The port city of Puerto Madryn, on the southeast coast of Argentina, is one of the few major cities in Argentinean Patagonia. As the gateway to Península Valdés, Puerto Madryn is well known for whales, penguins and for its peculiar Welsh connection.
Most people visit Puerto Madryn to reach the peninsular and catch sight of its legendary marine life. Each year from July to September, migrating Southern Right Whales come so close to shore that they can be seen from the town pier. These whales use the waters of Golfo Nuevo for breeding and giving birth. You can easily see the action centre stage as whale watching boats depart daily from Puerto Piramides on Península Valdés.
Península Valdés is a wildlife sanctuary for birds and marine species including oystercatchers, flamingos, and sea elephants; head to Punta Delgada and Punta Loma for sea lion colonies. During a drive, hike or cycle you may see foxes, armadillos, ostriches and rabbits, all indigenous to the region. Kite-boarding and wind surfing are also popular distractions. But perhaps the most famous resident is the world’s largest colony of Magellanic Penguins that live here, breeding between September and October.
Puerto Madryn is also the Mecca of diving in Argentina. The deep, clear waters of Golfo Nuevo offer divers an immense diversity of sea fauna and the opportunity to interact with playful sea lions. This experience is a classic for the region.
Back in the city foodies can expect a refreshing change from the usual Argentinean beef and fill their plates with lamb and fresh seafood instead. Take an opportunity to rest at a Welsh tea house and sample some Welsh cake, full of raisins and chopped nuts. You can still hear Welsh being spoken by descendants of sheep farming settlers that landed here generations ago.
Other Puerto Madryn travel highlights include:
Sea Lion colony at Punta Loma – There is a short walking trail that is dotted with information about indigenous plants. The viewing platform is perfect for watching the sea lions and shags. Open until 8pm. Expect to pay an entry fee to the park rangers.
Ecocentro – An indisputable highlight to learn about the Patagonian marine ecosystems. It boasts numerous exhibits with displays of local marine life, a three-story tower and library; the top floor features glass walls and comfy couches for reading. Bring your binoculars for whale spotting. The centre is a pleasant 40-minute walk or 15-minute bike ride along the coast. You can also take the shuttle or bus there. Sunset is the best time to visit.
El Doradillo Beach – This is the best spot for onshore whale watching. Only half an hour away from Puerto Madryn and you can walk beside the whales as they swim just meters from the shore, due to the steepness of the ocean floor. An observation platform and a small visitors centre are nearby.
Natural Science and Oceanographic Museum – Worth every centavo! This quirky little museum is informative and creatively presented. You are free to feel strands of seaweed and ogle at a preserved specimen. The 1917 Chalet Pujol (known as Madryn’s Castle) features marine and land mammal exhibits. The top floor is a lookout, with beautiful views of Puerto Madryn.
The Patagonian Foundation – This NGO promotes conservation and monitors environmental issues. Volunteers at the wildlife reserve La Esperanza meticulously nurse injured birds and marine mammals back to health. There are often vacancies for volunteers. Apply with plenty of time to spare.
Punto Tombo – A must see! It is home to a colony of about half a million penguins and just under 200km south of Puerto Madryn. Entry is 78 pesos. There are sturdy walkways for three kilometres, which are flanked by penguins – sometimes the penguins cross the pathway right in front of you.