Stefan Arestis | Feb 26, 2018 | 4
5 tips for spotting killer whales at Peninsula Valdes in Patagonia
Peninsula Valdes is one the best spots in the world to see killer whales (orcas) in the wild. This is the place they come to hunt and entertain their enthusiastic audience watching on.
Orcas love this particular part of Argentina because of the large abundance of one of their favourite food prey: seal pups. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the orcas close up when they come right up to the beach to catch their supper.
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A quick fact check about killer whales
Despite their name, killer whales are not dangerous and there is no evidence of them ever having attacked humans in the wild. Killer whales is the nickname given by the Spanish whalers in the 1700s when they noticed that orcas were hunting whales for food.
They have no known predators, so they freely hunt without fear of being attacked by another marine animal. They feed on seals, sea lions, penguins, fish, dolphins, sharks and even whales.
To learn more about orcas and the sad story of why they should not be kept in captivity by places like SeaWorld, we strongly advise you watch the documentary called Black Fish:
Seeing killer whales in the wild is not an exact science but more a matter of luck. However, if you follow our 5 tips to watch killer whales, you will definitely maximise your chances to see these beautiful animals at Peninsula Valdes in Patagonia.
When to visit Peninsula Valdes
Orcas are found around the coast of Patagonia all year round. The best time to spot them is in October and November when they are most likely to come close to the shore to hunt Elephant seal pups.
Elephant seals can be found throughout the year at Peninsula Valdes. In September the pups are born, so by October they are a few months old and are often splashing around in the water, making them an easy target for the hungry orcas.
Another good time of year to visit is in March and April, when sea lions pups are splashing around.
Where to go to see the orcas in Peninsula Valdes
Between October to December, your best bet is at Caleta Valdes on the Eastern end of Peninsula Valdes, where Elephant seal pups swim around in the shallow waters.
Between March and April, you are more likely to see them at Punta Norte in the North of Peninsula Valdes, where baby sea lion pups are swimming around.
Time your visit with high tide
Killer whale attacks are more likely to occur during high tide (or a bit before/after), so it’s worth coinciding your visit in accordance with high tide. There are 2 high tides each day, which you can check on the Argentinian Government website:
- Go to www.hidro.gov.ar
- Select: “tabla de mareas” in the “Marea” section
- In the “Lista de Puerto Patrones” box on the left select Puerto Madryn
- In the “Seleccione Trimestre” box on the right select the time of year you’re visiting
- Select: “Ejecutar la Consulta” and on the next page scroll down to find the day/month you are checking for
- Add 2 hours if going to Caleta Valdes or 3 hours for Punta Norte
Once you’ve calculated the time the high tide is likely to happen, you can plan your visit around this. Aim to arrive at your viewing spot around 2-3 hours before high tide just in case the orcas arrive early.
As with all safaris, when the weather is clear and the sea is calm, you maximise your chances of spotting the orcas. If the sea is rough and the water choppy, it will be harder to spot them.
Stay in a private estancia with direct access to the beach
The more time you spend waiting, the higher your chances of spotting the orcas. Most people will base themselves in Puerto Madryn and take a day trip up to Punta Norte and/or Caleta Valdes, a 3-4 hours drive each way.
If you have the budget, you can instead choose to base yourself in a private estancia in Peninsula Valdes with direct access to the beach. By being in the middle of it, you will definitely maximise your chances of spotting killer whales.
Where to stay in Peninsula Valdes?
Although Peninsula Valdes is a protected area, it is still private land. However, there are 2 excellent estancias you can stay at the Southeastern tip of the peninsular, near the viewing hot spots.
At Faro you’re treated like a guest at the family farm rather than a hotel client. It is located next to a lighthouse (faro), which is still in operation: electricity at the hotel is limited to when the lighthouse is in operation. Rooms at Faro Punta Delgrada hotel start from $500/£390. You can read more about it on Tripadvisor.
Rincon is a traditional Patagonian estancia (horse ranch), constructed in the style of old English houses from the late 1800s. It is also very remote, with limited satellite Wifi powered by a generator for a few hours in the evening. Rates for rooms at the Rincon Chico Estancia have to be requested by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about it on Tripadvisor.
For more, check out our gay guide to Puerto Madryn for the best places to stay, where to go out and things to do.
During our travels in Patagonia, we’ve arranged some of our tours with Flamenco Tours, a gay travel agency based in Puerto Madryn. By completing the form below, you can take advantage of an exclusive 10% discount on your holiday to Patagonia or if you decide to contact Flamenco Tours directly, do not forget to quote the discount code NOMADIC10 to get 10% off.