There’s nothing quite as spectacular as seeing a 200,000 pound whale fly into air so effortlessly, exposing its whole body.
The southern right whales and orcas are the main tourist attraction in the little town of Puerto Madryn located along Argentina’s coast.
They inhabit the chilly South Atlantic waters for nearly 7 months out of the year giving many tourist an opportunity to observe their natural behaviors.
Credit: Edith Schreurs
Puerto Madryn is a small town with less than 60,000 residence that primarily caters to tourists looking to escape Argentina’s busier cities. It was founded by Welsh settlers in the 1800s and slowly grew accepting Spanish, Italian, and other immigrants.
The town is situated along the protected Gulfo Nuevo waters, formed by the Península Valdés and Punta Ninfas. The major tourist draw is the lively beach boardwalk and whale watching from June to mid-December where the southern right whales migrate to give birth.
There is a tourist office located in the city center that offers free maps and visitor information. This is a good place visit for discounts and other information on whale watching tours.
Southern Right Whales
The protected waters off Puerto Madryn are a perfect birthing area for the southern right whales. Their name stems from hunters who thought they were the “right” whale to hunt due to the fact they float when they’re dead and often swim close to shore. Luckily today the whales are protected and tourism has replaced the industry.
Right whales are characterized by distinctive callosities (tough patches of skin) on their heads, no dorsal fin, and a long arching mouth that starts near the eye.
Female adults can grow up to 54 feet (16.5 m) while males only grow up to 50 feet (15.2m). They are larger than the humpback whale, but much smaller than a blue whale. 40% of their body is blubber.
Whale (and Dolphin) Watching
Southern right whales migrate to the area from June to mid-December. The rest of the year they migrate south to feed on krill and breed.
While you can spot southern right whales from the coast, most tourist prefer an up close experience. There are a variety of tours avaiable. Larger boats are restricted to keep a safer distance from the whales while smaller boats can get a little closer.
Whale watching tours head to Peninsula Valdes and/or Punta Tombo to see the whales. The cost is around $30-50 depending on the type of tour.
Also found in the cold coastal waters from June to mid-December is the orca (also know as the “killer whale“), the largest member of the dolphin family.
Be sure to ask fellow travelers how they liked their whale watching tour to gauge if it’s a good one. The smaller the tour group, the better as you’ll have more room to walk about the boat to get better views.
When To Go
The best time to visit Puerto Madryn for whale watching is from June to mid-December.
From June to December, the average high temperatures range from 55 to 85°F (13 to 29°C), low temperatures range from 32 to 54°F (0 to 12°C), and precipitations is less than 1 inch (13 to 29mm) each month.
From June to December, the coldest month is June and the warmest month is December. The temperatures gradually get warmer over the months.
Getting There & Around
Puerto Madryn is located along the South Atlantic Ocean 897 miles (1,443km) south of Buenos Aires.
The fastest way to get to Puerto Madryn is to fly into El Tehuelche Airport which is located 3.6 miles (5.8km) south of the city center.
However you can also fly into Trelew Airport which is located 40.8 miles (65.7km) south of the city center.
- Mid-range accommodations: $50-100
- Meals: $10-15
- Bottle of beer: $2
- Whale watching tour: $30-50
- Take a day trip to see the Magellan Penguin colony at Punta Tombo. They arrive in September and stay until March. The best time to visit is after November when the chicks have hatched.
- Take motion sickness medicine roughly 30 minutes to an hour before your departure. Check the instructions for exact specifications.
- Your whale research ahead of time on the Southern Right Whale and Killer Whales (Orcas) which you’ll most likely see on your excursion.
- Forget a rain jacket and warm clothes. The temperature can drop significantly with the wind blowing the cold ocean air.
- Sign up with just any whale watching tour. Ask fellow travelers their options and the tour operators questions about how long they will be on the water, how many people are on the tour, etc.
- Forget to bring water and a snack as the boat ride there and back can take a while.
- Puerto Madryn was founded by Welsh immigrants in 1865 who named the town after Sir Love Jones-Parry estate named “Madryn”.
- Southern Right Whales don’t have dorsal fins, live up to 100 year old, and grow up to 54 feet (16.5m).
- The Killer Whale is actually not a whale, it’s the largest member of the dolphin family.
Feature Image Credit: Alberto..