed in a dorm or private room here.
Estancias on the Peninsula Valdes
And if you really want to get off of the beaten path, stay at one of the estancias on the peninsula like La Elvira Natural Lodge.
By staying here you’re right by their elephant seal colony and the Caleta Valdes penguins and a shorter drive to Punta Norte (orcas) and Estancia San Lorenzo (more penguins).
Estancia San Lorenzo has also recently opened its own lodging.
For the best of the best luxury, stay at Estancia Rincon Chico.
Should you rent a car?
If you’ve read enough of my travel guides, you’ll know I often recommend renting a car in Argentina and for the Peninsula Valdes, you guessed it…
I would rent a car.
I promise, you’ll be so glad you did.
If you’re basing yourself in Puerto Piramides, you’ll need a car to get around.
There is no public transport along the peninsula (it’s uninhabited and wild, that is the point of a protected nature reserve, after all).
Wildlife viewing points are far from town and very spread out since this is where the animals themselves have built their colonies that they return to year after year to breed.
You need a car to get around, period.
No car? You can hire a driver/remis to get you around but it’s pricey and if going on a weekend in busy season, arrange it in advance. Your hotel can help.
When to visit the Peninsula Valdes
If your goal is to a specific animal (whales, obviously) you’ll need to schedule your visit carefully to coincide with when they’re on the peninsula.
Southern Right Whales are here from June through December.
Penguins are here from September through March (inclusive).
September through December is the best time to visit Peninsula Valdes and see everything.
For a complete look at the wildlife calendar click here.
Always check for holiday feriado weekends (google feriados for your month of travel), as demand here will explode those days.
If coming on a feriado, book everything as soon as possible, they will run out of rental cars. There is one in October and rental cars always sell out that weekend.
If you’re traveling elsewhere in Patagonia, find out the best times to visit Patagonia.
Where to see Wildlife on the Peninsula Valdes
The peninsula is large and the wildlife has spread itself across its beaches.
You could spend one day (most do) seeing the hits or you could easily spend a 2-3 days leisurely exploring (what I do).
See the map below for an idea and keep reading for the specifics.
Whales & Sea Lions in Puerto Piramides
You can see whales right from the beach in Puerto Piramides and this is where whale watching excursions depart.
I’ve gone twice with Botazzi and always have a great time but there are a lot of options along the main road leading to the beach.
If you’re staying in Puerto Madryn, book a day excursion like this that includes whale watching.
The Punta Piramides Loberia (sea lion colony) is a short drive from town. There are wooden pathways with views looking down on the sea lions. We even sat here for ages watching whales.
You can hike here as well, the walk takes an hour each way but if you have a car just drive.
It’s very exposed to the sun and the drive is so short, just do that.
Sea Lions & Elephant Seals at Caleta Valdes
Caleta Valdes has a few different viewpoints along the road where you can see sea lions and elephant seals.
This is one of two places where you may see Orcas hunting the seal pups.
We got lucky on our first visit and saw some swimming among the sea lions and seals in 2018! Bring binoculars because they’re far from the mainland here.
I like the seal viewpoint at Estancia La Elvira. The boardwalks get a bit closer.
It also has an affordable restaurant with staples like milanesa or lamb stew.
Penguins at Punta Cantor
There’s a penguin colony at Punta Cantor, part of the Caleta Valdes.
The boardwalk here is very, very small and while it’s a large colony you won’t see the bulk of it as most nests seemed to built in the cliff below.
But you can still see a lot of penguins here and it’s the only free way to see them here.
Elephant Seals, Sea Lions and Orcas at Punta Norte
Punta Norte is, in my opinion, the most beautiful area on the peninsula.
The viewing pathways are a bit longer here than anywhere else allowing you to see a lot of different views.
There’s a large elephant seal population here and you’ll see them plopped on the beach below.
They don’t move a lot but I find it very entertaining when they do decide to flop around.
This is the best place to spot Orcas as they hunt for seal and sea lion pups by beaching themselves during high tide.
Read more on how to best see them later in this article and if you’re interested in more, talk to the park rangers stationed here. They’re friendly and have a lot to share.
Penguins at Estancia San Lorenzo
Estancia San Lorenzo is home to the largest penguin colony on the peninsula.
It isn’t free but I enjoyed the tour. The park ranger was extremely informative and spoke English.
Prices for non-Argentine visitors are more expensive but if you love penguins, it’s worth it.
We learned a lot and saw countless penguins just feet away from us.
There’s a restaurant on property specializing in lamb if you’d like to eat lunch after your tour.
Bird Watching at Isla de los Pajaros
Birdwatchers should run, not walk, to a site literally called bird island.
It’s at the start of the peninsula, the access road is right next to the visitor center.
Fun fact, this island is said to be the inspiration for Little Prince, as it looks like a snake that has swallowed an elephant.
Whale Watching at Playa Doradillo
Want to see whales for free?
Playa Doradillo is in between the peninsula and Puerto Madryn, definitely stop by on your way to or from the city.
It’s possible to whale watch here from the shore and see whales as close as 20 meters away!
The shoreline drops off drastically very close to the beach, so the water is vastly deeper here than at the beaches in Puerto Piramides, allowing the whales to get very, very close.
It’s actually one really long beach with various sections, each with their own name, parking lot etc.
Las Canteras is the best “beach” section to see whales. But we were lucky to spot whales just before we got to Las Canteras.
We had this stretch of beach to ourselves and watched at least 10 whales slowly swimming by.
They seemed to be relaxing. There were no jumps or splashes, they just slowly rolled around in the water and they were so damn close.
How to see Orcas in Peninsula Valdes
How to see orcas in Peninsula Valdes?
Here are some pro-tips (from the park ranger to me to you):
- There are two places you’re likely to see them: Caleta Valdes Elephant Seal Viewpoint & Punta Norte
- Killer whales hunt by beaching themselves to snag baby seals from the sand, and they need high tide to do this safely with high tide. Check the tide schedule before you go. Find a spot and camp out there for four hours (2 hours before and after high tide).
- Most hotels have the schedule for high tide posted. It’s also posted on the door of tourist information in Puerto Piramides.
- Be patient and if you can, dedicate more than one day to up your chances of seeing Orcas.
- They are here year-round, but your chances are higher in October and November when seal pups are being born.
- Check the tides here for Puerto Madryn and add 2 hours for Caleta Vales, 3 hours for Punta Norte.
Things do in Puerto Piramides
- Whale Watching – At the Primera Bajada del Mar you’ll see a number of agencies, if you haven’t pre-booked your whale watching you can ask around here.
- Short Coastal Walk – When on the beach, head to your right and up the makeshift stairs for a short walk along the cliffs. You may spot whales and if here at the end of the day, you WILL see an epic sunset over the ocean.
- Swim with Sea Lions – Boos Ballenas at the Segunda Bajada del Mar offers snorkeling excursions including with sea lions.
- Scuba Dive – If you’re a diver you can have the experience of a lifetime with southern right whales or sea lions, check here for more.
- Mountain Biking and Trekking – If you’re an active traveler biking with Traccion a Sangre is a must, you’ll see so much more with this company, including biking on otherwise private land.
Puerto Piramides Travel Tips
Here are a few tips to get the most out of your stay:
- There is an YPS gas station in town but obviously nowhere else on the peninsula, make sure you always have enough gas.
- Cell service is limited in town and non-existent elsewhere.
- This is a remote destination, while hotels are very comfortable you should be respectful with your water use.
Where to eat in Puerto Piramides
It’s fairly tiny so finding the best places to eat isn’t very hard, everything is close.
The bakery Miguita is a staple. Pick up facturas (pastries) for breakfast or sandwiches, tartas, empanadas, and my favorite – an entire tortilla, for a picnic to take on your drive each day.
La Covacha was our favorite meal for seafood. It is cozy inside if cold, with a nice deck if sunny.
La Estacion was a very close second for our favorite dinner in Puerto Piramides with excellent seafood and pastas.
We got pizza from El Origen more than once and were very tempted by their pastries for a late afternoon coffee.
When in Patagonia, you must eat lamb. Due to less hospitable conditions, estancias in Patagonia focus on more on sheep than cattle.
You can get lamb at Estancia San Lorenzo, book a lunch before or after your penguin tour.
Alternatively, La Elvira at Caleta Valdes has lamb stew on the menu at a very agreeable price point.
Argentina Travel Resources
- TRAVEL INSURANCE | It is always a good idea to travel insured. It protects you in so many cases, like lost luggage and trip cancellations, medical emergencies and evacuations. It’s very affordable with the potential to save you thousands in the case of an emergency. I recommend SafetyWing.
- PHONE PLAN | These days, traveling with data is essential. Especially in Argentina where everything is managed on Instagram and WhatsApp. I recommend this E-SIM card. It’s hassle-free and affordable, for more read how to get an Argentina sim card.
- ACCOMMODATION IN ARGENTINA | booking.com is the most common hotel site used in Argentina and it’s where you’ll find the most options.
- RENTAL CARS | I love to travel Argentina via road trip, check out RentalCars.com for the best rates for rental cars here.
- BUS TICKETS | I like Busbud for long distance bus routes and tickets.
- VPN | If you’ll be using a public WiFi connection and want to secure your data, I highly recommend using a VPN, I personally use and have had a good experience with ExpressVPN. I also use it to access Hulu and American Netflix from Argentina.
- FLIGHTS | Always check Google Flights and Skyscanner for flights to and within Argentina. Aerolineas Argentina is the local airline with the most routes. FlyBondi and Jetsmart are two budget airlines with dirt-cheap prices (but expect to pay for every add-on like luggage).
- NEED HELP PLANNING? | I offer one-on-one travel consultations to help you plan your trip to Argentina. Pick my brain to get a local’s insight. Click here for more information.