Having read about the extremely short season for watching orcas hunt in a unique manner, on the Valdes Peninsula, Patagonia, we’d debated whether it was worth the cost/time of flying down south. Realising that nature moments such as this are one of our favourite travel experiences, we decided to risk it! Flying from BsAs to Puerto Madryn, our Patagonian adventure began.
If you look closely, you can see the start of the Paraná delta in the top right of the photo above.
PM airport was one of the smallest we’ve been to: on first appearances, just a runway in the desert.
An hour’s taxi journey to Puerto Piramides, where we were staying, took us past vast, flat arid expanses of wild land.
Quite by chance we found out from our friend Steff back home (who lived in BsAs for a few years) that she knew someone that owned an eco apart-hotel (Océano Patagonia) in the very place we were heading to. Feeling like the luckiest people alive, we stayed here: right on the beach, with far reaching views out to sea.
Puerto Pirimides has a super special and chilled out vibe. It’s hard to describe, but we almost felt as though we were part of the nature surrounding us: sandy dunes and hills on one side and calming ocean the other.
The cliffs showcase abundant fossils, a legacy of when this area was submerged beneath sea level.
The village is a colourfully haphazard collection of ramshackle-style buildings that emit a warm personality all of their own…
After being lulled to sleep by the sound of the sea (and uber comfy beds!), we woke refreshed. Miryam, our tour guide for the day, drove us across the Peninsula. Gravel roads stretched kilometre after kilometre after more kilometres.
The odd estancia dotted the heather-strewn ground.
Our eyes feasted on an abundance of wildlife (such as: guanaco – llama-like; Mara – looked like a cross between a dog and a rabbit; choique – like an ostrich/Rhea; peludo – armadillo) grazing on the bushes, wandering across the tracks or sheltering from the sun/wind.
Travelling via grand salt lakes, we hoped to see flamingos, but alas not today! Instead, it was interesting to learn how the flats are created and why they (and flamingos) turn pink (did you know it was due to a crustacean?).
Passing Punte Cantor, we saw thousands of elephant seals lounging on the rocks and beaches below. Sometimes, orca come by this point…but not today!
Continuing up the east coast, we pre-set our expectations. We knew seeing orca was rare: they don’t come every day. There weren’t many people at Punte Norte, as is usual apparently. We joined them on the boardwalks and gazed out to sea, for hours. Nothing but the odd sea lion swimming along the shoreline. We weren’t crushingly disappointed, as we’d expected not to see orca, so consoled ourselves with the fact that this is nature and uncontrollable. At least we tried!
The next day, we walked for miles along the beaches, explored caves in rocky cliffs, paddled in the sea, adopted a local dog (Capitan) and pondered the wildlife. You see, this place is famous for the southern right whales that breed and feed close off the coast from June to December. Less known are the orca sightings. By the end of the day, we’d decided to extend our stay and make a further attempt to meet the orca!
Miryam to the rescue! Again, she drove us around 80km directly up to Punte Norte (took about an hour and 15 minutes). On arrival, one of the researchers there told us there were orca! Our faces cracked with huge grins as we skipped down the boardwalk! There they were: playing and circling around the far headland where a group of sea lions sunbathed on the beach. We squinted through binoculars to get a good look. Would they come closer?! Oh yes! The tension increased as the orca began to hunt sea lions swimming parallel to the shore. The strategies they use here are unique; they don’t deploy them anywhere else in the world. We watched them cruise up and down the shoreline with only their dorsal fin on display, and a glimpse of black and white below the surface. Rounding up their prey, they began to chase and dart quicker along. Suddenly and purposefully, they stranded/beached themselves to catch them. Once successful, they flipped around and tossed themselves back out to sea. Phenomenal! It’s incredible that they come so close to land!
In between hunting, they played further out in the ocean and we gleefully watched them surf, blow sprays of mist above them, porpoise (where they swim fast and leave the water like a dolphin), spy hop and face out (when their head comes out of the water), wave their tails and travel in tight groups. Apparently there were 15 orca the day we visited. This is one jaw-dropping experience we will never forget.
Back ‘home’, we searched each day for little Magallanic penguins, who swam close to the rocks off the beach. It was so joyful to be with them; we spent hours watching them as they flipped, dived, glided and raced around the rocky shoreline.
They also graced us with their presence on land, preening themselves right in front of us on the rocks. So cute! Lola also got to paddle in the sea as they swam around her – check out the video of this on our Instagram page (travellingtamlyns).
Around 5km outside of Puerto Pirámides, we found a sea lion colony amongst craggy rocks and clear turquoise sea.
This whole magical area put a spell over us, one we believe will remain with us forever. We hope to return one day and experience the Southern Right whales coming home.