A Detailed Guide to the Peninsula Valdes

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.

A seal lays belly down in the sand
An elephant seal doing what it does best at Punta Norte on the Peninsula Valdes

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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.

Puerto Piramides and its privileged location on the beach, you can see beachfront hotel Oceano Patagonia with its rooftop solar panels

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.

If you do this, book this day trip to Valdes from Madryn that includes a whale watching excursion, and also read my guide to the best things to do in Puerto Madryn.

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).

A herd of guanaco in the Patagonian steppe
You will see more guanacos than you ever thought possible.

Where to stay on the Peninsula Valdes

So you decided to stay on the peninsula?

Good decision.

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.

A furry armadillo scurrying around under the cars.

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.

Check rental rates from Puerto Madryn or from Trelew.

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.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to drive, you can always base yourself in Puerto Madryn and take an organized excursion here.

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.

Penguins are a highlight on the Peninsula Valdes, I like the tour at Estancia San Lorenzo

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.

I got the perfect shot, ALMOST, of a whale on our whale watching tour

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.

A penguin waves his wings back behind him as he caws

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.

Book your visit here or if you’re coming from Madryn, reserve this excursion that includes a visit to San Lorenzo.

Read More: Penguins in Punta Tombo, the largest penguin colony south of Puerto Madryn

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.

A whale rolls in the water with his head and tail exposed
We were less than 20 meters from these whales, watching from the beach at Playa Doradillo

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.

Orcas hunting sea lions at Punta Caletas

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 LionsBoos 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.
Miguita is a Puerto Piramides staple, stock up on snacks, pastries, and a picnic

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, I’ve always used rentalcars.com, now they are operating under the umbrella of Booking.com’s car rental system.
  • BUS TICKETS | Check 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).
  • BOOK A CONSULTATION | 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.

22 thoughts on “A Detailed Guide to the Peninsula Valdes”

  1. I know! I’ve been in Argentina for years and also had never heard of peludos, I’m in love now. haha

  2. Oh my! Your photos are absolutely stunning 😮 especially the one of the two sea lions having a little cuddle. If you hadn’t pointed out the orcas near the shore, I would’ve completely missed it!When I think of Patagonia, I think of mountains – never wildlife. I need to get down there one day to see it for myself, looks like a wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Can this be more beautiful? the pictures remind me of that of Paul Nikon’s Instagram posts. Stunning photography to go with! And the map shows it is not exactly at the tip of Argentina, which is so cool! Someday, I will be visiting this place. Totally inspired!

  4. Thanks so much! And yeah the orcas were too far for my 300mm lens but they ARE there hahaha. I also didn’t realize just how much wildlife there would be to see there, it was like a safari for sure

  5. What a great compliment thank you! Yeah it’s in Northern Patagonia, so it’s not actually very far from Buenos Aires (only a 2 hour flight).

  6. It really is, we loved that all of the animals were similar to what we’re used to in Texas but slightly different. Like we have tons of armadillos but this one was furry! Or Guanacos instead of White Tailed Deer, Martineta for our pheasants…

  7. It’s actually still pretty far south, even further south than South Africa’s latitude where they also have Penguins. But you’re right, it’s pretty far north on Patagonia standards! They were so cute too 🙂

  8. Thanks! There’s a huge Welsh community there, with tea houses and everything. I had no idea until recently but it was very interesting.

  9. Absolutely amazing wildlife pics to go along with this post! Awesome detail too! People keep saying that as a Welsh person i should go to Patagonia, so saving this for when i do!

  10. Hey I found the detail of your post very helpful, thanks. My wife and I are travelling with our two small children (who love animals) to Argentina for an extended visit of several months beginning in the end of February. Patagonia is top on our list so your posts are timely for us!

    Some questions on Peninsula Valdes:

    Unfortunately we don’t have the ability to visit during Right Whale season this trip. Do you think it would still be worth it?

    I’m curious if you considered snorkeling/diving with sea lions at Punta Loma. It looks like one can get a tour from Puerto Piramides, we may try that.

    We are thinking that visiting a penguin colony will be a highlight for our kids. Was it a big spectacle at Caleta Valdes? I would like to also bypass the drive to Punta Tombo but am afraid of missing something!


  11. Hello Peter!!

    Thanks for reading! You will love the Peninsula Valdes, it’s beautiful there and it’s a great destination for families. I still think it’s worth going without the whales, you may still see Orcas so try to time your visits to Punta Norte or Caleta Valdes to high tide.

    Re: Snorkeling with Sea Lions, I am dying to do that but since we were with my parents we couldn’t this time. I’ve only heard excellent things from those who have done it so I think it would be a very memorable activity!

    Re: Penguins, Caleta Valdes was great. You can’t walk among the penguins. There’s a small boardwalk and the penguins and their nests are just on the other side of the ropes but fairly close! San Lorenzo is an estancia on the peninsula that is supposed to have a very large penguin colony and I think you can walk on the beach with them. You can enjoy lunch there as well, we decided against it because I thought the price was extremely high (especially for non-residents) but it may be a better alternative to the long drive to Punta Tombo.
    TLDR: I was happy with Caleta Valdes but it may be disappointing to small kids who are expecting to be WITH the penguins.

  12. Such a helpful article! You have inspired me to go here and I just booked a trip for this November. I am from Texas also! I would like to rent a car but no automatics seem to be available and I don’t know how to drive a manual. Any suggestions? I may see if I can learn in the US before I go.
    Thanks for all the info!

  13. I’m so glad you’re going, the Peninsula Valdes is such a beautiful place. If you travel a lot, I think learning to drive a manual is a good idea because it’s just SO MUCH cheaper to rent manuals than automatics everywhere but the US. But we were actually given an automatic car (despite renting manual) in Puerto Madryn so they definitely have them! We rented from Budget at the downtown location, I’d call them and ask. If they do have them available I would make sure to get a confirmation in writing to avoid any problems when you arrive in case they magically forget they made that offer when you arrive.

  14. Thanks for a wonderfully detailed post. My partner and I will be there next week and this has really helped us map out our 4 day plan. I thought it was worth mentioning for other readers that the car rental price for us was about 50% cheaper in trelew than PM so worth checking car costs as well as flight costs when planning how to get there. Fingers crossed for Orcas!

  15. Thanks for a great blog post!

    We visited today, and it looks like Punta Delgada has been purchased by private owners who have wholly closed it off to the public, plus RP-2 looks like it is no longer maintained. It was some of the worst road we have driven in our 6000km Patagonian road trip. We honestly thought the airbags were going to go off at some point.

    Happy to send you pictures if you want to update your post.

  16. Yes, Punta Delgada is closed to the public and has been for some time which is why I do not mention it in my guide.
    Sorry to hear RP-2 was in such bad shape, we just drove it in Late October a few months ago and it was in fine condition comparable to the other roads on the peninsula, if you have pictures of the road’s horrible conditions then yeah, send them along

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