We began our journey to the end of the world with a short stop in the sea side town of Mar del Plata.
After a few days having a holiday within our year travels we ventured south through Patagonia until finally reaching Ushuaia on the first day of snow fall.
First stop – Mar del Plata
Mar del Plata is a small seaside town popular as a weekend getaway for Buenos Aireans and the nearby areas. Although the bus takes around 6 hours it is possible to fly if you’re not on a very tight budget and time is at a premium.
As it evident on this blog, Leah and I are trying to cut costs as much as possible on boring expenses such as travel so took the overnight bus here.
Mar del Plata is pretty similar to many English seaside towns such as Brighton, Walton and even Blackpool.
The beach isn’t actually the nicest (especially compared to many in Asia) but the pier, sand, sea, ice lollies and sunshine gives the places a vacation vibe.
We only spent two days here because there honestly isn’t much to do other than visit the beach and we were excited to head to Puerto Madryn.
Second stop – Puerto Madryn
The week we spent at Puerto Madryn has to be one of my favourite since leaving home back in July!
It’s not only the cute town that is Puerto Madryn but the day trips and interaction with the animals there which really makes the place special…
There are lots of different companies selling all different types of trips in the main centre of town. Alongside this trip diversity are also ranging prices. We booked our trip to visit the Penguins as well as our trip to the peninsula with the same company and paid in cash so we were given a discount – I recommend you do this because the trips are pretty pricey (especially on a backpacker budget).
Hiring a car
It is possible to hire a car from town to visit the nearby sites but it’s not advisable if you can book onto a decent priced tour. The following are a few reasons why:
1). The companies are known to charge huge fees for minute and unavoidable damages whilst driving on the terrain surrounding Puerto Madryn. The ‘roads’ around the peninsula are especially noted for damaging cars with their numerous potholes and small pebbles cracking windscreens and tail lights
2). Booking onto a tour or even hiring a driver takes all of the stress out of the day’s activities, allowing you to sit back and enjoy the view
3). It also provides a job for the local community – we had an amazing driver called Vincent who was really informative of the area and allowed us to set our own schedule for the days activities
Visiting the Penguins
We booked onto a day trip to visit the largest penguin colony in South America in Punta Tombo.
The trip cost Leah and myself 750 pesos each and included a seat in a small mini bus, an informative guide of the area (fluent in both English and spanish), a visit to the penguin colony and musuem and a lunch stop in the Welsh town of Trelew (home of the infamous Butch Cassidy).
I’m not sure why I’m really mentioning the rest of the trip when the Magellanic Penguins stole the show.
We stopped in the Welsh town of Trelew for lunch and some people on the tour had ‘Welsh afternoon tea’. There’s a strong Welsh presence in this part of Argentina due to an influx of Welsh migrants in the mid-1800s. Although many towns still have the traditional Welsh signs on the restaurants and on the roads, not much of the language is actually spoken.
All in all the day trip was well worth the 750 peso price tag and once we were dropped off at our hostel around 6pm that evening we were in dire need of food and a nap.
Trip to the peninsula – Puerto piramdes
One of the main reasons for us visiting Puerto Madryn was the prospect of spotting a killer whale just off of the coast on the peninsula.
Although whales are visible most times of the year, March is the ideal time for killer whale watching. Unfortunately when we arrived the orcas hadn’t been spotted in the area for over three weeks… And they weren’t spotted whilst we were there either. As so happens with nature, spotting animals in their nature habitat (especially as one as big as the Atlantic ocean) is very hit and miss.
Luckily we weren’t left disappointed though!
We hired a driver for our trip to the peninsula and between four of us the whole day only came to 750 pesos each. Our driver Vincent was amazing and made sure that we didn’t miss any of the animals that were visible from the car in the national park. Vincent honestly had eagle eyes- spotting hares in the grass a few hundred metres away.
We were also taken to the peninsula information centre at the beginning of the park which was really interesting and was full of lots of facts about both orcas and other whales as well as the other animals native to the area.
We saw guanacos, armadillos, horses, snakes, lots of different birds, all of which were spotted and explained to us by Vincent.
Another main draw of the peninsula was the ability to watch the sea lions and seals in their harems along the shore.
Snorkelling with the sea lions
Although I was a little (OK very) nervous to snorkel with sea lions where the day before we’d been looking out for killer whales it was actually one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
We started the day in the snorkelling shop along the sea front before putting on our cold water wetsuits and wading into the ocean to board the speed boat coming to collect us.
After about 30minutes driving we reached an abandoned ship wreck where we disembarked the boat for our first snorkel session of the day.
The ship wreck was not my cup of tea but after about 10minutes in the water and penguin swam past! It was only a few metres away from us and kept popping up out of the water for the next 15 minutes.
Shortly after we got back on the boat and drove to where the sea lion colonies were.
As the boat pulled up we were surrounded by sea lions jumping in and out of the water for our attention. Although there were some still on the shore lots had swam to greet us and have a play with the humans.
The sea lion colonies are protected in Patagonia so tour groups are stopped from getting too close to the shore by rangers on the cliff tops. This wasn’t a problem at all though because the animals all came to us.
They’re so playful! In twos and threes the sea lions swam up to us, dived, swam underneath and even gave us hugs- they cuddle you from the waist and gently pull you under the water a little due to their size.
They even give you kisses as you pet their slimy stomachs!
Although we were only in the water with the sea lions for around 45 minutes it was an amazing and unforgettable experience. They actually act like dogs!
We didn’t actually eat out at all in Puerto Madryn because the restaurants were pretty pricey and after spending so much money on trips we wanted to eat as economical as possible. This meant by groceries from the supermarket and cooking back in our hostel.
Final stop – Ushuaia – the ‘end of the world’
Carrying on south down Patagonia we finally reached ‘the end of the world’ after a 36 hour bus journey. The journey itself cost just over £100 but to fly to Ushuaia would have cost us closer to £300.
Why visit Ushuaia?
Many people visit Ushuaia as a stop before boarding a boat to Antarctica. It is the southern most populated city in Patagonia and after earning the title of the ‘end of the world’ the town has become pretty popular.
Although the town is a nice place to visit yet again it is the trips that make it worth the 30+ hour bus journey.
Weather in Ushuaia
Before I explain what we did in Ushuaia I have to explain about the weather. We arrived on the first day of snow and it was absolutely freezing! We’d been told that you could rent warm clothing in the town but after 3 days we hadn’t found anywhere that this was possible. Instead we had to buy hats and gloves from one of the high street stores – warm clothing is very expensive to buy here so it’s best to come fully prepared!
Visiting the ‘end of the world’ lighthouse and hump back whale spotting
We joined a boat tour to visit the lighthouse of the ‘end of the world’ made famous in an adventure novel by French author Jules Verne in 1905.
We visited the bird island (cormorants), sea lion colonies and also tried to spot some penguins on the shore (although most had already migrated to their next location) and took photos of the famous lighthouse.
Everyone was so excited, running around the boat trying to spot it in the ocean. Even the captain was really excited (as it was completely unexpected) so we abandoned our preset route and went in search of a closer look at the whale.
Everyone was running around on the top deck, in the blistering cold wind scowling the waves for another site of the whale when all of a sudden he literally popped up at the side of our boat! He was huge!
It was an amazing experience to see an animal so big so close!
After spotting the whale we were given tea and biscuits back inside the boat to warm up before disembarking the boat and hiking up to a lookout point of the area.
We were explained the history of the indigenous people and how they lived on the island until fairly recently (before they died after being ‘helped’ by the colonial powers) and also about the wildlife still present on the island.
Trekking in Ushuaia
Although it was freezing cold we decided to do a day trek to the ‘post office at the end of the world’ where we hoped to get one of the famous stamps in our passports.
We booked the mini bus transfer to the national park, fully prepared with a packed lunch, water and lots of layers, and left early one morning.
Within an hour we had arrived, paid our park entrance fee and driven through a blizzard. The snow was falling so thickly that you couldn’t even make out any figures a few meters in front of you.
The trail runs through forests, alongside lakes, up hills and down into riverbeds.
The first trail we took lasted 3 hours and we were subjected to almost all types of weather every 30minutes: snow, rain, wind, hot sunshine….
After the 3 hours were up we’d reached a coffee shop and were sipping on hot chocolate to warm ourselves up (the prices at the coffee shop, considering we were in the middle of a mountain range were actually fairly cheap and the food looked great!)
The views had been spectacular but we could barely move our fingers they were so cold.
Once warmed up we set out again but this time on a 4 hour hike to the end of the trails. Luckily by the mid afternoon the sun had properly came out and we were able to delay a short while into our hike.