Puerto Madryn, Argentina cruises

Discover a small slice of Wales in Argentina. While Puerto Madryn has roots from the British Isles, the scenery is unmistakably Patagonian, with sweeping vistas and colonies of sea lions and penguins.

Somewhat unexpectedly, this Argentinean resort is named after a Welsh baron, one of a number who left their home country during the Industrial Revolution, due to the economic impact it had on rural communities.

Somewhat ironically, it was the boom of large-scale manufacturing here, particularly the aluminum factory, that has seen Puerto Madryn flourish, and its current population of around 70,000 is more than ten times the number of residents in the 1970s. Today the legacy of the Welsh settlers who arrived in the 1860s is more or less limited to street names in Puerto Madryn itself. However nearby Gaiman might tempt you with its traditional Welsh teahouses, serving tasty pastries.

If you do head to Gaiman, you may well pause in Trelew. Its name means “people of Lew” after Lewis Jones, an early Welsh settler; you’ll also find a smattering of artifacts and buildings that are testament to this heritage. Even so, the town’s undoubted star focuses on the area’s residents millions of years earlier. The excellent Paleontological Museum has amassed over 1,700 fossils from the Patagonian region, featuring life-sized exhibits and evidence of local dinosaurs such as the tehuelchesaurus, patagosaurus and titanosaurus.

In Puerto Madryn, the Avenida Roca runs more or less along the coast. It promises a pleasant stroll with views out across the beach and ocean, various shops, and cafes and restaurants if you need to stop and refuel.

But it all hints at what lies slightly further afield. After all, here in northern Patagonia, nature is the big draw. This is certainly the case with the hammer-shaped Peninsula Valdes. It forms the Golfo Nuevo which shelters Puerto Madryn from the open Atlantic and has been listed by UNESCO for its “global significance for the conservation of marine mammals.”

The waters around it are among the world’s most important breeding grounds for the endangered southern right whales. The orcas here are known for their unique hunting technique whereby they deliberately beach themselves in order to catch pups of the two other species that have colonies here, Southern Sea Lions and Southern Elephant Seals.

Further south, the Punta Tombo National Reserve offers opportunities to get close to the huge Magellanic penguin colony, up to one and a half million strong. You could even admire the landscapes as you head off to a traditional, family-owned Patagonian ranch.