If you love wildlife and beautiful scenery then Patagonia is the place to go. However, one area offers something a little different. Puerto Madryn is on the east coast in the north of the region and, like many of the surrounding area, there is so much wildlife. What sets it apart from the others is the language. Not only will you see and hear Argentinian Spanish, but also plenty of Welsh.
The town was founded by Welsh settlers over 150 years ago and still holds onto its Welsh roots. Even the name “Madryn” sounds more Celtic than Latin. Road signs in the area are typically written in both Spanish and Welsh, and the town is full of the kind of tea rooms often found in small Welsh villages. The hostel I stayed in even served five or six different types of cake for breakfast. I’m not used to eating so much sweet food first thing on a morning, although I did have a lot of dulce de leche whilst in Argentina.
I arrived in Puerto Madryn after an overnight bus from Bariloche to the north. The town is quite small, with the walk from the bus station to my hostel taking a little over ten minutes. It was just after 7am when I checked in and I was asked if I wanted to join any tours. Less than an hour later I was in the back of a 4×4 heading out to Peninsula Valdes.
Whilst there are many areas of natural beauty around the world and especially in Patagonia, this small region just outside Puerto Madryn was so full of life. I don’t think I’ve seen quite as much variety as I did here, other than the safari parks of southern Africa such as Etosha and Kruger. Almost immediately we saw guanaco (a llama type animal), various birds, reptiles and more. After stopping just outside town to watch the sunrise we arrived at a beach overlooking a colony of sea lions. Back in the car park we were about to climb back in our vehicle when an armadillo shuffled past before disappearing down a hole.
Our next stop was the main reason I’d agreed to join the tour (or maybe it was the sleep deprivation). Penguins. Lots of penguins. I always loved penguins as a child going to the zoo, but I’d never seen them in the wild before. This region is home to a colony that grows to around 500,000 in peak season. Most of them are based at Punta Tombo, where I would be heading for my second day, but today would be my first experience of the little Magellan Penguins in their natural habitat.
After spending a long time admiring the penguins, the last stop of the day would be Puerto Piramides. Here, among the sheer cliffs lives a large group of sea lions. Among them was a family of hefty elephant seals. We stopped one last time before arriving back in Puerto Madryn to enjoy the sunset and share a drink of maté.
Despite its small size, the town has many high-quality restaurants with fish dishes being a specialty. On the recommendation of various people who’d been in town for a couple of days (whereas I still hadn’t seen my bed) I went for my evening meal by the port with another person from the tour. The fish was very nice and not overly expensive. The area around the port and along the promenade is a good location if you’re looking for something to do on an evening.
The next day I was back out early for my next excursion, this time travelling south for my only stop at the enormous penguin colony at Punta Tombo. I was looking forward to this despite having seen large numbers the day before. Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed.
Most of the birds had already travelled further north as the winter months started to approach, but there were still thousands of penguins everywhere I looked. I spent hours watching them as they ventured out for a swim in the wild Atlantic Ocean before waddling back up the beach for a rest. Away from the water, the horizon was covered by little black figures. They were everywhere. The surrounding hills were more desert-like and it was surprising to see penguins nesting in such an environment. The more popular ‘beach-front’ properties were occupied by the more powerful couples and the less well-off pairs had to settle for a burrow further from the water in a less attractive location. Who knew how much penguin society mirrored our own?
How to get to Puerto Madryn
The town is easily accessible by bus within Patagonia, although you could face long journeys depending on your starting point. Alternatively, there are regular flights from Buenos Aires to either Puerto Madryn or the nearby town of Trelew.
What to do in Puerto Madryn
Puerto Madryn is small but if you have an interest in wildlife or Welsh history then it’s the perfect place to stop in Argentina. The entrance to Peninsula Valdes is just over an hour from the town, while the penguins at Punta Tombo are just under 200km and around 3 hours to the south.
In the town itself you’ll find plenty of choice when it comes to restaurants, particularly if you like seafood. Alternatively, the nearby town of Trelew is a little larger with more options for accommodation and closer to the penguin reserve at Punta Tombo.
What wildlife can I see?
As well as the penguins there is an array of sea mammals and birdlife in the area. There are options to go whale watching in season where you might spot Southern Right Whales, sea lions, elephant seals, dolphins or even orcas. On land you might be lucky to glimpse the sea mammals from the shore, but you can also observe guanaco, foxes, armadillos, skunks, rheas (a type of ostrich) and others.