Walk through a busy penguin colony, ride with wild horses in the Andes, or watch whales breach through the cold waters of the Patagonian Atlantic: Argentina's landscapes offer travelers an exciting range of wildlife experiences. Whether you're interested in sailing alongside dolphins or hiking with llamas, read on for some of the best options in the country.

Watch Whales on Peninsula Valdés

A southern right whale off the coast of Puerto Pirámides, Peninsula Valdés
A southern right whale off the coast of Puerto Pirámides, Peninsula Valdés

For half of the year, between June and December, one of the most exhilarating whale-watching experiences in the world awaits travelers in Patagonia. Near the city of Puerto Madryn in the province of Chubut, the protected nature reserve of Peninsula Valdés sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. From the shore, you can see southern right whales breaching and spouting water into the air. From a boat, you can almost get close enough to touch the massive whales (which grow up to 60 feet long) as they play, mate, and hunt in the chilly water. 

It's easy to book a boat tour in the town of Puerto Pirámides, the hub of adventure activities on the peninsula, which also has a handful of hotels and restaurants catering to travelers. Camping is an excellent option, too: after all the day visitors have left and it's quiet on the reserve, you may hear whale songs in the distance. Depending on when you visit, you'll also see orca whales, sea lions, and elephant seals.  

Plan your trip to the region with this ultimate guide to Puerto Madryn.

Visit a Penguin Colony in Patagonia

A Magellanic penguin colony at Punta Tombo, Patagonia
A Magellanic penguin colony at Punta Tombo

Down the Atlantic coast from Puerto Madryn, the Punta Tombo National Reserve is famous for its massive penguin colony. At the start of spring in the southern hemisphere, in late September and early October, thousands of Magellanic penguins make the journey from Brazil to this long, sandy peninsula to reproduce. Depending on when you visit, you'll see mating rituals, baby chicks being born, or parent penguins protecting their nests and hunting for food for their offspring. 

Naturally, it's important that humans don't disturb the penguins' habitat, and Punta Tombo is set up for tourism accordingly. You can see the colony on a boat tour that departs from the fishing village of Puerto Rawson (an excursion that features the possibility of seeing Commerson's dolphins, the smallest dolphin species in the world, in the wild) or you can get closer to the penguins on foot via a system of manmade trails and catwalks built around the colony. Touching or feeding the penguins is strictly prohibited, but be sure to bring your camera, as penguin photo ops abound. Note that there are other penguin colonies in the area worth checking out, as well, including Bahía Camarones and Cabo Dos Bahías

Want to work your penguin-viewing adventure into a larger itinerary? Consider this five-day itinerary.

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Ride a Horse in the Foothills of the Andes

Horseback riding in the foothills of the Andes, Argentina

Horseback riding in the foothills of the Andes, Argentina

Horseback riding is one of the best ways to explore Argentina's diverse landscapes, from the grassy pampas of Buenos Aires province to the colorful rock formations of the north. Arguably the most unique adventure awaits in the foothills of the Andes outside the city of Mendoza. Riding in this region doesn't just mean fresh air, exercise, and up-close views of dramatic snow-capped mountains—it also affords the opportunity to see wild horses in their natural habitat.

Several outfitters in Mendoza offer half- or full-day tours that take travelers to estancias (ranches) in the foothills for gaucho-led riding excursions followed by a traditional asado (barbecue). If you have time and interest in a longer horseback riding adventure, consider a two-day journey through Quebrada del Cóndor in the Uco Valley, which gives you the chance to see Portrerillos Dam on the Mendoza River and condors flying high overhead. Outdoor enthusiasts should also look into a six-day Andean crossing adventure that starts in Argentina and ends in Chile, traversing the backbone of South America via Portillo Argentino, a historic mountain pass once traveled by Charles Darwin.

Explore the best of Mendoza with this itinerary focused around mountain adventures and wine-tasting.

Sail Past an Island of Cormorants in Tierra del Fuego

Cormorant colony off the coast of Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina

Cormorant colony off the coast of Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina

Argentina's southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego feels like the end of the world—and it almost is (only a few sparsely inhabited islands exist between here and Antarctica). Much of the region's native wildlife is untouched by humans, including the large cormorant colony in the Beagle Channel off the coast of the mainland. If you have a window seat and an eagle eye, you might spot this rocky outcrop from the plane as you arrive in the chilly, windswept city of Ushuaia. Otherwise, you'll see the busy cormorant colony from a boat on a popular catamaran tour.

Several companies offer the excursion, with frequent departures from the harbor. The standard itinerary takes passengers on a trip past islands inhabited by cormorants and sea lions, sailing around the iconic Les Eclaireurs lighthouse and stopping at Bridges Island for a short hike before returning to Ushuaia. Between November and March, you can also opt for a boat tour to the colony of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins at Mackinlay Pass.

Discover what Ushuaia has to offer with this comprehensive guide to the area.

Hike with Llamas in Humahuaca

A white llama in the Humahuaca Valley

A white llama in the Humahuaca Valley

Dreaming of getting up close with llamas? It's not a wildlife experience exclusive to Peru (though you'll certainly see both llamas and alpacas at Machu Picchu—check out this ultimate guide for more). In northern Argentina, you'll spot llamas and alpacas on the hiking trails around the Humahuaca Valley and even roaming around urban centers like Salta and Jujuy.

Some travel outfitters offer organized excursions focused around responsible interaction with these photogenic Andean pack animals. One great option is Caravana de Llamas, a socially and environmentally conscious organization based in Tilcara that offers treks and hikes with llamas in and around Humahuaca, Maimará, and Jujuy. You'll walk alongside llamas—riding the animals is strictly forbidden—on a 90-minute, half-day, or full-day trek or hike that includes a picnic lunch with locally produced wine and stops in picturesque rural villages.

Interested in Argentina's northwest? See the best of the region with this eight-day trip plan.