Puerto Madryn & Peninsula Valdes
Introduction to Puerto Madryn & Peninsula Valdes
Peninsula Valdes juts out from Patagonia’s Atlantic Coast providing a haven for a whole host of marine wildlife and birdlife. It’s made up of scrubby grassland with hardly a tree in sight to offer shade, yet its sheltered bays offer a safe breeding and feeding ground for all sorts of fascinating wildlife, including sea lions, elephant seals, penguins, dolphins and, most impressively of all, the giant Southern Right Whale. Female whales visit the region from around August each year to deliver and raise their young before setting out on their 3-4 month journey to Antarctica.
This parched peninsula is the scene of many a wildlife documentary, and film crews and nature photographers come season after season to capture the incredible displays of the natural world. The scene in David Attenborough’s documentary ‘Life’ where the black and white Orcas beach themselves to catch seals was shot here, and when we visited we were lucky enough to see them circling around the shore looking for an opportunity to strike!
This whole region was first populated by the Welsh in the 1860s and bizarrely the Welsh language is still spoken in small pockets of the region. This is most noticeable in the tiny sleepy town of Gaiman where you can enjoy a traditional afternoon tea and hear the lilt of a Welsh accent when the waitress speaks to you in English. Puerto Madryn is one of the biggest towns in the region. With a nice beach and a lively seafront promenade lined with relaxed bars and restaurants, it’s a great base from which to explore this wildlife-rich region of Atlantic Patagonia.
What not to miss in Puerto Madryn & Peninsula Valdes
Whale watching trips leave from Puerto Piramides several times a day during the whale season (September to early December). Taking you out into the bay you’ll see the enormous whales and their calves in close proximity to the boat. We especially recommend taking this excursion in a zodiac, which makes the encounter even more special.
Each spring, thousands of Magellan penguins come to the beaches of Punta Tombo. You’ll be able to walk among the penguins, see nests of baby penguins being fed and watch their comical waddle to the ocean. If short on time there is a smaller, but much closer colony in Peninsula Valdes at San Lorenzo on a beautiful private reserve.
See Elephant Seals on the beach
Seeing the Elephant Seals on Peninsula Valdes’ beaches is a fascinating experience. You can see the Elephant Seals from El Faro – a restaurant with a private beach, but for an even more impressive experience, book a stay at Rincon Chico, where you can watch from up-close for hours.
Puerto Madryn’s Seafood
The seafood in Puerto Madryn is delicious. Most places along the seafront serve excellent seafood platters, but our favorite is Mariscos del Atlantico, hidden behind the Club Nautico on the road along the seafront.
What you need to know
When to go
Visiting the Valdes Peninsula is all about seeing its incredible marine wildlife, so the best time to visit is without a doubt during spring and summer. The Southern Right Whales can be seen as early as June right through until December, but the prime months are September and October when you are more or less guaranteed to see the mothers and their calves in the sheltered peninsula bay. Dolphins and penguins can also be seen throughout the spring and summer, with the best opportunity to see penguin chicks being in late December. Orcas are also more likely to be spotted from January to March when the baby sea-lions are learning to swim and are easy prey!
How to get there
Daily flights from Buenos Aires, Ushuaia and El Calafate arrive at the Puerto Madryn’s El Tehuelche Airport or Trelew’s Airport. Puerto Madryn is also connected with Chile through a Santiago – Punta Arenas – Puerto Montt flight.
Getting there by bus is also possible. However, you should take into account that distances are quite long, so trips from these cities usually take one day or more.
Hiring a car is well worth it in this region as you’ll be able to explore it on your own and stay overnight in Puerto Piramides, the small town in the national reserve. During the whale season you should be able to see them from the shore too!
Where to stay in Madryn
Most of the hotels and lodgings are in Puerto Madryn, the area’s most important tourist center, where most tours depart from, as it is relatively close to Peninsula Valdés to the north and to Trelew and Punta Tombo to the south. The city, with a population of 50,000, is small and you can move around by foot. Tour shuttles take you to the nearby attractions.
Where to stay in the Peninsula
Staying in Puerto Piramides, in the heart of Peninsula Valdés is another alternative, though lodging options are fewer. You may also stay at Trelew, where there a few hotels. Although it’s the closest urban site to Punta Tombo, this city is further away from the rest of the attractions.