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Whale watching in Puerto Madryn and Patagonia introduction

Pick an animal. Match the month. Head to Puerto Madryn. That’s the essence of tourism in Puerto Madryn – its wildlife. Dolphins, seals, sea lions, even penguins – can all be spotted on the Atlantic coast at Puerto Madryn. But whale watching in Puerto Madryn is the most famous activity here.

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.

Puerto Madryn in the Chubut province of Argentina is the northern coastal part of Patagonia.

The wildlife that matched with July were the whales and the sea lions.

Whale watching in Puerto Madryn – the main attraction of the Patagonia coast

Mother and calf whale at Puerto Piramides. Puerto Piramides near Puerto Madryn in Chubut province of northern Patagonia, Argentina

Southern Right whales are the commonly found species of whales in Puerto Madryn. These whales are docile by nature. Because they’re non-aggressive, they’re the “right” kinds of whales to hunt – hence the name! Cruel, right? Their dwindling numbers, reaching an endangered mark pushed them to the protected species list. Hunting of the Southern Right whales is now prohibited.

The coast of Puerto Piramides on Peninsula Valdes near Puerto Madryn, northern Patagonia, Argentina

They still have a danger from the Orcas (which are also found in these Patagonian waters, but sightings are extremely rare). To stay away from these deadly Orcas, the Southern Right whales stay close to the coast. Which makes up-close-and-personal encounters with these whales a possibility and a delight.

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.

Southern Right Whale at Puerto Piramides on Peninsula Valdes near Puerto Madryn, northern Patagonia, Argentina

It was a perfect day for whale watching. A light breeze meant calm waters. The sky was cloudless. Sun was out. This meant clarity – to the water as well as the air. We could spot the whale movements from afar as well as up above.

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!

Whale watching at Puerto Piramides on Peninsula Valdes near Puerto Madryn, northern Patagonia, Argentina

The boat ride gave us a much closer look into the lives of the Southern Right whales. It was their mating season. They too, follow the “guy chases girl, girl refuses to fall in” pattern. Several males chase a female whale, giving it an appearance of a group whale dance.

Southern Right Whale at Puerto Piramides on Peninsula Valdes near Puerto Madryn, northern Patagonia, Argentina

Next up was the funnel. A tool to display prowess is one of the interpretations of the funnel, the experts told us. The funnel is invariably followed by a jump.

Southern Right Whale at Puerto Piramides on Peninsula Valdes near Puerto Madryn, northern Patagonia, Argentina

It’s quite a sight seeing these huge oceanic mammals arch in and out of the water. Even without being one of the largest whale species, the Southern Right whales had us mesmerised.

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.

The coast of Puerto Piramides on Peninsula Valdes near Puerto Madryn, northern Patagonia, Argentina

Unless you plan to stay back in Puerto Piramides (there are a few hostels and guesthouses here), it is better to arrange for the boat tour back in Puerto Madryn itself. All the tours have representatives in town. You can even opt for the tour of the complete Valdes peninsula. This tour takes you to the far corners, where you can see colonies of the Magellanic penguins, seals and several other migratory birds. It wasn’t the migration season in July, so we didn’t opt for this tour.

Sunset on the road from Peninsula Valdes to Puerto Madryn in northern Patagonia, Argentina

If you have access to a car, a self-drive tour might be the best option. Just book the boat tour. Drive anywhere along the peninsula, stop wherever you feel there’s something worthy to be seen. Peninsula Valdes is a UNESCO world heritage site, there might be strict rules in place.

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.

The group after snorkelling with the sea lions in Puerto Madryn in northern Patagonia, Argentina

We went back to the boats. Gringo was saying, “Tranquilo Tranquilo, it’s only water” (calm down!). We went back in the water, this time under Gringo’s personal guidance. And saw those sea lions warm up to us. The sea lions, with their smooth slithering bodies and faces which say “come play with me” approached us one by one. “Daddy isn’t home right now, so the kids are in a playful mood”, we were told. Our rhythmic movements, especially when we were moving around in groups made the sea lions feel like we were one of them. They came up to us, wanting to play.

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.

Sea food platter at a restaurant in Puerto Madryn in northern Patagonia, Argentina

Walk along the beach. See the local lads playing football. Spot whales the beachside cafes as you dig in a pizza. Enjoy the famous Argentinian afternoon siesta under the bush on the beach. Walk to the pier. Go cycling. Or just watch some kiting. There’s lots to do within the town of Puerto Madryn itself.

The coast of Puerto Madryn in northern Patagonia, Argentina

The market of Puerto Madryn also has some excellent meat shops. If you don’t feel up to another meal out in town, just choose your cuts at the local butcher and treat yourself to a perfect steak back in the hostel.

Puerto Madryn in northern Patagonia, Argentina

The pier at Puerto Madryn in northern Patagonia, Argentina

Of course, we could be biased about all of this – our friend in Puerto Madryn might have skewed our view of the place. The minute we heard from Gaston of Hi Patagonia, we knew we had a friend in town. Himself an avid traveller, he had met his wife during their travel in Brazil. When Argentina suffered its worst economic meltdown, he was living peacefully up in the mountains oblivious to what was happening around.

Hostel Hi Patagonia at Puerto Madryn in northern Patagonia, Argentina

Hi Patagonia is a home and Gaston is your host. Literally. It’s a former home that Gaston converted into a hostel. A hostel – because in his own words – it’s a “hotel with a host”. He loves playing host to all the guests, answering all your questions, planning your tours, guiding you about the weather.

Hostel Hi Patagonia at Puerto Madryn in northern Patagonia, Argentina

Another trusted partner in a place like Puerto Madryn, where the weather dictates the experience so much is a reliable weather app. Forecast of a good weather in Puerto Madryn had helped us muster the courage as we discussed our travel plans in the cosy cafes of Buenos Aires. On our last day in Puerto Madryn, we had almost rented bicycles to ride around the beach. Thunderstorm warnings and a word of caution from Gaston convinced us to leave the cycling plans “for the next time”.

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”.

Sunrise at Puerto Madryn in northern Patagonia, Argentina

The colours splashed on the sky were inviting us to witness the most magnificent drama on mother earth.

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.
  • Map of Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn and deep Patagonia

Other stories from Argentina you might enjoy

How crazy is a visit to Patagonia in winter?

People of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Do you have stories of whale watching or sea lion snorkelling? Please do share your stories! If you need any suggestions for travel to Puerto Madryn, do ask.

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21 thoughts on “Whale watching in Puerto Madryn and Patagonia introduction”

  1. Pingback: Beach: for every season, for every reason · SandeepaChetan's Travel Blog

    1. Thanks, Abhiray! It was amazing how close the whales actually got to our boats. We were worried about the sightings since we weren’t carrying binoculars or a telephoto lens. But these whales did a good job of not making us miss those. Whale watching in Puerto Madryn is known for its clear close up sightings.

    1. Thanks, Ami 🙂 We didn’t expect whale watching in Puerto Madryn to be so much fun. We were expecting to see just some tail far off. This close encounter was a complete surprise and a delight! It’s also amazing how docile these huge mammals actually are!

    1. Hey Alok, yeah Puerto Madryn gets overshadowed often by the more “glamorous” (read remote!) destinations in Patagonia. But whale watching in Puerto Madryn is an experience we would recommend to every traveller to Argentina – especially if Patagonia is on the cards.

  2. Such a beautiful sight for any tourist and nature lover. Your photos are magnificent and self descriptive as always. Also, your blog is an amazing stopover for every travel enthusiast. Keep exploring! 🙂

    1. Hey Anindya, Patagonia is an entire trip in itself when you visit Argentina – mainly because of how far it is. And if you only have a couple of days to spare, preference is given to deep Patagonia, like El Calafate or on the Chile side. Puerto Madryn for us for a perfect way for us to “warm up” for the peak winters further south. The whale watching in Puerto Madryn was a special experience for us – the advantages of travelling slow 🙂

  3. Brings back memories of watching these mighty creatures jump out of the sea, its really hard to comprehend their size the first time. That sunrise shot is really mesmerizing.

    1. Hey Lila, the sunrise and sunsets as we got to the lower words were beyond words – truly truly special! So right about the whale sizes! Only when you see the volume of water that splashes that you get an idea of how big these creatures actually are!

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