A Nature Lover’s Guide to Coastal Patagonia

Often overshadowed by more famous attractions further south, this region teems with wildlife. It's also home to the largest population of Welsh descendants in South America.

Photo © Sean O'Reilly

Killer whales in Peninsula Valdes

Ever seen an orca, aka a killer whale? Ever seen one hunt? If there’s one place to rectify this, it’s Peninsula Valdes, a headland accessible from nearby Puerto Madryn and home to shallow bays, pebble beaches, and colonies of elephant seals and southern sea lions.

It’s the latter that draw the orcas in droves – they’ve adopted a unique hunting strategy to prey on the animals at high tide, appearing to beach themselves as a ruse to catch unsuspecting young.

The technique is best observed at dawn from February to April at Punta Norte, a 2.5 hours’ drive from Puerto Madryn. Tours are expensive (expect to pay over US $120/$2500 ARS) but it’s easy enough – and considerably cheaper – to rent a car for the day, giving you far more flexibility to check out the various marine wildlife around the peninsula.

The waters here are also home to an important population of southern right whales, who spend the months of June to December breeding and raising their young before heading south to Antarctica.

To get the most out of your journey, consider staying at Bahia Bustamante, an isolated sheep farm with a diversity of wildlife that’s been likened to the Galapagos. Or volunteer on a penguin conservation project at the newly established penguin colony in Punta Ninfas.

Whale watching, Peninsula Valdes. Photo credit: iStock/TIago Fernandez

Penguins at Punta Tombo

Penguin lovers, take note: Punta Tombo is home to one of the largest colonies of Magellanic penguins in South America (around 500,000 at last count). During nesting season (September-March), this rookery becomes a hive of squawking, shuffling seabirds.

The best part about this colony is how accessible the penguins are. A wooden boardwalk meanders between their nests, so you can get within 6ft (2m) of the birds – the perfect distance for a photo with your new penguin best friend. But it’s important that they are not disturbed, and that visitors always follow the rules set by the wardens.

Penguins, Punta Tombo. Photo credit: Sean O'Reilly

The Odd History of Gaiman and Trelew

If you thought that the dusty steppe of Argentine Patagonia was home to just gauchos and guanaco (a relative of the llama), you’d be mistaken. The towns of Gaiman and Trelew in the Chubut province have a unique history: both were settled by Welsh families in the 1860s, who arrived seeking new pastures.

All they found were windswept grasslands, but they stayed, and to this day, around a third of local residents still claim Welsh heritage. For a taste of the region’s Welsh flair, spend an afternoon in one of Gaiman’s tea houses, decorated with tea towels stitched with the Welsh dragon.

In nearby Trelew, you can go even further back in the history of the region at the Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio. It’s home to the remains of Patagotitan mayorum, a new species of dinosaur believed to be the largest that ever roamed the planet, but its real attraction is the laboratory window where you can watch paleontologists patiently at work, dusting off the world’s history before your eyes.

Want to know more about Argentina? Listen to the World Nomads podcast. How drinking mate defines Argentinians, how to kiss properly when you greet someone, and meet Popi, the scientist who's saving penguins.

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