When you think of penguins, whales and sea lions, you may not immediately think of Argentina. Yet Puerto Madryn, located in the east coast of Argentina, is one of the best places in the world to observe sea life such as sea lions, whales and penguins. Read here why you absolutely want to visit this area, including a list with the most beautiful experiences.
About Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Puerto Madryn is the gateway to a number of protected nature reserves, where numerous animals gather annually, to mate and raise their young, due to the favorable climatic conditions. Punta Tombo has the largest penguin colony on the continent. Peninsula Valdés is a Patagonia Flora and Fauna reservation at its purest state, where you can observe sea lions and elephant seals. Also, every year, hundreds of humpback whales gather along the coast, to give birth to their young. In this article you’ll find an overview of the best experiences, including the best time for visiting, information about Puerto Madryn, how to get there and the best restaurants.
Things to do in Puerto Madryn, Argentina
1. Walk among the penguins in Punta Tombo
About a two hour drive from Puerto Madryn, you will find Punta Tombo, a peninsula, in the Atlantic Ocean, covered with sand, clay and gravel. Every year, in spring, more than one and a half million penguins arrive at this place in order to breed. It is the largest Magellan penguin colony in the continent. Between September and March you can visit this place to literally walk by their side along shore paths, their natural habitat. A unique experience!
It’s not the most obvious area for penguins, but the warm and dry environment is ideal for nest building. And most of the times, they even return to the same nest. The first penguins arrive around September and the last ones leave in late March, in search of warmer waters.
There are special walking paths and bridges, where you can walk as a visitor. You will see countless penguins at work, walking back and forth and enjoying the sun. Some males are screaming out loud to impres the females, a deafening sound. During the breeding period, the nests are well protected against birds and other predators. The male or female goes to the water to look for food, while the other stays with the nest. You could walk around for hours to observe the animals’ behavior. At a number of viewpoints you look out on a bay with thousands of penguins.
It is also very common to have a penguin walking in front of your feet, because they are crossing the paths. It is of course very important to keep an appropriate distance and never touch or bother them.
How to reach Punta Tombo?
You can reach Punta Tombo by car or excursion from Puerto Madryn (two hours, one way) If you rent a car, make sure you have enough petrol, because you won’t find anything along the road.
Some penguin facts
- Males and females share their tasks: they build their nest and defend it, feed and raise their babies all together.
- Each female puts generally two eggs that are incubated during forty days.
- Penguins eat mainly small fish and squid.
- They are great swimmers, able to get as far as 7 to 8 kilometers in an hour.
- Penguins’ natural enemies are the orcas. But also fishing nets and fuel, that gets spilled from ships, is a major threat.
- The males weigh about 5 kilos and are bigger than the females.
Best time for visiting?
- October to March. The best season to see the penguins is after November, once the babies are born.
2. Whale watching in Puerto Pirámides
Nowhere in the world, I have seen whales so close as in Puerto Pirámides. You visit the animals in their natural habitat and it is an indescribable feeling to see them around you. The sound they make when they spray up the water, the tail that appears: These are moments, that you will never forget your life.
Every year between May and December, hundreds of humpback whales come from Antarctica to the coast of Argentina to mate and raise their young. Since the whales stay close to the shore and the mothers often swim on the surface with their young, you will actually see them. The best time to spot the whales is in September and October, when the young are just born. In December, when the young are strong enough, the whales return towards the waters of Antarctica.
Several agencies in Puerto Pirámides offer tours of approximately 1.5 hours. Depending on the size of the boat and the number of people you pay more or less. And it is really worth it to pay a little more, for having a smaller boat with fewer people, so you can enjoy and take pictures quietly. Strict rules apply, to not produce environmental impact and not to alter the whales’ behavior. At certain times the engine is turned off and the animals are never hunted.
Puerto Pirámides is located at the Península Valdés. You can combine a whale watching tour with a more extended visit to the Peninsula (you will find more information below). Tip: Try to stay overnight in Puerto Pirámides. It has happened to me several times, that you wake up early in the morning and see the whales swim or even jump from your window.
Some whale facts
- An average whale is 15 meters long, females grow longer than males.
- The weight of an average adult whale is 50 to 60 tons.
- The animals are called humpback whales, because of the bumps on his head.
Best time for visiting?
- Whales can be seen between May and December. The highest gathering is during October
3. Snorkeling and diving with seals
A short boat trip from Puerto Madryn takes you to the seal colony of Punta Loma. Here you jump into the water to go snorkeling for 45 minutes, yes, among the seals. An incredible feeling and special moment, where you forget everything around you. Since you are in their habitat and they are super curious, there is a big chance, to find them swimming next to you. Strict rules also apply here. You will encounter only a few boats. If you have a diving certificate, it is also possible to dive. Have a look at this agency if you are interested in experiencing this one day.
4. Sea Lions observation point, Punta Loma
It is also possible to visit the sea lions colony by land. Punta Loma is located at a distance of 15 km from Puerto Madryn. There is a special viewing point to observe the sea lions from above. You can take a taxi and you will reach the place within 30 minutes. Another option is to go by bike, following the unpaved road, along the coast in a southerly direction. (1 ½ hours one way)
5. Península Valdés
Península Valdés is an amazing Patagonia Flora and Fauna reservation at its purest state. It is considered a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Different animals live here, such as birds, nandus, a kind of ostrich, armadillos and condors. Depending on the season, you can observe sea lions and elephant seals, penguins, whales and if you are lucky you can even observe orcas.
A tour starts with a visit to the visitor center. Here you will find a lot of interesting information about the area and its fauna. For example, you will learn the difference between a sea lion and an elephant seal, you will realize how big whales actually are, and that the killer whale lives here as well. Depending on the climatic conditions, you can visit a number of points on the coast. Punta Delgada has a large colony of sea elephants. There is also a high chance of seeing orcas between May and October.
Punta Norte has a large colony of sea elephants and sea lions. Caleta Valdez, has one of the largest sea elephant colonies. Almost twelve thousand sea elephants are born here every year. You can take several short and easy walks.
In the whale season you can combine a visit to Península Valdés with a boat trip from Puerto Pirámides to watch the whales. Keep in mind that distances on the peninsula are immense (60 x 100 km) and the roads are unpaved. So you will be driving for at least 2 hours to get from one point to another. On the way you moslty see steppes, endless grass plains, passing by. So prepare for a day spending a lot of time on the bus. It is also recommended to go with a local guide to learn more about the environment and know the exact place on where to find the animals.
What about Puerto Madryn?
Puerto Madryn is a is a holiday destination for the Argentines. The beaches are large and crowded in summer. Even if you visit Puerto Madryn mainly because of its surroundings, the city is pleasant to stay. You can stroll along the boulevard, enjoy the beaches and eat delicious fish in the great restaurants.
My favorite restaurants
1. Cantina el Náutico: This is the place, where you want to go for incredible fish dishes. You won’t find it better and more authentic than here.
2. En Mis Fuegos is a restaurant from Argentine chef Gustavo Rapretto ,and one of the most chique places of the city. You can go for a tasting menu, including wines. Or just order seperate courses. Everything is delicious and looks beautiful as well.
3. Malon: This fancy place, is located at the boulevard and offers great meals, such as fresh pasta and Argentine steaks.
How to reach Puerto Madryn?
Puerto Madryn is located on the east coast of Argentina, 350 km from Buenos Aires. There are several daily flights with Aerolineas Argentinas from the capital Buenos Aires to Trelew (flight duration is 2 hours). From Trelew to Puerto Madryn, it’s a one-hour drive. You can also travel by bus, that will bring you from the main bus terminal Retiro in Buenos Aires directly to Puerto Madryn. The trip will take up to 18 hours but is very comfortable. First-class chairs can be folded almost to a bed position and are not expensive.
Read here about the 9 places you don’t want to miss in beautiful Argentina.
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