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  THE COAST SOUTH - Peninsula Valdes

PENINSULA VALDES

The peninsula was discovered in 1520 by Hernan de Magallanes and was later  often revisited by numerous adventurers.  In 1778 King Charles II of Spain decided to populate Patagonia and sent an expedition headed by  Juan de la Piedra, who arrived  to the coast of Golfo San Jose on 7th January 1779. They built a fort which was devastated by the Indians in 1810.    The name of Peninsula Valdes  is a homage paid by the  Spanish Navy Minister  Antonio Malaspina to Don Antonio Valdes.  From that moment until 1880 the Peninsula was scarcely visited.  In 1882 Gumersindo Paz settled in the area and many  families followed. There was raising of sheep, exploitation of  salt mines and other minor activities.   Foundation is celebrated on 14th July

The entire peninsula Valdes is a World Heritage Site. It is almost an island  united to the continent by a 35 km long strip of land called Istmo Ameghino  separating Golfo Nuevo and Golfo San José.  It is a 63 km long and 97 km wide  hilly promontory protruding 100km out into the Atlantic Ocean, with a series of gulfs, rocky cliffs and shallow bays, intertidal mudflats and coastal lagoons covering   360.000 Ha., populated by marine and land mammals and a rich variety of marine and land  birds. 

Some estancias are still devoted to sheep breeding,  but the peninsula´s main attraction is its wildlife richness and its natural reserves. It is considered  "a site of global significance for the conservation of marine mammals"  sheltering an important breeding population of the endangered southern right whale,  as well as  breeding populations of southern elephant seals and southern sea lions.  The orcas in this area have developed a unique hunting strategy to adapt to local coastal conditions" (Report of the 23rd Session of the Committee - Unesco)     

Climate is semi arid characterised by an annual rainfall of 240mm with significant fluctuations between years and consequently .  vegetation is Patagonian desert steppe.   

Fauna : Peninsula Valdes is an outstanding sanctuary of fauna with numerous marine birds and mammals going there to reproduce, often in large numbers.  A population of southern right whales uses the clear and protected waters of the Nuevo and San Jose gulfs as mating and calving areas.  Individuals start to arrive in the Peninsula by late autumn and the beginning of winter (April to June). The results from recent surveys indicated that 1200 whales were visiting Patagonia in 1990 (Payne et al 1990) and suggest that this population has been growing at an estimated annual rate of 7.1%.   The southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) forms a mating and calving colony on Punta Norte from late August to early November, reaching peak numbers during the first week of October (Campagna et al). It is the only colony in the world that is said to be on the increase (Campagna and Lewis, 1992) The site is also very important as a breeding point for the southern sea lion (Otaria flavescens)   Several species of marine mammals are found in the area including a stable group of orca (Orcinus orca), for years being researched by Jose Luis Lopez,  who has just published a book entitled "Orcas, entre el mito y la realidad" (in Spanish). 

There are 181 species of birds in the Peninsula, of which 66 are migratory species. The site with the largest diversity of breeding birds is Isla de los Pájaros.

For complete scientific description of the place please see http://www.wcmc.org.uk/protected_areas/data/wh/pen_vald.html  Descriptions of Natural World Heritage Properties) 

PIRAMIDES

Is a tourist village in the heart of the Peninsula Valdes,   located  97 kms (an hour ride from Puerto Madryn)  Places to be seen are: 1) Piramides one hair sea lions Reserve located at 4km from Puerto Piramides,  where the animals can be seen from a panoramic view in the cliff. They gather here during the summer for their reproduction, attracted by the calm waters of the gulf. Most births take place between January and February, emigration beginning  by mid May.     2) Punta Pardelas located at 12 kms from Piramides is a good place for fishing, snorkellling and diving 3) Punta Norte is the only continental elephant seals reserve in the world. It is 75 kms  north of Piramides.  The seals reproduce and breed here, they come back in August to give birth and stay until autumn.   Once a year (in March) this place is visited by orcas.      4) 77 km further on the northwest extreme of the Peninsula Valdes are the only continental sea elephant´s reserves. This is an endangered species whose colony stay here all the year round. They differ from  sea lions in the way they move: while the lions walk on their  four extremities, the sea elephants must creep to move on the ground. They are called elephants due to the characteristic trunk that the males have and to their huge corpulent body. The adult males may be over 6 m long with an estimated weight of 400 ks, while the females do not surpass the 3 m of length and 700 kg weight. Babies are born by August September and it is possible to watch them until March April.

Accommodation in the area: You can opt for two special accommodations in the area:  either an  old lighthouse turned into a cozy hotel,  or an old small  estancia fully refurbished,  opening in 2001!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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