Patagonia is never going to be a budget destination. However since I have travelled all this way I thought I deserved to at least see a few penguins and a mountain or two before I turn round and head back up the continent.
So my first stop after Buenos Aires was Puerto Madryn. It’s a small city on the Atlantic coast, with a beach and some odd Welsh connections (Madryn is not a Spanish name; it was named by the Welsh settlers).
I got a bus from Buenos aires, which took 21 long hours and cost around £60/US$90. A flight would cost at least double that, although there were many times during the bus journey where I told myself ‘right, next time I get this choice I will fly’.
Like I say, there is a beach but the main attraction (for me anyway) was the variety of nearby wildlife. The two main side trips to do from Puerto Madryn are to the Valdes Peninsular, where you can see (depending on the season) a few penguins, sea lions and elephant seals amongst others, and a trip to Punta Tombo Penguin sanctuary.
Is that enough penguins for you? I said at the beginning that I could never get enough penguins but I do feel that I was nearing my penguin limit after Punta Tombo.
If you are in a group you could probably hire a car and do it yourself but car hire is never economical for one person so I took excursions, which were actually surprisingly good. The main street in Puerto Madryn is full of tour companies offering these trips. I randomly picked one and we were taken in a car (just four of us) with a knowledgable driver/guide, and so it didn’t feel so much like being herded round on a tour. There were lots of larger tour groups on the circuit.
My tours cost £35/$50 each, although there are park entrance fees, food and tips (last one obviously optional) on top of that. Don’t trust that the guide will speak English, even if the sales person says they do. Mine only spoke a few words. I don’t mind; I look on it as another opportunity to practice my Spanish, but if you don’t speak any Spanish you will want to make sure to get an English speaking guide.
Whale watching is another popular activity in the area, but the season had finished when I got there. No biggie. I’ve been whale watching before and to be honest I’ve always been a little disappointed. You spend hours on a boat getting there, only to see a couple of tails disappearing into the water up in the distance. If you’re lucky.