Inspiring Puerto Madryn
Located on the northeast coast of Patagonia, more than 800 miles (1,287km) south of Buenos Aires, Puerto Madryn is surrounded by arid, pancake-flat, seemingly endless steppe. The city dates back to 1865, when a tea-clipper, the Mimosa, landed with a group of 150 Welsh settlers fleeing religious and cultural restrictions in the UK.
Despite considerable hardships, the Welsh community eventually prospered, thanks largely to the help of the indigenous Tehuelche people, who had occupied Patagonia for millennia. In doing so, they opened up the region to further colonization, with sheep farming becoming a major industry. Unfortunately, this also led to the demise of Patagonia's indigenous communities.
The city, which takes its name from the estate of one of the original Welsh settlers, is now home to around 95,000 people, most of them employed in the tourist, fishing and aluminum industries. It long, arcing beach has made it a popular summer holiday destination for Argentine (though the sea remains bracingly cold even during the warmest months) but foreign travelers are drawn predominantly by the superb wildlife-watching opportunities on offer.
Planning Your Visit
Aim to stay in Puerto Madryn for at least three days, enough time to visit the key attractions: Península Valdés, the Ecocentro museum and the village of Gaiman. If you have the time, though, it’s preferable to opt for a five-day itinerary or include Puerto Madryn in a wider exploration, such as this eight-day tour, which includes Buenos Aires and the Punta Tombo penguin colony, or this 15-day trip, which focuses on nature and wildlife.
Puerto Madryn has numerous banks with ATMs, plenty of places change foreign currency, and credit and debit cards are widely accepted. For more practical logistics, see our Argentina FAQ.
Puerto Madryn and the surrounding region has a desert climate and receives very little rain. The warmest months are December, January, and February when temperatures range from a low of 55°F (13°C) to a high of 83°F (28°C). June, July, and August are the coldest months, with temperatures between 34°F (1°C) and 58°F (14°C). It often feels colder than these temperatures suggest, however, thanks to the fierce winds that blow through the city year round. Pack accordingly
Getting There & Away
Puerto Madryn has a small airport but flights are extremely limited. Instead, most travelers use the bigger and better-served airport in the city of Trelew, 40 miles (65km) southwest. Trelew has daily flights to/from Buenos Aires and Ushuaia and weekly ones to/from El Calafate, mostly with Aerolineas Argentinas.
Long-distance buses connect Puerto Madryn with Buenos Aires, Puerto San Julian, and Río Gallegos. There are also frequent services to Trelew, which has a greater range of long-distance buses. There are several car-hire outlets in the center of Puerto Madryn as well.
Puerto Madryn is a walkable city, though if you're heading to the Ecocentro and Parque Histórico Punta Cuevas, you may want to hire a bike from one of several outlets in the city center or take a taxi, which are widely available.
Highlights & Activities
Puerto Madryn offers an attractive blend of wildlife-focused, cultural, and outdoor activities. It acts as the gateway to the world-renowned Península Valdés reserve and provides an insight into the fascinating history of the Welsh in Patagonia. The city (and nearby Trelew) also have some excellent museums.
Covering an area just north of Puerto Madryn and the surrounding waters, Península Valdés is an outstanding marine reserve. It is home to large breeding populations of southern right whales, elephant seals, and sea lions, as well as Magellanic penguins, dolphins, and orcas—the latter are famous for snatching their prey right off the beaches.
Taking a whale-watching boat trip from Puerto Pirámides, a small village inside the reserve, is a must: they run, roughly speaking, between mid-June and mid-December and get remarkably close to these beautiful creatures. Diving, snorkeling, and kayaking trips are also widely available.
Parque Histórico Punta Cuevas
A 2.5-mile (4km) walk or drive south of the city center, along the coast road, takes you to Parque Histórico Punta Cuevas, which marks the site of the first Welsh settlement in Patagonia. There are various monuments, including the foundations of original Welsh homes and an imposing statue of a Tehuelche man, a tribute to the indigenous peoples who gave the early settlers such vital support. There’s also a small but worthwhile museum, the Museo del Desembarco.
Just beyond Parque Histórico Punta Cuevas, the Ecocentro is an excellent modern museum devoted to the region’s marine ecosystems and the challenges they face. There are full-scale models and plenty of multimedia and interactive exhibits, making it an ideal spot for children, as well as a lovely café with superlative views of the Golfo Nuevo.
An hour’s drive southwest of Puerto Madryn, the city of Trelew has a top-class dinosaur museum, MEF (Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio). Patagonia has proved a rich hunting ground for palaeontologists in recent decades, and the museum has an extensive collection of fossilized skeletons, bones and eggs, including the remains on an Argentinosaurus, one of the biggest dinosaurs ever to walk the earth.
Some 10 miles (16km) west of Trelew and linked by regular buses, the village of Gaiman is the best place to experience the region’s Welsh heritage. There’s a charming museum, quaint houses and, if you’re lucky, you may even hear Welsh being spoken. Gaiman, however, is most famous for its selection of Welsh casas de té, where (in many cases) descendants of the original settlers serve up heaping plates of homemade cakes, scones and pastries, washed down with freshly-brewed tea.
Reserva El Pedral
A privately owned coastal reserve 45 miles (73km) southeast of Puerto Madryn, Reserva El Pedral is home to a large colony of thousands of Magellanic penguins. Take a guided lunch tour of the reserve’s lighthouse and estancia (ranch) and walk amongst the penguins. You can also opt to stay overnight at the delightful farmhouse.
Festivals & Special Events
The region’s Welsh Patagonian communities celebrate their heritage and language at annual eisteddfodau, cultural events that feature music, singing, dancing, poetry and prose readings, in both Welsh and Spanish. The main eisteddfod takes place in Trelew in late September/early October, while Gaiman hosts small eisteddfodau in early May and mid-September.
Lodging & Dining
Where to Stay
There is good range of places to stay in Puerto Madryn, whatever your budget. El Gualicho is the city’s best hostel, with nifty dorms and private rooms, a central location and plenty of activities on offer. Unusually for Patagonia, there are several excellent mid-range options, too: Casa Patagónica is a friendly, family-run guesthouse; La Posada de Madryn offers posh rooms and an appealing swimming pool; and Hostería Solar de la Costa has a prime position right on the seafront.
The best of the top-end choices is Hotel Territorio, which is located 2 miles (3.2km) south of the city center, has elegant en suites and offers superb sea views. Beyond the city there are also some good places to stay in Puerto Pirámides and the rest of the Península Valdés, Gaiman, and Reserva El Pedral.
Where to Eat
Unsurprisingly, given its coastal location, Puerto Madryn has a great range of fish and seafood. The most popular local dish is arroz con mariscos, which is similar to paella. But, aside from a few notable exceptions, the eating out scene is a little underwhelming.
The standout restaurant is the classy En Mis Fuegos, which has a creative though pricey menu featuring dishes like veal chop with pickled eggplant. For a classic Argentine bife de chorizo steak, head to the rustic Estela, while Malón is one of the better seafood specialists.
Del Viento serves Puerto Madryn’s best coffee, as well as toothsome cakes and ice cream. If you’re after something stronger, the city has several great bars, including the aptly named James Beer, where you can sample an array of draft and bottled craft beers from Patagonia and beyond, and the nearby Margarita, which has a real pub feel and regular live music.