There's not much to see in Puerto Madryn itself, apart from a couple of museums. Most visitors are here because of the town's proximity to the Península Valdés. If you have time to kill, however, grab a bike or walk up the lovely beach road or stroll the shops along Roca.
Punta Tombo Natural Reserve
Most visitors spend a day on the Península Valdés and then a day at Punta Tombo National Reserve, the second-most-visited attraction in Atlantic Patagonia. The largest sanctuary for Magellan penguins, Punta Tombo is 248km (154 miles) south of Puerto Madryn, a 2-hour trip. Every year from September to April (the park is closed May-Aug), up to a million of these penguins return to Punta Tombo to mate. Visitors are able to walk just a few feet away from thousands of penguins guarding their nests. Baby penguins are visible in December and January. Bird lovers will enjoy views of king and rock cormorants, giant petrels, kelp gulls, and oystercatchers as well.
The drive from Puerto Madryn is all highway, until you pass Trelew; then you head south on RP 1, a monotonous gravel road that seems to go on forever. The entrance to the national reserve is clearly marked, and the entrance fee is $17 (£12). Be sure to observe all the posted signs (stopping your car is strictly prohibited except in the designated parking lots). Walkways and handrails point you in the right direction as you explore. Veering off the trail is prohibited, as is going down to the beach. There is a cafeteria at Punta Tombo, but consider bringing a picnic instead. You'll need about 2 hours to visit the reserve and observe the penguins. Tour operators run trips daily for about $75 (£51), and some stop for tea in Gaiman.
Puerto Madryn's coastal street, Avenida Roca, is lined with travel agencies. Shop around for a space if you are booking at the last minute. Unless you are bilingual, it's very important to ensure that your tour has an English-speaking guide. Almost all quote the same price for standard tours, such as the 1-day Península Valdés or Punta Tomba tours, most of which start at 7:30am (depending on whether you are staying in Trelew or Puerto Madryn) and get you back before dinner. One-day tours of the Península Valdés start at $60 (£41) per person, not including the whale-watching trip (an additional $35/£24) or lunch.
If you have a group of six or more, it is worthwhile -- and surely more relaxing -- to take a private tour for the same price, rather than signing up for a standard group tour.
Flamenco Tour, Av. Roca 331 (tel. 2965/455505; www.flamencotour.com), is perhaps the largest tour operator in the area. The 1-day guided tour to the Península Valdés lasts from 7:30am to 7pm and includes a stop at the museum, a chance to go on a whale-watching cruise, and guided walks on the Punta Delgada beach and Caleta Valdés, to view the elephant seals.
Huinca Travel, Av. Roca 353 (tel. 2965/454411; www.huincatravel.com), has traditional tours in small groups as well as active options, including a nighttime whale-watching tour and mountain biking on the Península Valdés. NieveMar Tours, Av. Roca 493 (tel. 2965/455544; www.nievemartours.com.ar), has very friendly and knowledgeable guides. They offer the standard Península Valdés tour with a long lunch break, to stretch your legs, at Caleta Valdés; a full day at Punta Tombo; and a 6-hour trip to discover the Welsh heritage of Gaiman. They can also set up multiday tours that include accommodations.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.