Coastal Patagonia’s top destination, the World Biosphere Reserve of Península Valdés is the place where the great southern right whale arrives to breed and birth in the winter months. Protected since 1935, the ballena franca occupies a nearly unique position as a “natural monument”—a designation normally reserved for territorial ecosystems—within the Argentine national park system.
Península Valdés itself, a provincial reserve rather than a national park, has more to offer than just whales. Some marine mammal species—ranging from sea lions to elephant seals and orcas—cover the beaches or gather in the Golfo San José, Golfo Nuevo, or the open South Atlantic all year. There are also concentrations of burrowing Magellanic penguins and flocks of other seabirds, plus herds of grazing guanacos and groups of sprinting rheas in the interior grasslands.
The main activity center is the hamlet of Puerto Pirámides, which, like Puerto Madryn  enjoys a longer tourist season because of the whale- and orca-watching periods. Once the export point for salt from the Salina Grande depression, it has grown haphazardly, and water continues to be a problem in this desert environment.
Sometimes called Puerto Pirámide, the village has since reasserted its plurality. According to local accounts, when the Argentine navy used the area as a firing range, they destroyed two of the three pyramidal promontories that gave the settlement its original moniker.
At El Desempeño, at the west end of the Istmo de Ameghino, a provincial toll booth collects an admission fee of US$13 for most foreigners, US$4 for Argentines and nationals of neighboring countries. Immediately east, the Centro de Interpretación (8 a.m.–8 p.m. daily) exhibits a complete right whale skeleton but also historical materials ranging from Tehuelche times to Spanish colonization and Argentine settlement for salt mining and sheep ranching. An observation tower offers panoramas across the northerly Golfo San José to the southerly Golfo Nuevo, and east across the peninsula’s interior.
Turismo Puerto Pirámides (Avenida de las Ballenas s/n, tel. 02965/49-5048, www.puertopiramides.gov.ar ), the municipal tourist office, serves visitors from 8 a.m.–6 p.m. daily.
In summer, from Puerto Madryn , Mar y Valle (tel. 02965/45-0600) has daily buses to Puerto Pirámides (1.5 hours, US$4.50) at 8:55 a.m. and 6 p.m.; return buses leave at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. In winter, there may be morning departures only, but in summer there is an additional evening bus.
On a space-available basis, tour buses may allow passengers to disembark at Pirámides and return another day, but make advance arrangements.
Distances from Pirámides to other peninsula destinations are too great for nonmotorized transport, so it’s worth considering a rental car in Puerto Madryn . Many consider day trips from Madryn too rushed.