Whale-watching at Peninsula Valdes
To the north of the Puerto Madryn, Peninsula Valdes stretches out like a great protective arm, embracing the Golfo Nuevo. It is one of Argentina's largest nature reserves and is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site to boot, home to ahuge variety of marine mammals and sea-birds.
Sea-lions, fur seals and elephant seals; and sea-birds like Arctic Pigeons, flightless Rheas and Magellanic Penguins all make their home here - in total, a massive 181 different bird species have been seen here on Peninsula Valdes. And from May-December each year, Peninsula Valdes enjoys one of Argentina's most spectacular natural sights when large numbers of Southern Right Whales arrive off the coast to mate and birth their young. Regular whale-watching tours sail from the town of Puerto Madryn throughout this period, and seeing these huge creatures jumping right out of the water is a real privilege.
In 1865 a boatload of Welshmen and women landed in the sheltered bay of the Golfo Nuevo, to find the arid conditions rather different to the lush landscapes ripe for colonization that they had been promised. They nevertheless founded the town of Puerto Madryn and began the process of the Welsh colonization of Patagonia. From here, the colony spread south to Trelew and Gaiman, and west towards the Andes in settlements like Esquel, where you can still see traditional Welsh chapels standing in cornfields and framed by the snow-capped Andes.
Although you'll still find the odd sign saying "Croeso yr Wladfa" around in Puerto Madryn, it's mainly in the smaller towns and villages like Gaiman and Rawson where you find Welsh spoken, and several thousand still speak Welsh as a first language. You can see typical Welsh chapels and schools, visit the Welsh Museums in Trevelin and Trelew, and even if you're not of Welsh ancestry yourself then you're sure to enjoy the tea and Welsh cakes!
Getting to Peninsula Valdes
Although Puerto Madryn does have a small airport, flights are strictly limited because of the proximity to Peninsula Valdes, so most people get one of the regular flights from Buenos Aires or Ushuaia to Trelew, 60km to the south. From here a free shuttle service takes people into Puerto Madryn. There are Peninsula Valdes tours which run all the way from Trelew, but it means an early start so we'd say you're generally better off staying in Puerto Madryn.
You can also travel overland, of course, and Ruta 3 heads along the coast through Puerto Madryn down to Trelew and on to Comodoro Rivadavia, or north up to Viedma. From Viedma you also have the intriguing possibility of catching the Tren Patagonico across the Pampas to Bariloche in the Lake District...
Weather in Peninsula Valdes
The area around Peninsula Valdes has very little rainfall all year, and from December through to March it's perfect weather to enjoy the beaches of the Golfo Nuevo. However, regardless of the weather, the best time for a holiday to Peninsula Valdes is from May to December so that you can enjoy a whale watching tour...