Chasing the giants of the sea: Whale watching in Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Argentina has truly been one of the most amazing places I’ve visited. I wrote here on how I went to see a glacier wall down in the El Calafate. But before that, we had spent some time in El Chalten, and before El Chalten, in Puerto Madryn – in which I took a some 20 hour bus ride down from Buenos Aires.
Puerto Madryn is a small town located next to the sea. It’s a cute little town and we spent the day just walking around and checking out their little shops. But the main attraction here is actually Puerto Piramide on the Peninsula Valdes, and the giants of the sea that they harbor.
My friends and I signed up with Botazzi for their whale watching excursion in December. This is really close to the end of whale sighting season, so you may want to go a little earlier if you want to be more ‘guaranteed’ of seeing the whales. Whale watching season typically goes from July – December. I think if you do go earlier in the season, you should try and book this in advance. As for us, we just walked up to their office when we were walking around Puerto Madryn and signed up.
A small minibus/ van brought us from Puerto Madryn to Puerto Piramide, approximately an hour’s journey. They bring us straight to the harbor to wait for any other minibuses that may be bringing passengers. After a cup of coffee, we were off on our boat.
The open boat cruises the water while we look out for whales. We can find the Southern Right Whales in this waters, because they typically come here to give birth. The whales give birth once every three years and they have to stay in the same area for about three months after they little ones are born. The whales also typically come back to the same waters to give birth again (after another three years) which is why you can almost be guaranteed to see the whales earlier in the season.
There were a lot of fun facts the guide shared with us about Peninsula Valdes, Puerto Piramide, the different animals we could find there, as well as some features of the whales themselves. One of the things I can remember is that the Southern Right Whale can usually be identified by the callosities on the top side of their head. These look like barnacles stuck on top. Each whale can then be identified by their different callosities.
The sea was choppy when we went; and cold. I tend to get motion sickness, and was going through my bag of asam like crazy to try and control my nausea. We moved around the ocean for a bit, when suddenly they started screaming out “Whale! Whale”.
Nothing prepares you for seeing a whale for this first time. Thought that I had included “Shit, that is a giant &*&%%$*whale!” You don’t realize that you have been holding your breath, and holding on to the side of the boat. You watch as the boat gets closer, and they cut the engine, and the silence surrounds you. The only sound you hear is the soft whoosh of the whale tail as they come in and out of the water.
Once in a while you hear a loud gush, and you could be lucky enough to see a whale’s blow hole pumping some air out. Your boat slowly chases after these whales, and you suddenly realize their whole body extends the length of your now seemingly small boat.
We started seeing whales everywhere. Some breaching straight out of the water with a loud gush. Some of whose tail is the only glance you get as they crash back into the ocean. I grow nervous when one of the whale’s we had been riding with alongside suddenly disappears deep down. Only a few weeks ago the guide tells us a whale had accidentally breached a tour boat. Luckily for me (and us), the whale pops up again some long meters out, and happily swims away.
As for us, we (thankfully still dry) he ad back up to shore after our hour and half trip. On the way back, we are greeted by seals, sea lions and seagulls each vying for our attention, and posing narcissistic-ally. What an amazing adventure, heading up close and personal, with these incredible beasts of the sea.
Don’t forget to bring!: sunglasses, camera, a backpack (since you will need to have your hands free to manage the boat and your camera) as well as some motion sickness medication, or as I recommend asam (sour plums) to help control the nausea