Sights and Recreation
Many visitors book excursions in Madryn, but day trips are too brief for more than a glimpse of the best—especially if the operators spend too much time at lunch. Staying at Puerto Pirámides and contracting tours there is ideal for whale-watching, as you have the flexibility to pick the best time to go out.
Five Pirámides operators, some with offices in Puerto Madryn as well, offer whale-watching in semirigid rafts (which get closer to the animals) or larger catamarans: Tito Bottazzi (Primera Bajada, tel. 02965/49-5050, www.titobottazzi.com), Hydrosport (Primera Bajada, tel. 02965/49-5065, www.hydrosport.com.ar), Pinino Aquatours (Primera Bajada, tel. 02965/49-5015, www.whalesargentina.com.ar), Punta Ballena (Segunda Bajada, tel. 02965/49-5112, www.puntaballena.com.ar), and Peke Sosa (Segunda Bajada, tel. 02965/49-5010, www.pekesosa.com.ar). Prices start around US$30 but can cost more, depending on the vessel and the tour’s duration.
In Golfo San José, 800 meters north of the isthmus, penguins, gulls, cormorants, and herons all nest on Isla de los Pájaros, an offshore bird sanctuary; it’s off-limits to humans, but a stationary shoreline telescope magnifies the breeding birds. Near the telescope is a replica chapel of Fuerte San José, the area’s first Spanish settlement (1779, but destroyed by Tehuelches in 1810).
Puerto Pirámides has the major concentration of services, including its most affordable accommodations and food. June–December, whales are the main attraction, but beachgoers take over in January and February. Carless visitors can hike or bike to the southern sea lion colony at Punto Pirámide, four kilometers west, for vast panoramas and sunsets over the Golfo Nuevo.
Beneath the headlands at the peninsula’s southeastern tip, Punta Delgada is home to elephant seal and sea lion colonies, reached by trail from the lighthouse at the former naval station (now a hotel-restaurant). Hotel concessionaires provide English-speaking guides to lead tour groups and individuals, but they collect a small charge for those who do not eat at the restaurant and offer horseback tours of the area.
On the peninsula’s eastern shore, about midway between Punta Delgada and Punta Norte, Caleta Valdés is a sheltered bay that’s fast becoming a lagoon as its ocean outlet fills with sediment. Meanwhile, though, Magellanic penguins swim north to a breeding colony and elephant seals haul up onto shore in the mating season. Even guanacos may be seen along the beach.
Where RP 47 and RP 3 meet at the peninsula’s northern tip, Punta Norte features a mixed colony of southern elephant seals and sea lions, but October–April this is also the best place to see orcas that lunge onto the beach to grab unwary pups. Punta Norte also has a museum that places marine mammals in both natural and cultural context, thanks to exhibits on the aboriginal Tehuelche and a historical account of the sealing industry.
Near Punta Norte, reached by a northwesterly road off RP 3, Estancia San Lorenzo conducts tours of its own Magellanic penguin colony but does not offer accommodations.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition