Peninsula Valdes, Patagonia, Argentina
Baby seals frolic in the surf where the small waves meet the sand. A rocky outcrop at one point on the shoreline creates natural pools where they play in groups. Small, black and shimmering in the sunlight, the pups look like they’re in a nursery. Nearby their mothers keep a watchful eye on them as they play. For the sea lions of Peninsula Valdes, this is the closest they get to a community – families living together as the youngsters grow up and develop.
It’s a safe environment for the sea lions here on the peninsula near Puerto Madryn, which is protected by both UNESCO and the Argentinian authorities. It’s one of the most important breeding grounds for marine animals in South America and home to a variety of species. Sea lions at the north, elephant seals further down the coast. On the beaches and dunes live penguins over the summer breeding period. During some months, whales and orcas inhabit the waters nearby and use the peninsula as protection from the rough seas.
Visiting Peninsula Valdes feels a bit like going to a zoo. It also feels nothing like a zoo. And it feels exactly how you wish zoos felt.
Each species seems to have its own particular spot on the peninsula it uses for its colony. Rarely do they mix. So to see the whole selection of animals you drive from place to place. “Our next stop will be the elephant seals”, our guide tells us. And she was right – there they were on the beach, just as promised. We drive to one particular cliff to look down and see the penguins. And the highlight of the day – the sea lions – were at exactly the beach we had expected them to be at. Creatures of habit, they come back to the same location every year during this season.
Being a protected area, Peninsula Valdes is a sanctuary for wildlife and it’s not just the marine animals that benefit. On land, creatures rule this domain. We see armadillos, foxes, guanaco, and dozens of different species of bird. Even our guide gets excited when she sees a breed of wild cat that she has never spotted before, despite guiding groups through the peninsula for seven years.
It says a lot about the place that you can find such a sense of wonder after just one visit or even after hundreds.