If you love wildlife Puerto Madryn will be the top destinations on your ‘to see’ list when visiting Argentina. So far it is has been one of the highlights of my whole trip and a memory I will never forget! Depending on the time of year you visit, it’s possible to see penguins, sea lions, dolphins and whales (even an orca if you are VERY lucky!) as well as lots of other land animals such as guanacos (type of llama), armadillos, reahs (like ostriches), patagonian foxes and hares. The little seaside town is 18 hours south from Buenos Aires on the Atlantic coast of Argentina at the northern tip of Patagonia. As we were visiting in the middle of winter (August) it was bitterly cold down here, but it did also mean it was the perfect time for the breeding season of the endangered southern right whales.
The day we arrived it was lovely and clear with only a slight breeze which we took as a positive sign, so we booked our tour for the following day to Peninsula Valdes, the nature reserve and UNESCO world heritage site home to most of the regions marine animals, and also a boat trip for whale watching which we were majorly excited about! The following morning we were up bright and early, but the clear skies had vanished and the light breeze had morphed into full gale force winds! There was only 3 of us going on the trip, so instead of a bus we went in the guides banged up car. At first he reminded me of Danny DeVito in Matilda, a bit of a dodgy wheeler dealer type, but he turned out to be a really cool guy, and extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the wildlife and the geology of the area.
First stop was Playa El Doradillo, where the whales can be viewed from the beach early in the morning when the tide is out. I honestly never thought it would be possible to see whales this close in the wild! They were literally 10-15 metres away from the shore! And not just one or two -like loads of them! We even spotted one or two mothers with calves. It was completely unbelievable to see these huge 15 metre long animals swimming so amazingly close to us, its something not many people get to see in their life and I couldn’t believe we were getting to experience it! We stood on the beach in the freezing cold wind and watched them for over an hour – the wind was so strong I actually thought my phone was going to blow out my hand when trying to take pictures – but it was worth the frostbitten fingers to have that once in a lifetime experience!
We hopped back into the cosy car and tried to warm our icy bones and drove to the Carlos Ameghino Isthmus museum and interpretation centre. Here they have loads of information on the natural reserve and the wildlife, including a huge orca skeleton (and also a very warm heater!) There is a look out point where you can see both coasts of the peninsula, but it was far too windy for us to go up there – we probably would have been blown off so I stayed inside by the heater!
The next few hours we drove to various stops around the peninsula where we saw large colonies of sea lions and a few huge elephant seals. They must have been as cold as we were (that or dead) since they didn’t move a muscle. Unfortunately no penguins as it was the wrong time of year, which is surprising as it felt as if we were in Antarttica! The views from the cliff edges are spectacular and at most stops you can see whales breaching the surface of the ocean in the distance, but our time spent admiring them was brief as the wind and cold wasn’t bareable for too long! Unfortunately due to the weather our boat trip for the whale watching had to be cancelled, but we weren’t too disappointed since we had seen the whales so closely this morning we didn’t feel like we were missing out, so our final stop was at the only town in the peninsula called Puerto Pyramide. Its a gorgeous little town, reminded me of a little fishing village in Scotland, but instead of spending more time outside been blown to bits we opted for a cozy little cafe where we had a beer and a hot empanada.
We really enjoyed our day, however in hindsight I probably wouldn’t have done the tour knowing the weather. The beach where we saw the whales was only around 6km from town so we could have cycled (or most likely took a taxi!) there on our own, and although we saw loads of amazing wildlife it was just too cold and windy for us to fully appreciate it and it meant we spent most of the day in the car rather than enjoying the great outdoors – so my advice would be check the weather, as being Patagonia and Argentina the trip is certainly not budget friendly! We were pretty glad to get back to the hostel and have a hot shower. That night we wanted to check out the town a bit more so we headed down to the main street and found a cool pizza place called Lizard Cafe, where they do 50% off on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. They have a huge list of toppings – even cheeseburger pizza but we didn’t opt for that one – and it had a buzzing atmosphere. Next we headed to a little Welsh Pub called Mr Jones – yes, I did say Welsh – Puerto Madryn has a lot of Welsh culture due to Welsh settlement back in the day – which had a brilliant vibe and an even better playlist.
If it wasn’t for the Baltic weather conditions Puerto Madryn would have been totally perfect! Long sandy beach, a nice town with good places to eat and drink, a rich culture. Add that to the world class wildlife spotting and this is one place you do not want to miss!