A small town in the middle of Argentina’s Patagonia region is home to some of nature’s most fascinating mammals: Puerto Pirámides is a mecca of whales. Every winter the town’s local inhabitants are joined by tourists in witnessing a rare event: the arrival of the Southern right whale to the coasts of the Golfo Nuevo in Chubut, Argentina.
Located only 55 miles from Puerto Madryn, the two cities sit on the shores of the gulf in the southern reaches of Argentina, about 745 miles away from Buenos Aires. The whole area is a favorite destination for wildlife lovers, since unique animals and landscapes can be enjoyed throughout the entire year.
The Southern right whale
Following a ban on prohibition hunting these whales in the 80s, the world population started to grow towards the present-day number of 5,000 individuals. Nowadays, they continue to surf the oceans while choosing Patagonia for mating and feeding their calves.
This mesmerizing animal can reach up to roughly 45 feet for males and 52 feet for females. Both weigh around 40 tons and newborn calves measure about nine feet after 12 months of gestation. These animals’ characteristic feature is the grey-white callosities (or calluses) that are visible all around their heads, standing out over their dark grey skin.
The whales travel the entire planet via the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and can be spotted as far away as places like South Africa, Brazil, and even New Zealand. But only in the calm, cold and deep waters of Patagonia is it possible to see them up close and personal. The Southern right whales are famous, among many other reasons, for their social nature. Experts say that, similarly to sea lions, they actually enjoy being close to other species, including humans.
Puerto Madryn is a good base for seeing the whales from land, standing at the port itself, or along the shoreline. However, embarking on the sea and having a real encounter with these sea giants is something that can only be done in Puerto Pirámides.
There are at least a dozen agencies that offer this type of service, so the prices are rather competitive. Small boats will taken groups of 10-15 people out to see two or three times a day during high tide. Once in the boat, it only takes a few minutes to reach the ideal 65-foot depth where one finds the whales. The captain will turn off the engine upon spotting the animals, who will often swim towards the ship and even jump out of the water.
The duration of the entire journey depends on the weather and the quality of whale watching, but the experience usually takes 45-60 minutes. During this time, it is also possible to spot penguins, sea lions and native birds, not to mention the immensity of the deep blue ocean. While seeing a whale up close is an exciting experience, be sure to remain quiet and still in order not to disturb the animal’s acute sense of hearing. There is no need to be frightened of the friendly giants, either: they feed entirely on plankton, after all.
When and how to get there
The only way to get to Puerto Pirámides is by car. A typical itinerary involves taking a plane to Puerto Madryn and from there, renting a car or taking a bus. In any case, it is mandatory to take the provincial route 2, and travel east.
In accordance with local laws, visitor access to Pirámides entails a small fee, since the town is enclosed in a UNESCO World Natural Heritage area. Locals, visitors from other provinces, and tourists from countries outside Argentina all have different rates. At the moment there’s one bus company that goes to Pirámides, with a very narrow schedule: one bus departures from Madryn at 9 am and returns at 6 pm.
The best time of the year for going whale watching is the winter with August being the ideal month when these animals are most present. When packing, keep in mind that Patagonia and this area in particular is among the windiest in the world, with unpredictable weather conditions besides: sand storms and strong winds from the south can force operators to cancel any activity on the sea.
Though Puerto Pirámides is a small village of less than a thousand locals, it offers a variety of activities for tourists. Bars and restaurants are open most of the time during the season at affordable prices. The typical Argentinian asado (grilled meat), sea food, and wine tastings are all musts.
When it comes to accommodation, Pirámides has a three-star hotel by the beach, motels, hostels, a camping area, and rental apartments. Still, this is a very quiet and small town, so most visitors only spend a weekend here and move on to visit other cities nearby like Puerto Madryn and Trelew.
Madryn offers a wide range of options when it comes to accommodations, shopping, and cuisine. It is the home of several five-star hotels, casinos, and is home to its own prestigious food festival, Madryn al Plato (Madryn to the plate).
Chubut, on the other hand, is about 37 miles from Madryn heading west. Situated in the Chubut River Valley, it’s home to a famous exclave of Welsh heritage and culture far from the United Kingdom. Here you can enjoy tea time, spend an afternoon in the green landscape and a visit to the local museums in order to learn the stories of the first Welsh settlers.
Where have you gone whale watching around the world? Share in the comments!