As an avid traveller currently residing in Buenos Aires, I could not miss out on a chance to travel around Argentina. So as soon as I got a chance, I bought a bus ticket on www.plataforma10.com and headed to Puerto Madryn. The 20 hour journey, unlike it may seem, was surprisingly very pleasant. I opted for “executive” seat, which turned out to be very comfortable, received three meals during the journey and thoroughly enjoyed the movies as well as the views.
To be perfectly honest I did not have high expectations of Puerto Madryn. I assumed it is yet another coastal city that happens to be located on the doorstep to the wildlife sanctuary of Peninsula Valdes, but it has a unique character and a lot to offer. Spoilt with 35 degrees weather, I could not resist sunbathing on a beach, but was not the only one who enjoyed the sun.
While strolling on the beach you can not only spot whales, but also you can get to the ship graveyard, which is very eerie. You are not permitted to climb on board, but nonetheless it is an impressive sight.
Puerto Madryn is a brilliant base for travelling, as most touristic attractions are located within 200km distance. Not being a fan of organized travel packages and tour buses I rented a car (for approx. AR$550 a day) for two days. On the first day I headed to Punta Tombo where from September to April over half-million Magellanic penguins breed. Punta Tombo is the largest penguin colony outside Antarctica, and least to say, is nothing on what I expected. It is spectacular to see so many penguins spread through such a dry land lapping up the sun. While I struggled with the incredibly hot weather, penguins did not seem to be bothered by it and enjoyed sunbathing. It is very impressive to see them from such a close distance as they cross the path in front of you and live totally oblivious to the many visitors that can be passing no more than half a meter away. Entrance fee to the park is AR$60. Petrol for the day works out AR$120, organized tours from AR$350. Definitely worth visiting!
On the following day I decided to go to Peninsula Valdes. There are many companies that offer organized trips (from AR$350 plus entrance fee to the park) to this unique place, but to me travelling by car was the best option. While you most likely wont be taken aback by the scarce, flat and bleak landscape, you will certainly enjoy peninsula’s famous wildlife: sea lions, elephant seals, southern right whales, Commerson’s dolphins and Magellanic penguins. If you are very, very lucky you might get a chance to spot orcas. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see them, as I was out of their season (February to April), but in all fairness I enjoy seals too much to see them being killed by orcas.
After visiting Caleta Valdes and Punta Norte I went to Puerto Piramides – a small, charming and secluded settlement. If you are up for some fun-sporty activities, there is a lot to choose from: scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and at last whale watching. Most people who travel to Puerto Piramides flock there for the boat rides.
Trips run throughout the day. Other than the company you choose there are two main options: day time trip (AR$350) giving you 1.5 hours on the water (which with its popularity means you will have a boat full of 55 people), or a sunset trip (AR$600), which I opted for, as you get more time on the ocean (approx. 2.5 hours), beautiful array of colors, calmer sea, whales are more active in the later hours, and the real bonus being less people on board. I was told the average is 15 people, but when I took the trip, there was only 8 of us enjoying this unforgettable experience. Even though I took the trip out of the main season I still managed to see 8 whales! The boat trip started at 6pm and ended around 9 o’clock in the evening. Remember that at that time, there is no public transport going to Puerto Madryn so if you don’t have a rented car you might have to stay the night in Puerto Piramides.
Last, but not least I would like to highly recommend to you snorkeling with sea lions. I saved it for the end of this blog entry, as it was the highlight of my trip. There are few companies that offer this activity in Puerto Madryn. I went with www.lobolarsen.com, recommended to me by a friend, and it was a great choice! As only 3 boats are allowed at a time in the water of the natural reserve of Punta Lomo where sea lions reside, there is a race between 6 companies to get to the spot first. The company of my choice has a contingency plan and transports 3 people by jeep, and 3 by boat to beat the competition. If you don’t like speeding you better stay home! Once there, you get a quick introduction on how to float on water and behave with the animals. As soon as you get to the water sea lions swim towards you. Don’t be fooled by how many you can see on the water surface, as there are probably 3 times as many swimming below you. Sea lions are extremely curious, and playful and enjoy messing about with people. You get to touch them, and pet them. Never in a million years did I expect these wild animals to be such fun to play with! I know it might seem bizarre, but the way they interact with people they do remind me a lot of my dogs! All in all, the experience was fantastic, one of the best I have ever had! It is quite pricy at AR$900, but so worth it!
– Always compare flight fares with bus prices as at times flights can work out cheaper and can save you time. Check out LADE airline for best prices!
– You get a good discount when you rent a car for 2 days. With Expanish benefit card you get 20% off from Hertz.
– Remember to take a credit card with you if you want to rent a car (debit card is not sufficient).
– To avoid disappointment prior to travelling check out which animals are in season and plan your trip accordingly.
– Prepare for the weather! Pack some worm clothes and waterproof jackets for the whale watching as it gets quite cold and windy out at see when you seat in the boat not moving for 2 hours.