The bleak, wind-blown and wild 780,000 square kilometers (301,158 square miles) of Patagonia have a magical quality that has affected people throughout the ages. Perhaps it is the wide openness of the desert, the strange and wonderful animals that inhabit it, or the sheer degree of desolation.
Although Patagonia makes up 30% of Argentina, only three percent of the Argentine population lives there. Perhaps it is the strong winds Patagonia is famous for, which can suddenly stop and reveal a beautiful and unnatural silence that seems to pierce the ages. Whatever it is about Patagonia, it is certain to leave a lasting impression on anyone who experiences it.
We focus on the Valdez Peninsula, which juts out from the Argentine coast about half way between Buenos Aires and Tierra del Fuego. Steep cliffs composed of fossilized shells, deep blue sea, shores of multicolored pebbles, and jagged rocks characterize the peninsula. It teems with marine and land mammals along with a rich variety of marine and land birds. Southern Right Whales and their calves are there from October to early December.
Sea Elephants, with 18-foot-long males weighing up to 4 tons, are permanent residents, along with Southern Sea Lions, Guanacos and introduced European Hare are permanent residents. The strange Mara or Patagonian Cavy was once called Patagonian Hare and has been described as looking like "a rabbit wearing a miniskirt". The occasional pod of Orcas (Killer Whales) swims by, looking for an opportunity to lunge up on the beach to catch an unsuspecting Sea Lion.
The bird life is also strange and beautiful. Along the craggy shores look for White-chinned and Giant petrels, Rock, Guanay and King Cormorants, the striking Black-browed Albatross, Blackish and American oystercatchers, the recently described White-headed Flightless Steamer-Duck, Antarctic Skua, the yellow-billed subspecies of Sandwich Tern and others. Land birds include Elegant Crested Tinamou, White-throated Cacholote, Burrowing Parrot, Patagonian Yellow-Finch, Lesser Canestero and others. Endemics include Carbonated Sierra-Finch, Rusty-backed Monjita, Patagonian Canestero and Band-tailed Earthcreeper.
Our tour to the Valdez also permits a side trip south to Punta Tombo, where we visit one of the largest Magellenic Penguin colonies, with a population of around 1.5 million! A small corner of the protected colony is open to visitors, where we'll be able to walk on restricted trails with the knee-high penguins as they squawk, bawl and bray their way to the sea to eat and get food for their young. This is one of the few places where photographers can get nice close ups, which will nicely compliment her photo collection from all the other stupendous photo opportunities the Valdez Peninsula offers. We suggest four or five days in the region.