Puerto Madryn, Argentina is a major wildlife destination in South America. This a mid-sized town, located on the east coast of the country, in the province of Chubut – which is part of Patagonia – is one of the best places to visit in the country. I wholeheartedly recommend adding it to your Argentina itinerary.
Though Puerto Madryn has some beautiful beaches (don’t expect palm trees and clear turquoise waters – this is Patagonia after all, which is the contrary of tropical), the major attraction in this part of Argentina is the thriving marine life.
Between May and December Puerto Madryn is a great place to spot Southern Right Whales. On a lucky day you may be able to spot them from the shore. But even in the summer months, when it is not whale-watching season, there are plenty of things to do in Puerto Madryn. Indeed, a trip to the nearby Peninsula Valdés or to Punta Tombo, or even just a boat tour along the bay will provide endless opportunities to spot more species.
In this post, I highlight all the best things to do in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, and provide some practical tips to organize your trip there.
13 Fabulous Things To Do In Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Go whale watching
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Puerto Madryn is the Southern Right Whales. These can be seen in the winter and spring months, which in the southern hemisphere go from May to December. The peak season to spot them is between June and November (much like in South Africa), when whales come to the bay to give birth and teach their calves how to swim before moving to other parts of the ocean.
Whales can be spotted from the shore at El Doradillo beach, which is at about 30 minutes from the city. On a very lucky day you may even see them from the beach in town. Alternatively, you can opt for a boat tour for higher chances to spot these huge, beautiful animals.
This is the best whale watching tours in Puerto Madryn:
Go dolphin watching in Puerto Rawson
There’s nothing better than seeing dolphins in their natural environment (rather than at a dolphinarium, which is one of the most irresponsible things a tourist can do).
Care to become a more responsible traveler? Check out my post “The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler.”
Puerto Madryn is a fantastic place to admire Commerson’s dolphins. These are black and white dolphins often called “panda dolphins” or “skunk dolphins.” They are smaller than the typical dolphin and are only found in this part of the world. Boat tours to go dolphin watching usually take place in Puerto Rawson and Golfo Nuevo.
Tours normally last around 90 minutes, and you’ll get to see dolphins playing and swimming near the boat (it’s like if they challenged it to play!), while the guide will be providing plenty of information about these mammals as well as other animals you may be spotting.
Dive or snorkel with the sea lions
Though sea lions can get a bit aggressive when on land, they are truly cute when in the water. They can be seen in various spots around Puerto Madryn, but if you fancy snorkeling or even diving with them, head to Punta Loma where a colony of around 600 lives, protected from the orcas that also live along this coast.
Sea lions live in the area of Punta Loma year round – so you’ll have a chance to see them and swim with them regardless of the time of year you visit.
Lobo Larsen is the best company in town that organizes sea lion snorkeling or diving expeditions.
Visit the penguin colony in Punta Tombo
There’s little doubt that one of the top things to do in Puerto Madryn is visiting the penguin colony in Punta Tombo Natural Reserve. Once you get in the reserve, you’ll literally be surrounded by them. Guides will tell you not to walk in front of them or not to get too close to them – but worry not! There are so many, that chances are they will be the ones walking in front of you and you’ll have plenty of excellent photo opportunities.
The penguins you’ll see in Punta Tombo are the Magellanic ones. The best time to see them is between September and April, when they get to the are to mate and give birth. Depending on the time of year you visit, you’ll get to see lots of young (very cute) ones.
TIP: For as cute as they are, penguins have a very strong beak and they surely hurt when they bite! Avoid touching them or getting too close.
These are some excellent tours of Punta Tombo:
Explore Peninsula Valdes
One of the best places to spot wildlife near Puerto Madryn is Peninsula Valdes. There is a good reason that this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Located at around 77 km from town, a trip to Peninsula Valdes normally includes several stops to beaches in the area and to admire the colonies of elephant seals and the former lighthouse (now a hotel) of Punta Delgada. You’ll also see some penguins in Punta Norte (though not nearly as many as in Punta Tombo).
These are some of the best tours of Peninsula Valdes:
Check out my post “15 Amazing National Parks In Argentina.”
Hang out in Puerto Pyramides
Most people visit Puerto Pyramides during their day tour of Peninsula Valdes. However, this tiny town – no more than a village, really – which is surrounded by pyramid-shaped cliffs (hence its name) is a nice place to hang out for a day or two. It has a couple of cool bars and cafés, a super nice beach where it is safe to swim (and the water is actually quite warm in the summer) and it is a departing point for hikes and diving expeditions; not to mention it is an excellent whale watching location.
The only downside when you are at the beach is that – much like the rest of Patagonia – it is super windy here. So chances are you’ll be covered in sand.
Make sure to read my post “30 Things You Should Consider Before Traveling To Patagonia.”
Visit Punta Loma Nature Reserve
Not far from Puerto Madryn there is a protected nature reserve with a large colony of sea lions, called Punta Loma. You can go snorkel or dive with them (as I have said before) but even you don’t, make sure to visit Punta Loma as it is the only permanent sea lion colony of South America, with around 600 lobos marinos (actually, this translates into sea wolves). These live in a beautiful pebble beach and you can see them from a lookout point.
Relax at the beach
Fair enough, Patagonia is hardly famous for its beaches. But if you visit in the peak of the summer, you may get some really hot days (it was 32 degrees Celsius when I visited Puerto Madryn) and then, the beaches in town will be more than enough to get a breath of fresh air and cool down. Besides, it is an excellent place to spot locals drinking mate, kite or windsurfing, or just relaxing.
Depending on when you go, you’ll be able to view a concert. Otherwise, there are plenty of bars, pubs and restaurants around.
Other than the one in town, the best beaches around Puerto Madryn are El Doradillo and Playa Parana.
Visit an estancia
Scattered around Patagonia there are many estancias (ranches). If you ask me, the best are the ones around Tierra del Fuego or around El Calafate. However, there are a few good ones also close to Puerto Madryn where you can enjoy a day admiring the local wildlife, horseback riding, checking out the livestock and having a fabulous asado. Among the best estancias in the area there are Estancia San José, Estancia Rincon Chico (which actually is in Peninsula Valdes) and Estancia San Lorenzo.
Are you going to Tierra del Fuego? Make sure to read my post “Everything You Need To Know About Ushuaia, Patagonia.” For more information about El Calafate, read my post “A Complete Guide To El Calafate, Argentina.”
Further out, one of the most popular ranches, Estancia San Lorenzo, will allow you to combine your visit with a trip to the penguin colonies.
Visit the Museo Provincial de Ciencias Naturales y Oceanografico
This small museum is a nice introduction to the nature and history of Puerto Madryn and Chubut. You’ll find plenty of information on the southern right whales found in this area; on other marine mammals and even on the history of the Welsh settlers who founded the town. It’s in one of the oldest buildings in town, a few minutes walk from the city center and admission is free – worth visiting.
Visit Trelew and Gaiman
Most of the towns in Chubut were founded by Welsh settlers. One of the nicest things to do in Puerto Madryn, Argentina, is taking a day trip to discover them. Trelew is at about one hour from Puerto Madryn
Trelew has an interesting paleontology museum (more about that later); whereas Gaiman is a farming village that was founded in the 1800s with plenty of historic buildings and even a lovely Welsh tea shop. If you crave a good cup of tea with bread, jam, cakes and what not, make sure to stop at the Casa de Te Ty Gwyn.
Visit the Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio
The best place to see fossils in Patagonia is actually in Trelew, not far from Puerto Madryn, at the Paleontology Museum. There are a couple of different exhibitions and – depending on the time of your visit – you may even be able to see the largest dinosaur ever found – which was discovered near Trelew.
There are many excellent restaurants in Puerto Madryn, which is especially a great place to try the famous Argentine steaks or lambs (or even better asado). However, you’ll also find lots of seafood and Italian food options (much like in the rest of Argentina).
Among the best restaurants in Puerto Madryn, I recommend En Mis Fuegos, a lovely romantic spot – I didn’t visit on a date but my sister when with her (then boyfriend, now) husband and loved it. Another place to try is Cantina El Nautico, especially good for seafood (make sure to try the shrimps). Giuseppe is the best place for pizza and pasta at reasonable prices.
Practical Information To Organize Your Trip
Where to stay in Puerto Madryn
There are a few good places to stay in Puerto Madryn, for all tastes and budget. I opted to stay at a hostel when I visited, and had a fantastic experience meeting people I am still friends with. Alternatively, there are some good hotels and even small apartments you can rent.
This is a selection of the best places to stay in town:
- Hi Patagonia Hostel is a great budget option with both private rooms and dorms, and plenty of social spaces. The owner and the staff are very helpful in organizing day tours and in helping guests with car rental. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Wind Puerto Madryn is a nice, modern and fully equipped apartment, perfect if you prefer self catering. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Hotel Piren has large, comfortable room – some also have sea views. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
When to visit Puerto Madryn
Any time is a good time to visit Puerto Madryn, and no matter when you go you’ll be able to see beautiful wildlife. Having said so, do organize your trip in time to see the animals you are more keen on. Whales are best seen between May and December, whereas penguins between September and April. Elephant seals can be seen year round.
How to get to Puerto Madryn
The easiest and fastest way to get to Puerto Madryn is to fly to Trelew, which is at about 55 km, and then take the bus or a private shuttle.
Alternatively, you can fly to Bahia Blanca and then take the bus (it’s around 10 hours), or bus it all the way from Buenos Aires (around 20 hours). There are also daily buses to El Calafate. The trips are very long, but at least the buses are very comfortable.
How to move around Puerto Madryn and Chubut
You may want to rent a car for the duration of your stay in the area, but car rental in Argentina can be quite tricky, with lots of restrictions on the distances you can cover. Anyways, the best thing is to enquire. You can do so here.
Alternatively, the best way to around is to join the guided tours that regularly leave from town.
Guided tours of Argentina that also go to Puerto Madryn
If you prefer leaving the organization bits to the experts, you may want to join a guided tour of Argentina. There are some very good ones that also go to Puerto Madryn.
Other useful information
For more readings about Puerto Madryn and Argentina, you may consult one of these books:
Are you planning a trip to Argentina? Make sure to read my posts:
- A Guide To The Greatest Things To Do In Argentina
- A Flash Pack’s Argentina Itinerary
- Top 13 Things To Do In Rosario Argentina: An Insiders’ Guide!
- 25 Unmissable Things To Do In Buenos Aires
- 11 Fantastic Day Trips From Buenos Aires
- A Complete Guide To Where To Stay In Buenos Aires
- 25 Delicious Argentina Food To Try
- Hiking Gear And More: The Perfect Patagonia Packing List
- The Best Argentine Movies