We visited Puerto Madryn at the peak of the southern hemisphere winter – in the month of July. We would “test the waters” of Patagonia – to decide (and prepare if decided!) whether we were brave enough to venture further south into deep Patagonia.
Whale watching in Puerto Madryn – the main attraction of the Patagonia coast
We had the time to squeeze in a quick trek before our whale watching tour. From atop the hillock, we could see several “puntos” – pieces of land jutting out into the water. The hillocks had the shape of perfect triangles. This pyramid-like appearance is the reason the town is called Puerto Piramides.
From atop the pyramid hillocks, we could see spot a few whale couples, out on a date in the clear blue Atlantic waters. The sight was too tempting – a selfie had to be taken with these couples!
Best place for whale watching around Puerto Madryn
Peninsula Valdes, 90 km from Puerto Madryn is the hotspot for all the wildlife watching around Puerto Madryn. Sightings can begin during the drive itself – especially of the guanacos. These are a Patagonia variety of the llamas. Many can be spotted running merrily in the scrubland lining the road.
Snorkelling with the sea lions
Another activity we did in Puerto Madryn was snorkelling with the sea lions. The Galapagos islands are the only other place this is possible. We had never seen sea lions until then. A snorkelling date with them sounded all exotic. We decided to give it a try.
“Gringo” was the name of the guy who conducted these snorkelling sessions. He gave us a no-nonsense rundown of the activity. Water would be cold – 6 degree Celcius – we would need a dry suit. We were given a booklet explaining all the manoeuvres to study overnight.
Gringo, though, warned us not to get our hopes up too high. Out here, nature rules supreme. The weather forecast was fine for now, but conditions are known to change unexpectedly. Only in the morning, we would know for sure if we were going snorkelling.
The next morning started with dressing us up in the dry suit. The suit made us watertight – and – robotic. We were again given manoeuvre instructions – turning vertical, horizontal and flipping over. It all sounded exciting. We couldn’t wait to get down in the water and start playing with the sea lions.
The boat took us to the sea lion reserve, in the middle of the ocean. We saw our first fiery Patagonians sunrise as a flock of flamingoes took flight. Armed with our snorkels, Gringo threw each of us down in the water, for a tete-a-tete with the sea lions.
That’s when we realised how robotic those dry suits had actually made us. The stiffness didn’t make those manoeuvres come easily at all, to us novices. We struggled with trying to turn at right angles to the water. In this struggle, the salt water of the ocean entered our mouth through the snorkel. When all of this starts happening, you suddenly realise that you are in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. And that’s when panic strikes.
Our fears had cut short the time we spent with them, but it was enough to make our hearts fuzzy.
The town of Puerto Madryn – a place for food and friendships
The actual town of Puerto Madryn is a perfect mix of tourist activities and local life. A fair bit of tourism and the ocean right there – means excellent food options, especially the seafood.
Puerto Madryn introduced us to Patagonia. Freezing waters and windy beaches. It was the perfect stepping stone – we got a firm footing to handle the severe winters. And a confidence to explore places we were too afraid to dream. It felt like the whales and the sea lions in the freezing Atlantic waters were telling us, “Don’t be afraid”. Gaston was telling us, “Go, catch the sky on fire”.
Top tips for travel to Puerto Madryn
- Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn is almost a 24-hour bus ride
- To travel further south into deep Patagonia, the bus has to be changed at Rio Gallegos, an industrial town along the coast. A different bus needs to be booked from Rio Gallegos to El Calafate. The entire journey takes around 28 hours. There might be a long wait at Rio Gallegos depending on the connecting bus timings.
- To catch the whale watching at sunset, you will have to stay at Puerto Piramides. Staying arrangements are easily available.