travel journal: discover the world
PUERTO MADRYN, ARGENTINA
You can explore this city during our Hot Topics in Medicine CME Cruise February 28 - March 13, 2016
You can explore this city during our Hot Topics in Medicine CME Cruise February 28 - March 13, 2016
The gateway to Península Valdés, Puerto Madryn bustles with tourism and industry. It retains a few small-town touches: the radio announces lost dogs, and locals are welcoming and unhurried. With summer temperatures matching those of Buenos Aires, Madryn holds its own as a modest beach destination, but from June to mid-December the visiting right whales take center stage. From July to September, these migrating whales come so close they can be viewed without taking a tour – either from the coast 20km north of town or from the town pier.
The sprawling city is the second-largest fishing port in the country and home to Aluar, Argentina’s first aluminum plant, built in 1974. A sheltered port facing Golfo Nuevo, Puerto Madryn was founded by Welsh settlers in 1886. Statues of immigrants and Teheulche along the shoreline pay tribute to its history. The Universidad de la Patagonia is known for its marine biology department, and ecological centers promote conservation and education.
Puerto Madryn is protected by the Golfo Nuevo, which is formed by Península Valdés and Punta Ninfas, and is one of the most sheltered places on the Patagonian coast. With five kilometers of beaches bordering the city, Puerto Madryn is the gateway to many other attractions in Argentina. Top among them is Valdes Peninsula Nature Reserve, a UNESCO heritage site since 1999.
The Welsh people who came to Patagonia seeking refuge from religious persecution in Great Britain Landed first in Puerto Madryn in 1865. You can still find many of their descendants today, but there isn’t much evidence of the natives who helped the Welsh survive and become the first foreigners to unveil the secrets of Patagonia’s interior. If you find yourself in Puerto Madryn or any of the other main Chubut towns on July 28, be prepared to celebrate the anniversary of the Welsh’s arrival to Patagonia.
Puerto Madryn’s history of economic rises and falls is tied to local industry. Its first boom became in 1886, when the Patagonian railroad was introduced, souring the town’s port activities and the salt and fishing industries. Customs taxes were removed in the 1960s, attracting manufacturers (mainly of salt) to the town, but many folded within a decade or so because of inefficient operations and low international commodity pricing for salt.
The construction of Argentina’s larget aluminum plant, Alumnios Argentinos S.A, however, prompted a population explosion in the 1970s and at press time was expanding its operations. The fishing and mining industries, too, continue to provide jobs. But most recentely Puerto Madryn residents have been riding the tourist boom because of the town’s proximity to the nature reserves at Peninsula Valdes. So these days there’s evidence that Puerto Madryn’s 60,000 residents are prospering, new, stately houses in areas such as Barrio Sur are being constructed, and branches of national Banks are opening up.
Puerto Madryn’s main hotels and residences are on or near the 3 km long (2mi long) Las Ramblas, the shore road that hugs Golfo Nuevo, it is also a favorite place for joggers and strollers. In high whale-watching season from September to December the city’s 5000 hotel rooms and its campgrounds usually fill up.
The Museo Oceanográfico y Ciencias Naturales: (Oceanographic and Natural Science Museum) is worth a visit if you have the time. Housed in a lovely 1917 colonial building once owned by the Pujol family, some of the original settlers, the museum focuses on marine life. You can see squid preserved in formaldehyde, learn how fish breathe, and find out more about colonial times.
Outdoor Activities and Sports in Puerto Madryn:
You can do all kinds of sports in and around Puerto Madryn, ranging from bicycling and fishing to sand-boarding, which is basically surfing on the sand. Puerto Madryn is also considered Argentina’s scuba diving capital. In an effort to further boost interest in scuba diving by giving divers somthing else to explore, town officials recently sunk the Albatros, a large fishing vessel, off the coast in Golfo Nuevo. Several scuba shops rent equipment and arrange dives of the Albatros, Puerto Piramides, and other spots.
Puerto Piramides is located 104km (64mi) northwest of Puerto Madryn.
The Peninsula Valdés is one of the Argentina’s most important wildlife reserves. Its biggest attractions are the 1.200 southern right whales that feed, mate, give birth, and nurse their offspring here. One unique characteristic of these whales is that they have two external blow holes on top of their heads, and when they emerge from the water, they blow a V-shape water blast that can be seen for miles away.
The protected mammals attract some 100,00 visitors every year from September through December, when people crowd into boats small and large to observe at close range the 30-to35-ton whales leap out of the water and blow from their spouts. The worldwide population of these giant mammals is only 4,000 down from 100,000 before hunters killed the majority for their blubber and oil.
Off-season the peninsula is still worth visiting: you find sea lions, elephant seals, Magallanic penguins, egrets, and cormorants as well as land mammals like guanacos ( a relative of the llama), gray fox, and Patagonian mara, a hare like animal. Discovered by Spanish explorer Hernando de Magallanes in 1520 and named after Don Antonio Valdés, minister of the Spanish navy in the late 18th century, Península Valdés is a protected zone. So valued is the península’s animal population that UNESCO declared as a site of universal patrimony. It’s also the lowest point on the South American continent, at 132ft below sea level.
To get the Peninsula, you must drive along desolate, unpaved roads surrounded by vas estancias dotted with sheep and a handful of cows. The biggest landholder since the late 19th century, the Ferro family owns one-quarter of Peninsula Valdés 3.625 sq KM (5,850 sq mi), with five airstrips from which they can visit their property. You also pass abandoned salt mines, an important industry in the early 1900s, and a boon industry for Puerto Madryn, the shipping point for the salt. But the salt is reminder of the at least 260,000 sea lions killed in the peninsula between 1917 and 1953, at which point hunting was prohibited: salt was used to preserve the sea lions blubber. Today only about 20,000 sea lions remain.
Puerto Piramide, the only village on Peninsula Valdés, is a more tranquil, isolated base than Puerto Madryn from which to explore the area’s natural attractions. Only 150 people are allowed to live there for ecological reasons, but there are a handful of campsites, hotels, and restaurants.
Aside from lounging around with a beer in a hand and looking out on the sheer pyramid-shape cliffs of Valdés Bay, the only activities in town are scuba diving and surfing. Just about every little five-and-dime rents out scuba equipment.
Punta Tombo is located 120km (74mi) south of Trelew, 132km (81mi) north Camarones.
The reserva Faunistica Punta Tombo (Punta Tombo Reserve) has the largest colony of Magallanic penguins in the world and one of the most varied seabird rookeries. Over a million penguins live here from the middle of September until March.
You can walk among them (Along a designated path) as they come and go along well-defined “penguin highways” that link their nests with the sea, and you can see them fishing near the coast. Other wildlife found here in abundance includes cormorants, guanacos, seals, and Patagonian hares. Although December is the best month to come that’s when the adult penguins are actively going back and forth from April through August when the penguins feed at sea.
Gaiman is located 17kms (10 mi) west of Trelew.
The most Welsh of the Atlantic Patagonian settlements, Gaiman is far more charming than nearby Trelew and Rawson other stopover points for the Punta Tombo Reserve. The Welsh colony’s history is lovingly preserved in museums and private home, Welsh can still be heard on the streets, and there continues to be a connection to Wales, with teachers, preachers, and visitors going back and forth frequently. Even the younger generation has had a renewed interested in Welsh culture and language.
Gaiman was founded in 1874, a few year after the Welsh arrived in Patagonia seeking escape from religious persecution in Britain. Since then, Welsh German, and British immigrants, the indigenous population, and more recently, Bolivians, who have renewd the agriculture of second- or third- generation Welsh Argentines makes you feel like minds you that you’re in Latin America. Yet Gaiman has a number of tea houses, some small wooden chapels, and a cemetery with tombstones engraved in Welsh.
Trelew is located 17kms (10 mi) east of Gaiman, 250 kms (155 mi) north Camarones, 1800kms (1.116 mi) north of Ushuaia, and 67km (41 mi ) south of Puerto Madryn.
Trelew is a commercial, industrial, and service hub with hotels, restaurants, gas stations, mechanics, and anything you else you might need as you travel from point to point. Its biggest attractions are its paleontology museum and its proximity to the Punta Tombo Reserve and Peninsula Valdés.
Like Gaiman, Trelew has a strong Welsh tradition. If you come in the spring ( the second half of October), you can participate in the Eisteddfod, a Welsh literaty and musical festival, first held in Patagonia in 1875. The town itself was founded in 1886 as a result of the construction of the Chubut River valley with the Atlantic coast. It’s named after its Welsh founder, Lewis Jones (thre means “town” in Welsh, and Lew represents Lewis), who fought to establish the rail line.
Trelew gained another kind of infamy in 1974 for the massacre of political Prisioners who had escaped from the local jail.