Today we’re going to be highlighting some of the best things to do in Puerto Madryn and Peninsula Valdes in Argentina!
The main reason so many travellers come to Puerto Madryn is for the wildlife viewing opportunities in Peninsula Valdes.
Peninsula Valdes is one of South America’s finest nature reserves where you can spot sea lions, elephant seals, Southern right whales and more, and the gateway to this nature lover’s paradise is Puerto Madryn, a coastal city located about an hour’s drive from the peninsula.
In short, Puerto Madryn and Peninsula Valdes are two destinations best visited in tandem, so in this blog post, we’ll be sharing everything you need to know for your trip like things to do, where to eat, popular tours, and easy day trips to go.
Day trips from Puerto Madryn
First up, let’s start with the day trips since these are likely what’s bringing you to Puerto Madryn in the first place.
There are lots of different day trips to Peninsula Valdes and each one explore a different area.
The first tour we did was to Punta Norte and Estancia San Lorenzo. It was a really fun day where we got to see sea lions and elephant seals, eat lunch at an estancia and visit the largest Magellanic penguin rookery in the world. This is a tour that focuses on the north end of the peninsula.
The other tour we did was to Punta Delgada and Caleta Valdes. On this excursion, we encountered more penguins and elephant seals, had lunch at a lighthouse, and went on a boat tour where we saw seabirds and sea lions (the boat tour was extra). This tour focused more on the east coast of the peninsula.
Both tours made stops in Puerto Piramides where we had some free time to explore on our own.
There are lots of things to do in Puerto Pirámides, so if you have a bit more time, you can stay overnight. Most tour operators will drop you off in this town at the end of the excursion – you just need to let them know in advance so that they schedule their stops accordingly. It’s also a good idea to book your accommodations in advance since this is a very small town with limited options.
Popular day tours
Aside from the excursions mentioned above, here are some other popular tours where you can see wildlife on and off the peninsula:
- Whale watching full-day tour – this 12-hour excursion takes you out to Puerto Piramides where you take a boat to go whale watching and view sea lions
- Snorkelling with sea lions – this is a 3-hour excursion to Punta Loma Nature Reserve where you can go snorkelling with sea lions in their own habitat
- Punta Tombo Penguin Reserve – this is a 7-hour tour to Punta Tombo where penguins come to mate and give birth every year
One very popular day trip from Puerto Madryn is to the nearby city of Trelew to see dinosaurs!
The main draw to Trelew is the Egidio Feruglio Paleontological Museum, which showcases some of Patagonia’s most impressive fossils.
You can view dinosaurs that once roamed Patagonia like the patagosaurus, the tehuelchesaurus and the titanosaurus.
This museum bears the name of an Italian palaeontologist who discovered a new species of dinosaur, the brachytrachelopan mesai, which is a short-necked dinosaur that lived in Argentina in the Late Jurassic period.
There’s also an auditorium where they play a BBC dinosaur documentary that’s narrated by David Attenborough. They have a few showings throughout the day, so you’ll want to time your visit right if you’re hoping to watch that.
Aside from this, Trelew also has a museum that explores the town’s Welsh heritage, a bar that was once frequented by Butch Cassidy, and a restaurant called Sugar that serves up some delicious gourmet meals on a budget.
Another fun day trip from Puerto Madryn is to the charming town of Gaiman.
This is another town with Welsh roots and it’s a popular destination to have a Welsh afternoon tea.
Gaiman was visited by the late Lady Diana back in 1995 and the town has never forgotten that. Today there are numerous tea houses serving up scones, cakes, and the classic speckled bread, which is known as torta negra in Argentina.
Some Welsh tea houses to consider in Gaiman are:
- Ty Te Caerdydd
- Ty Gwin
- Ty Nain
- Ty Cymraeg
- Plas y Coed
This town also has a few museums worth visiting and you can walk through an old railroad tunnel as you learn about the town’s history.
Things to do in Puerto Madryn
So, we’ve talked about the day trips, now let’s focus on what there is to do in Puerto Madryn itself.
Enjoy some beach time
Puerto Madryn is a coastal city and that means lots and lots of beaches!
When the tide is out, it feels like the beach stretches out for miles and it actually takes a bit of walking to reach the water’s edge. The beach gets especially busy on warm afternoons when you can find families picnicking, groups of friends playing soccer, and kids braving the waters.
The main beach, Playa Puerto Madryn, is a perfectly nice place to catch some sun and cool off with a swim. However, if you have a car, then consider driving up to Playa El Doradillo just north of the city, where you have sweeping coastal views and you can sometimes spot Southern right whales close to the shore.
Tour the Museum of the Man and the Sea
This was my favourite museum in Puerto Madryn!
The Museum of the Man and the Sea is set in the former home of Agustín Pujol, a man who immigrated from Catalunya and built this beautiful house in 1915. The museum is spread out across the home’s three floors, focusing on the local wildlife both on land and in the sea, and it’s really cool to explore both the exhibits and the architectural details of this grand home.
The giant squid exhibit grabbed my attention right away. I had never seen anything that size and it definitely brought back memories of reading Moby Dick as a kid.
Admission is free of charge and it’s a fascinating place to visit.
Walk out to the EcoCentro
The EcoCentro isn’t really a museum, but rather an interpretive space that seeks to highlight the area’s marine ecosystem and man’s relationship with it. It’s a space where science, photography, poetry, and fine arts come together to raise awareness about the natural world. It’s unlike any space I’ve ever been to, but it was really enjoyable.
The EcoCentro also a tower (that looks a bit like a lighthouse), where you have beautiful views of the gulf, plus there are lots of couches and books to read, so it’s a nice place to go and linger on a rainy afternoon. Whales can be spotted from here depending on the time of year.
If you get hungry, there’s a small cafe on-site where you can enjoy grilled sandwiches, pies, scones, coffees and little snacks.
It’s about a 50-minute walk from the centre of Puerto Madryn to the EcoCentro following the waterfront the whole way. The museum can call a taxi for you if you’re too tired to walk back – that’s what we did.
Visit the caves of the Welsh settlers
Just before you reach the EcoCentro, there’s a boardwalk that leads down to a cave-lined shore. These small caves are where the first Welsh settlers who arrived in Argentina in 1865 disembarked and created temporary shelters. There’s a small museum there called Museo del Desembarco Punta Cuevas, where you can learn more about the arrival of the Welsh in Patagonia.
Visit the monuments along the Costanera
Puerto Madryn is a city of monuments and the majority line the waterfront. Starting in the north end of the beach and working your way down, you can see:
- Monument to the Fallen in Malvinas
- Workers Monument
- Women’s Monument
- Monument to the Welsh Settlers
- Monument to Don Quixote
- Monument to Indio Tehuelche
Aside from these monuments, there are also lots of sculptures and carved tree trunks all along the coastal walk, so the city is a bit like an open-air gallery that way.
Walk along the pier on a non-cruise day
If you’re looking for a nice evening stroll after a busy day of sightseeing around Puerto Madryn, then head down to the pier.
The Comandante Luis Piedra Buena Pier juts out into the gulf and there are always people fishing, birdwatching, or enjoying a leisurely walk.
It’s not open to the public on cruise days since this is where passengers disembark by the hundreds, however, if you’ don’t see a cruise ship docked at the end of the pier, you’re good to go.
Where to eat in Puerto Madryn
El Nautico Cantina
One restaurant that was recommended over and over again is El Nautico, so we decided to check it out for lunch one day.
This restaurant has an old-fashioned bodegón style with lots of photos of celebrities who have enjoyed a meal here. They have lunch specials for the equivalent of $10 USD, where you get an appetizer, a main, dessert and wine – and the goblets were filled to the top!
I opted for the pickled calamari as my starter, which came with shredded carrots, cabbage and a wedge of lemon. This was my first time trying calamari prepared this way. It was sour and tangy, and surprisingly tasty!
Then for my main, I ordered the seafood paella with shrimp, scallops, mussels, and squid, and it was amazing. The presentation was beautiful with scallop shells on either side of the dish, and the rice had lots of veggies including red peppers, peas, and onions. It was a true seafood extravaganza!
Meanwhile, Sam ordered a tomato stuffed with a potato and tuna salad for his appetizer, and the salmon in a Roquefort cheese sauce with potatoes for his main.
By the time dessert rolled out, we were stuffed, but we still finished it! I had the pear compote in syrup and Sam got the classic flan, which is a caramelized custard.
All in all, a great meal!
We ate at this restaurant a couple of times because Sam loved their pizza and just had to keep coming back.
When we were there they had a pizza special, where pizzas were half off between 4:00-8:00 pm. This is far too early for Argentines to eat dinner, but it worked well for us! I mean, who needs happy hour when you can have pizza hour?
We ended up ordering a half-and-half pizza where one side had ham, anchovies and green olives, and the other side was loaded with prawns. And I mean loaded!
We liked the prawn pizza so much that we ended up coming back again one more time during our visit to Puerto Madryn.
Another restaurant in Puerto Madryn that we really enjoyed was Yoaquina.
This restaurant has a beautiful setting as it’s right on the beach, and you can choose between dining indoors or al fresco. We had great weather during our visit and there was such a nice breeze on the beach, that of course, we opted for a table outdoors!
I ordered the Patagonian risotto with shrimp and wild mushrooms, and it was super cheesy and creamy.
Meanwhile, Sam got the Patagonian lamb stuffed with bacon and plums with a side of roasted potatoes. The lamb was so tender and it had absorbed all the juiciness of the bacon. It was simply mouthwatering!
We enjoyed this meal with a bottle of Malbec, as you do in Argentina.
For delicious artisanal ice cream, you need to head over to Bomke!
Seriously, their ice creams were so good that we kept coming back for more, even on a chilly evening.
This is the best ice cream shop in Puerto Madryn, and all their ice creams use natural ingredients.
The two flavours we’d recommend trying are coconut and dulce de leche!
Where to stay in Puerto Madryn
You can find accommodations for every budget in Puerto Madryn. Here’s a selection of places to consider:
- Hotel Territorio – luxury hotel overlooking the sea with a spa and sauna. It’s outside the city centre, but they do have a shuttle service.
- Hotel Tolosa – boutique hotel with clean, modern design just two blocks from the beach
- Dazzler by Wyndham – centrally-located hotel on the beach with a rooftop terrace and buffet breakfast.
- Hotel Península Valdés – contemporary hotel on the beach with bar and restaurant
- Hotel Bahía Nueva – comfortable rooms across from the beach with a hearty buffet breakfast (this is where we stayed!)
- HI Patagonia Hostel – top-rated hostel in the city with kitchen, bar and BBQ
- La Tosca Hostel – mix of dorms and private rooms with shared garden courtyard
- Franca Hostel & Suites – rooms decorated in cheerful colours, plus outdoor terrace
- There are lots of beachfront listings, so if you prefer a bit more space and a kitchen of your own, this is a good option. View apartments here.
Best time to visit Puerto Madryn
When it comes to visiting Puerto Madryn and Peninsula Valdes, the best time to do so really depends on what you’re hoping to see. Some wildlife can be viewed year-round while other species are only around for a few months out of the year.
- September to March for penguins: The first penguins arrive in late September but the best time to see the penguins is after November, once baby penguins are born. Penguins are around until March when they begin to prepare their offspring for migration.
- May to December for southern right whales: The whale watching season lasts from May to December, however, September and October are considered the best months to go whale watching off the peninsula on a boat tour.
- September to April for orcas: You have a higher likelihood of seeing orcas during high tide, which is when they launch their attacks.
- Year-round for sea lions and elephant seals: While the breeding season takes place between December and March, both sea lions and elephant seals can be spotted year-round.
How to get to Puerto Madryn
- Air: Puerto Madryn has a very small airport with a limited number of flights throughout the week. This is why most people fly into the nearby city of Trelew, which has more flights to choose from. Trelew is 58 kilometres from Puerto Madryn, but there are frequent bus connections between the two cities, or alternatively, you can take a taxi.
- Bus: Bus travel is very popular in Argentina and there are links to Puerto Madryn from all over Patagonia and as well as major cities in the country. We used BusBud to book our bus travels in Argentina – you can browse buses to Puerto Madryn here.
- Car: If you’re planning to visit Puerto Madryn and Peninsula Valdes independently, then renting a car is a great option. You can pick up a rental car at the airport, drive yourself around Patagonia, and return it at the end of your trip.