The plentiful pastimes of Puerto Madryn
Our most extensive Antarctica cruise itineraries, which not only visit the classic region of the Antarctic Peninsula but also the bird-filled Falkland Islands and surreally scenic South Georgia, all have one seriously underrated city in common.
Puerto Madryn is the bustling Argentinian setting that serves as the embarkation point for our 20-night Antarctic extravaganzas. Book-ended by the equally fetching disembarkation town of Ushuaia (for which we’ve already written a thorough traveler’s guide), it provides a welcome wealth of activities and avenues to explore before setting out for the polar regions.
Should you find yourself in Puerto Madryn with time to spare, here are five of our favorite ideas that’ll surely make the hours before your expedition cruise pass quicker.
1. Play around the Puerto Madryn beach of Playa El Doradillo
Puerto Madryn has around 100,000 inhabitants, but that’s only the humans.
Playa El Doradillo is particularly abundant with other more native wildlife. This beach was declared a municipal protected area in 2001, and includes an impressive 30 km (18.6 miles) of sea and coastal land from Mount Prismático to Punta Arco.
Southern right whales gather here between May and December to mate and give birth, one of the few places they can be seen from shore. And since our “Falkland Islands – South Georgia – Antarctica” voyages operate in November, you stand the chance to see some of these enchanting cetaceans.
Right whale calves don’t develop the fat layer that will enable them to float until they’re around 30 – 40 days old, so their mothers carry them around on their fins, keeping near to shore and taking rests along the pebbled beaches.
Puerto Madryn’s sheltered coastal waters in the Golfo San José are also generally inhabited by sea lions, fur seals, elephant seals, Magellanic penguins, and orcas (killer whales).
2. Check out the Valdes Peninsula (Península Valdés) for a Puerto Madryn favorite
Like the Playa El Doradilla, this area is known for the marine animals inhabiting its surrounding waters: Sea lions, elephant seals, and of course whales can be spotted here. It has also been declared a Patagonian nature reserve.
On the western peninsula lies the village and beach strand of Puerto Pirámides, a former salt-mining port that speaks of Puerto Madryn’s past.
Other nearby beaches include Las Cuevas, named after its caves, and Los Molinos, which features an abandoned windmill – good for the photobooks, especially if you’re Dutch and feeling a touch homesick.
3. Explore inner and outer Puerto Madryn at the Fundación Ecocentro
This popular nature center offers numerous great exhibits on the local coast ecosystem.
Built in 2000, the Ecocentro carries out activities that combine art, education, and science, delving into a variety of natural science topics.
These topics include the physical, biological, ecological, and human aspects of the Patagonian Sea; the geography and species of the great depths; natural tidal swells in which marine invertebrates live, complete with a replica; and southern right whale ecology, an ideal supplement to Puerto Madryn’s whale-friendly waters.
4. See the first local reserve of Punta Loma just south of Puerto Madryn
Made official in 1967, Punta Loma was the first nature reserve in Chubut (the Argentinian province of which Puerto Madryn is a principal city) and meant to protect the only permanent South American sea lion colony in the area.
There’s also a colony of cormorants and South American terns here, many other birds (seabirds and non), various reptiles, and not a few land mammals.
The scenery is similarly rich: Cliffs plunge into the sea, and there are many wide pebbled beaches.
Additionally, you can hike to a vantage point to see a 600-strong colony of South American sea lions. Their breeding season starts in November (the same time as our cruises), when males fight to form their harems, mate, or relocate to another colony at Puerto Pirámides.
5. Visit a vital piece of Puerto Madryn’s history at the Monumento al Indio Tehuelche
Built in 1865, this beautiful monument commemorates the goodwill between the Welsh immigrants who settled in the area and the indigenous Tehuelche people already living there.
150 Welsh immigrants arrived at the natural Patagonian port that is now Puerto Madryn, naming the area in honor of Sir Love Jones-Parry, the British landowner who’d arranged for and financed their voyage – and who owned an estate named Madryn in Wales.
The Monumento al Indio Tehuelche depicts a native warrior gazing seaward with spear in hand, standing on a pile of rocks that symbolize the excavations that took place in the cliffs nearby.
This is a must-see site, a heartwarming Puerto Madryn testament to the power of tolerance and friendship between dramatically different cultural groups.