Puerto Madryn is a seaside fishing town located on the Atlantic coast of Argentina, roughly half way down its length. In the mid-19th century, the town was colonised by Welsh settlers, the remnants of which can be seen in the Welsh street names, the availability of Welsh rarebit in certain restaurants and similar vestiges in nearby Trelew and Gaiman… though don’t expect to hear any Welsh banter being bandied about by the locals.
Aside from its Welsh heritage, Puerto Madryn is also a tourist novelty for its expansive (though decidedly cold and windy) beach and its proximity to a wide variety of Patagonian wildlife. One of its main attractions is the Peninsula Valdes, a stone’s throw from the town which offers the chance to see sea lions, elephant seals, guanacos, armadillos and, if you’re really lucky and time your visit right, whales.
Though Peninsula Valdes does offer fleeting glimpses of penguins as well, the majority of the Magellanic sightseeing to be done is found further afield, at Punta Tombo. Located around 170km north of Puerto Madryn (and actually closer to Trelew), Punta Tombo is a colony that hosts literally thousands of penguins annually; in its peak season, up to 800,000 Magellanic penguins call the reserve their home.
After paying a small fee to enter the colony, visitors are ushered through a brief informative section detailing the diets, habits and habitats of the penguins, before being taxied to the colony itself. A further 1km walkway leads to the entrance to the park, where you can literally walk amongst thousands and thousands of the diminutive waddling creatures.
The only rules in the park are that you may not approach closer than one metre to a penguin (which is very close indeed!), feed or disturb them, and you must always give them right of way if they attempt to cross your path – which they seem to relish doing with gusto! Expect plenty of quacking, flipper flapping and much “cutting up” of humans, as the penguins swan about like they own the place… which they most definitely do.
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It is simply an absolute delight to watch these small black-and-white creatures waddle about their daily business; laying eggs, building nests, commuting to and from their places of business, interacting with each other and attracting the attention of any potential sexual partners in their vicinity with their outrageous mating calls. Guanacos, maras, armadillos and all manner of bird species live alongside these hilarious creatures in harmony, seemingly unperturbed by the constant hubbub of their daily activity.
Any visit to pseudo-Welsh Patagonia is not completely without making the acquaintance of the penguins of Punta Tombo.
Day trips are offered by many tour agencies to all of the places mentioned in this article, including Punta Tombo, but for a more cost-effective, unregimented and all round more enjoyable experience, I recommend renting a vehicle, especially if you are able to share the cost with others. At the time of writing, renting a car for one day in Puerto Madryn costs roughly $550ARS (approximately £40), including 400km of mileage. If you go over the allotted km, expect heavy charges; though doing so shouldn’t be necessary if you plan your route well. Petrol is also cheap, at about $30ARS (£2.50) per 100km, making the whole experience an affordable, enjoyable and unrestricted one.