Puerto Madryn 101- Everything You Need to Know

Puerto Madryn was the first city I visited in Patagonia, Argentina. Having the chance to see penguins, elephant seals, and Southern Right whales in the wild was truly magic. I want to share with you everything you need to know about going to Puerto Madryn, along with a few hidden gems. For reference, I was in Puerto Madryn from October 7-11, 2022. Any note of my trip there occurred between these dates. Get Your Guide has a lot of trip options for Pureto Madryn as well, click below to use my affiliate link at no extra cost to you!

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What to Know Before You Go to Puerto Madryn – Tips at a Glance!

  • The infrastructure around Puerto Madryn and Peninsula Valdes was surprisingly bad. The majority of the roads around the area are dirt (ripio), so every journey will be just a little slower than expected. Even several roads within the town of Puerto Madryn were dirt, which was quite surprising. Many neighborhoods felt brand new, with brand new matching houses, yet with dirt roads.
  • There is not a lot of public transportation. In the four days I spent there, I didn’t see a single city bus. Don’t go expecting to be able to take public transport to all the spots on your wishlist.
  • Most things around the area are very spread out. You’ll need to either rent a car, pay a private driver, or join tour groups. Otherwise you’ll need to prioritize your top destinations, and reconcile not seeing everything you want to see.
  • Prices for tours, such as whale watching, kayaking, or swimming with sea lions have a fairly high price tag. Make sure to bring enough cash to cover yourself.
  • The high season of the area is October and November, which is when the whales arrive and the penguins breed and begin to have offspring (mid November). Book your accommodation well in advance during these months. Argentina has a long weekend in October and is a time when many Argentines head to the area; definitely book in advance if you are headed there at that time.
  • There are three main areas to visit: Puerto Madryn and the Golfo Nuevo coast, Peninsula Valdes, South of Puerto Madryn.
  • It gets very windy in the area so come prepared. It does get warm in summer, but always cold at night.
Nicki walks along the rocks at Playa Isla Escondida.

So WHEN Should I go to Puerto Madryn?

The answer to this question really relies on what you want to see!

  • Magellan Penguins: The penguin season in Argentina is from mid-September to mid-April, which is when the nature reserve in Punta Tombo is open. However, the baby penguins aren’t born until mid-late November.
  • Southern Right Whales come to the area from May to December, though October is the month with the highest population of them.
  • Orcas: You’re not guaranteed to see them, but you have a better chance from January to April or October to December. I never saw one, but we saw a sign posted near Caleta Valdes stating an orca had been seen at 9am that morning, so it’s not totally impossible.
  • Dark Dolphins: From December to March.
  • The animals that can be seen all year are: Several types of birds, Guanacos, Maras Patagonicas, Sea Elephants and Sea Lions (though their breeding season is from December to March. There were rumors of dolphin sightings as well, but I never saw them.
Several Magellan Penguins at Punta Tombo.

HOW Can I Get to Puerto Madryn?

  • Driving: From Buenos Aires, the drive is about 12-14 hours, depending on how many stops you take. It’s definitely possible to drive all in one day if you have alternating drivers. You can also stop in the middle in Bahia Blanca on the way. If you decide to go this route, definitely make a stop for lunch in Las Grutas for delicious and fresh sea food. There were several gas stations all along the route so getting stuck without gas shouldn’t be an issue. Just be aware there are a ton of semi-trucks traveling this route as well, so be patient. The gas prices get considerably cheaper as you go further south.
  • Flying: There is a small airport in Puerto Madryn (PMY- El Tehuelche Airport), and a larger airport in Trelew (TRE- Almirante Marcos A. Zar Airport), which is 60km south of Puerto Madryn. If you’re going to rent a car, check the prices from both airports, and compare with flight prices to both airports to find the most affordable options.
  • Bus: There are long distance buses that stop in Puerto Madryn on the way to Bariloche from Buenos Aires. Check the Plataforma10 website to have an idea of time tables and length of the journey.
Nicki drinking mate at Playa Doradillo at sunset, looking for whales.

HOW Do I Get Around Puerto Madryn?

I’ll be very honest here- without a car, you won’t see much, so renting a car in Puerto Madryn is the best option. There are a lot of things to see in the area around Puerto Madryn, south of Puerto Madryn, and in the Peninsula Valdes, but public transportation is basically nonexistent. I didn’t see a single intercity bus or public bus. You really do need to have a car to enjoy the experience fully. If you’re not comfortable driving on your own, or renting a car, the next best thing is to do some tours, or hire a private driver. Many tours will pick you up or have a central meeting place.

Keep in mind that the majority of the roads in the area are all dirt, so expect a bumpy regardless of what you choose to do.

Nicki standing on a cliff at Punta Flecha with a Southern Right Whale behind her.

So WHERE Should I stay?

This is a great question, and there are a few options here. It really depends on what you plan to do and how many days you have. A lot of people use Puerto Madryn as a base, as it is in the center of the action. Then go off in a different direction each day- to Punta Tombo, Gaiman, Peninsula Valdes, etc. However, this also means a lot of driving each day. From Puerto Madryn it takes 3 hours one way to reach Punta Tombo, and one hour to reach Puerto Piramides on the Peninsula Valdes. From there it’s another several hours driving around the peninsula. As you can see, this equals long days in the car.

If you have the time, this is what I suggest:

Gaiman:

1-2 nights. This will allow you to visit the Welsh village of Gaiman, Trelew (where the dinosaur museum is), and the beaches at Rawson. You’ll also be closer to Punta Tombo (penguin nature reserve) and Playa Isla Escondida (see elephant seals close up).

Puerto Madryn:

1-2 nights. This will allow you to see the city of Puerto Madryn, which has fantastic food and ocean views, as well as visit the small stops along the Golfo Nuevo.

I actually LOVED the place where we stayed. It was just outside of Puerto Madryn, and was super cosy. The host was fantastic and a wonderful breakfast was included. It’s called Quinta Carmen.

Puerto Piramides:

1-2 nights. The whale tours leave from Puerto Piramides, so this is a must-see spot regardless of whether or not you stay the night. It is the only city on the Peninsula Valdes. You’ll also need a full day if you want to drive around the entire peninsula.

We stayed four nights in Puerto Madryn, which was fine, but involved a ton of driving every day. There are many things to see, and we saw so much, but also felt limited when it came to Peninsula Valdes. We only had one day to explore as much of the peninsula as possible and do the whale watching all in one day.

To decide what is right for you, consider your comfort level of time spent in the car, and your limit for bumpy dirt roads.

Now that I’m here, WHAT should I do?

There is SO much to do, and I’m going to break it up into three sections: Around Puerto Madryn, Peninsula Valdes, South of Puerto Madryn.

Things to do Around Puerto Madryn

Puerto Madryn is in the Chubut province, and sits right along the Golfo Nuevo. The busiest time of the year for visiting Puerto Madryn is October to December. While many people use it as a jumping off point to the rest of the area, there is a lot to do and see in the city itself.

Eat: The city has great cuisine, and several options, including fresh seafood. My favorite was Peppe.

Walk: Along Puerto Madryn’s eastern edge, along the water, there is a great path that extends for kilometers. Along this walk you’ll see restaurants, bars, beach, markets, etc. It’s particularly lively on weekends.

Eco Centro: The Eco Centro is a great place to learn about the flora and fauna of the area. There is a lighthouse up top, a sensory room where you can feel what it’s like to be inside a whale, and a great cafe with massive windows overlooking the gulf.

Explore: If you have a car, I strongly suggest driving along the coast of the Golfo Nuevo in both directions. Going east of Puerto Madryn, you can follow the dirt road until you reach Cerro Avanzado. There seems to be a lot of outdoor activity here: hiking, running, biking, fishing, camping, motorcross, etc.

Heading back towards the city along the coast you’ll find the Loberia (where you can see the ‘lobos’ – sea lions), some good lookout points (Baliza Cantilada) and a few rocky beaches (Playa Pozo & Playa Parana).

If you go north along the coast from Puerto Madryn, you can find Playa Doradillo. It’s a great beach to spend the day, and if you’re lucky get in some whale watching from a distance.

Just a little further up the road you’ll find Punta Flecha, a fantastic place (the best we found) for free whale watching, especially at high tide. It was pure magic.

Snorkel with sea lions: The most popular company that leads these snorkeling expeditions is Lobo Larsen, based in the town of Puerto Madryn. I did not do this trip, but heard it is incredibly fun, and feels like playing around with dogs.

Kayak the Golfo Nuevo: There are a few places to do kayaking around the Golfo Nuevo- Playa Parana, Punta Loma, or Puerto Piramides. I also unfortunately did not have time for this adventure, but it sounds incredible.

Nicki and Elias stand in front of a large window in the lighthouse at the Ecocentro in Puerto Madryn.

Things to do in Peninsula Valdes

Peninsula Valdes is one of the best places in the country to see nature and wildlife. It is much larger than it appears on the map, and the streets are mostly dirt, so you need more time than you may expect to get around. You’ll need to pay a fee when you enter the peninsula:

Foreigners: 2800 pesos
Argentinians: 1300 pesos
Locals: 600 pesos

Peninsula Valdes Visitor Center:

Once you enter the Peninsula, you should definitely make a stop in here. There are bathrooms, and you can climb up to the top of the building for a view. You can walk around to get an idea of the type of wildlife you’ll see on the peninsula. Most crucial of all, there is a ranger at the counter who will consult with you; they’ll help you to plan your day around how much time you have, and which areas you’ll find animals depending on the season. We found this to be extremely helpful.

Puerto Piramides:

This is the only real town in the entire peninsula. It is also where all of the whale tour boats leave from. There are several whale sighting companies, though we decided to use Bottazzi, as it was recommended by our guesthouse host. Whale boat tours are usually about 15,000 pesos per person ($50-60 usd). In Puerto Piramides you can also find restaurants, cafes, and lodging. It’s not a big place, but it has what you need for a few days if you decide to stay the night.

Punta Piramides:

Before going all the way down into the town of Puerto Piramides, there is a turn off to the right. Just follow it a couple minutes down a dirt road, which will bring you to a look out point. There are a few spots to look down at the elephant seals on the cliffs below.

There are not a lot of roads in the peninsula, and the majority of them are dirt (ripio). After you pass by Puerto Piramides, you basically have three options to head to, which are all connected by a series of dirt roads:

Nicki on a whale watching tour with Bottazzi Tours, from Puerto Piramides.

Punta Norte: This is the most northern point of the peninsula. There are a few estancias in the area: San Lorenzo and Punta Norte. The best months for visiting this point are in the summer where it is more likely to see penguins, whales, orcas, and elephant seals.

Caleta Valdes: This is a long strip of land that goes along the center of the east coast of the peninsula. There are several spots where you can stop to see penguins, birds, sea lions, elephant seals, and even orcas if you’re lucky. There is even a lighthouse in the area with a restaurant, rest stop, and a nature walk.

Punta Delgada: This is at the southeastern edge of the peninsula, and has a large colony of elephant seals.

Things to do South of Puerto Madryn

There is a lot to do around the area, but it is very spread out. If you’ve got a car, or joined a tour, it’s time to head south.

Punta Tombo and the Magellen Penguins:

This is about a 3 hour drive from Puerto Madryn, down some paved and some dirt roads. There is a nature reserve here dedicated to the protection and preservation of the supposed millions of Magellen penguins that make their way here every year. The Magellen penguins arrive in late September to breed. The babies are born in late November.

There is a funny lack of logic when arriving to the reserve. You park in a temporary lot, then walk 10 minutes down a dirt path to the ticket booth and visitor center. Once you get your tickets, you walk the ten minutes back to the car, and drive just 1km down the road to park again and enter the reserve.

There is a restaurant next to the visitor center where you buy tickets. There is also a cafeteria at the front entrance to the reserve.

Prices (as of October 2022):
Foreigners: 2300 pesos; children: 1100 pesos
Nationals: 900 pesos; children/retired: 500 pesos
Residents: 400 pesos

Playa Isla Escondida:

This is an excellent place to see elephant seals in the wild. But BE CAREFUL. Don’t get too close to the creatures. They are much faster than they might seem, and the male seals weigh several tons. If they feel threatened, they will roll quickly and possibly crush you. If you keep a safe distance, you’ll be fine. This is a beach where a massive group of elephant seals, mainly females and 2 males (alpha and beta), congregate. It’s about a 40 minute drive from Punta Tombo along dirt roads.

Gaiman:

This is a small town with a history of Welsh immigration. There are several traditional Welsh tea houses around town; they are overrated in my opinion. I felt the experience of having tea time in a tea house was like having an expensive glorified black tea. It comes with mini sandwiches and pieces of cake. I don’t have a sweet tooth so I barely ate the food at all. Princess Diana once visited for tea time. Some popular tea houses are:

Plas y Coed: A small house in the center of town. Reservations are recommended.
Te House Ty Gwen: This one is in a much larger house with more seating options. Reservations are recommended.
Te House Gaiman: A very small building. Reservations are recommended.
Casa de Te Nain Glenys: This one is just outside of town in a large green field. No reservations necessary. The house was small and had about 6 tables. Service was quite slow here.

Trelew:

This is a small university town. It sits right on the intersection of multiple highways. You’ll definitely pass by on the way. to Punta Tombo. A giant dinosaur statue welcomes you to Trelew. It’s fun to make a quick stop to see the dino, which is modeled after the largest dinosaur fossil ever found, which comes from the Chubut province. There is a paleontology museum in the center of town, which holds the actual fossils. You can take a picture with a leg bone. The entrance to the museum also includes a 20 minute video in English hosted by David Attenborough, and a guided tour in Spanish around the museum. There are a few signs in English, but the majority of the signage is all in Spanish.

Rawson:

This is a port town along the coast. There are a few good restaurants near the port with awful views. The beach is active in the summer months, but a ghost town in the off season. Almost everything near the beach is shut down when not peak summer months.

A lifeguard tower at the empty beach of Rawson.

I hope this information has been helpful for your trip around Puerto Madryn. Have the very best time!


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