Puerto Madryn is located in the province of Chubut on Argentina’s east coast, which is still technically part of the Patagonia region.
It has plenty of beaches for you to hang out on, but by far the main attraction is the appearance of southern right whales that visit its bays.
The city is adjacent to the Valdez Peninsula, famous for its wildlife, and visitors can wander among penguins and elephant seals, as well as spot whales from the shore.
Take a boat trip, learn a little about marine biology at a local museum, and enjoy a delicious seafood dinner in downtown Puerto Madryn.
Even if the whales aren’t there, it’s a summer tourist destination.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Puerto Madryn:
1. Go whale watching
Southern right whales are frequented in coastal waters near Puerto Madryn and the nearby Valdés peninsula, making the area a major tourist destination for wildlife-loving tourists.
June to December is the peak whale watching period, so if you want to spot them, be sure to go.
If you head to El Doradillo Beach, just 30 minutes from the city, you can even spot whales from the shore.
Whales come to the bay to give birth and teach their calves how to swim, and you can often find them playing just offshore.
To get even closer, go whale watching by boat and watch these giant creatures surface next to you – definitely one of the most popular tourist activities in Puerto Madryn.
2. Ecological Center Madryn
Learn more about the region’s ecosystems by visiting this three-story maritime museum by the sea.
Here you can learn about the wildlife of the bay and the Valdes Peninsula through an interactive sensory exhibit.
A huge whale skeleton is displayed, and guests can climb to the top of the lookout tower for panoramic views of the coastline.
The museum is small but includes a library, art exhibits, a small marine life tank and a room where you can feel as if you are in a sea of whales, listen to their calls and watch them swim by.
3. Diving and snorkeling with sea lions
Get out into the water with sea lions and learn about the curiosity and playfulness of these creatures in their natural environment.
You can book a snorkeling or scuba diving trip with them near Puntaloma, where hundreds of people live year-round.
While sea lions can be aggressive on land, they are docile and entertaining in the water, and they come to play with humans.
For other diving excursions, check out nearby shipwrecks filled with coral and fish.
Puerto Madryn is considered the diving capital of Argentina due to its good visibility and abundant marine life.
Lobo Larsen is one of the most popular companies that can arrange snorkeling or diving trips and their guides are well received.
4. Visit the Penguins
Another great attraction in the area, if you want to wander among the many little penguins, be sure to visit Punta Norte on the Valdes Peninsula, or drive to the Punta Tombo Nature Reserve.
Both are popular spots to wander among thousands of Magellanic penguins (but Punta Tombeau is crazy). From September to April, these flightless birds come to these specific sites to mate and give birth, and you’ll see them eat, sleep, mate and care for their young.
They’re not afraid of humans, so be sure to give them their space and watch out for their dens when you stroll on their beaches.
You can arrange for a guide to tell you more about them, or just visit in person!
5. Check out the beach
They may not be the best beaches in the world, but if you come here during the summer months (Dec-Feb), they will do the job.
They’re long and wide, so there’s plenty of room to hang out, drink a mate or have a picnic, although the water can be cold and the wind a bit strong.
There are frequent concerts on the beach and you can enjoy a meal or a drink in one of the many cafés, restaurants and bars in the surrounding area.
Due to high winds, many local shops offer kitesurfing or windsurfing lessons as well as rentals along the beach.
The townspeople are good enough, but head to pristine El Doradillo for whale watching, or head to Playa Parana’s peaceful pebble beach to relax.
6. Visit Estancia
A popular day trip for tourists, you can visit an estancia (pasture) in Patagonia and learn how life works on a real sheep farm.
Take a tour of the hotel, view livestock and local wildlife, and even arrange horseback riding.
At most of these ranches, you can enjoy asado (barbecue) of roast lamb and an excellent wine list.
At nearby Estancia San José, you can also enjoy folklore shows and shearing shows.
Estancia Rincon Chico is close to the Valdes Peninsula and offers wildlife tours.
Further afield, one of the most popular ranches, Estancia San Lorenzo, will allow you to combine your visit with a tour of the penguin colony.
7. Dolphin Watching
If you’re hoping to spot some dolphin pods here, book a tour to see the local Commerson dolphins play and swim in the open ocean.
The tour will take you to Puerto Rawson and Golfo Nuevo to see this rare black and white dolphin, nicknamed the “Panda Dolphin” or “Skunk Dolphin”.
” Your guide will tell you all about the world’s smallest dolphins as you watch them jump and gallop on the boat.
You can also spot dusky dolphins, which are known for being friendly and love to play in the stern of the boat.
When whale season is over, dolphins are the focus of the town from December to March.
8. Visit the Valdes Peninsula and Pyramid Harbor
This peninsula is actually a wildlife sanctuary and one of the highlights of a trip to Puerto Madryn.
Just 48 miles (77 km) from the city, between New Bay and San Jose Bay, you can visit this UNESCO World Heritage site for its beautiful beaches, interesting geography and many marine animals.
There is a colony of elephant seals and a lighthouse in Ponta Delgada, a lighthouse converted into a hotel in Ponta Delgada, and penguins in Ponta Norte.
The island’s only small town, Puerto Piramides, is a lovely little village surrounded by pyramid-shaped cliffs with many retro cafes, bars and tour companies.
From here you can easily arrange whale watching, hiking, kitesurfing, fishing or diving.
9. Lobería de Punta Loma Nature Reserve
Just outside of town, Puntaloma is a protected sanctuary where you can see many of the sea lions that call the area home.
Even if you choose not to swim with them, you can observe them on land in the only permanent South American sea lion habitat.
Hundreds of sea wolves live on the pebble beaches here, and you can pay to watch them from lookout points atop some rocky cliffs – binoculars will be a plus! Travel on your own or take a 4×4 tour for a year-round tour.
10. Have a hearty dinner
Since it has to feed all those who visit, Puerto Madryn has a large number of high-quality restaurants.
Great if you’re looking for traditional Argentinian food like steak or lamb, but also amazing seafood and Italian dishes.
Cantina El Náutico serves seafood, paella, grilled shrimp and octopus, and desserts.
En Mis Fuegos is a popular gourmet venue serving romantic multi-course meals prepared with local, organic produce.
Unamesa is recommended for its seafood, risotto, steak and garden fresh vegetables, and they also offer cooking classes.
11. Museo Provincial de Ciencias Naturales y Oceanográfico
For more background on the nature and history of the surrounding area, head to the small museum in one of the oldest houses in town to learn about the biology of native marine and land animals.
Check out their preserved specimens such as stuffed birds and skeletons, learn about whales and marine mammals, and learn about the history of the Welsh people who settled here.
It’s just a short walk from the city center and admission is free, so it’s worth strolling through the exhibits, especially on a rainy day.
The well-preserved giant squid is a highlight!
12. Visit Elephant Seals
If you want to visit the colonies of these large elephant seals, head to Caleta Valdés, Punta Delgada or Punta Ninfas.
There is also a lesser-known place called Escondida Island, which is located on the beach near Rosen, south of Puerto Madryn.
You will be able to see the mother and their very cute seal pups, as well as huge male seals.
Elephant seals are actually the largest species of seal in the world.
In this area, males arrive in August, the mating (and parturition) season begins in September, and the colony numbers are even higher in October.
Babies may be seen sucking from their mothers, and in November you’ll have molting season, when they start to lose their fur.
Tour or visit these attractions in person, but be sure to give them space!
13. Go to Trelew and Gaiman
There are several towns available for day trips about an hour or so outside Puerto Madryn.
Trelew is a wool processing centre and has a beautiful paleontology museum with dinosaur fossils on display – the largest dinosaur fossil ever found was actually found nearby.
You can see the actual laboratory where scientists analyze these fossils on site.
A little further afield, Gaiman Township is a Welsh village founded in the 1800s.
It has historic buildings and cute little Welsh tea shops.
Stop for afternoon tea at Casa de Te Ty Gwyn as they have great breads, jams, cakes and tea trays to share.
14. Go kayaking
Many tour companies in Puerto Piramides can arrange afternoon (or even multi-day) kayaking or kayaking tours for you. Paddle into San Jose Bay to see swimming sea lions and seals, bird watch, listen to whales, and watch the sunset from a kayak.
Patagonia Explorers arrange sea kayak tours and wildlife tours, and they can combine hiking, camping, dining and all the gear you need.
15. Outdoor Adventure Sports
There are also plenty of outdoor adventures when you discover marine life.
Go hiking or rent a mountain bike and cycle from the beach to the bay.
You can also go horseback riding along the cliffs and hills, or arrange a trip to the rural estancia.
There is sandboarding on the dunes and waterskiing behind several local boats in summer.
Check out the kitesurfing and windsurfing on the main beaches of Puerto Madryn, or book a sport fishing trip with a local guide.
If all this is a little extreme, you can always play golf at Puerto Madryn Golf Club.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Puerto Madryn, Argentina
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