A colorful sunset in Puerto Madryn, in the Chubut province of Argentina.
This shore and the nearby caves are where 153 Welsh settlers first lived when they arrived here in 1865, establishing Y Wladfa Gymreig, or ‘The Welsh Colony.’
Las Grutas is 1072 km from Buenos Aires, which explains why it is principally a popular tourist destination for those who reside in Patagonia and relatively few Porteños vacation here.
Las Grutas is also not well-serviced by flights, although there are a few flights to nearby San Antonio Oeste. If arriving from Buenos Aires or any other city, one could also take a flight to Viedma,180 km away and take a bus from there.
The one-and-a-half hour flight from Buenos Aires starts at about US$450 roundtrip, on Aerolineas Argentinas, but check out prices with the new budget airlines operating in Argentina.
• Aerolíneas Argentinas Tel: 0810-222-86527
Las Grutas is well serviced by bus and that is how most arrive here. These are some of the better bus companies that service the area :
• Don Otto: Call Center BsAs: 0800-333-7575/ 4315-7700.
— Las Grutas: 02934-497778// 430-007
• El Cóndor: In Buenos Aires: 11-4313-1700
– San Antonio Oeste: 02934-421580
• Andesmar: Call Center, BsAs – (011) 6385-3031
The trip to Las Grutas by car from Buenos Aires takes a bit over 13 hours. Take Ruta 3, passing through Bahía Blanca and Viedma, directly to San Antonio Oeste, 15km from Las Grutas. From there you’ll see signs leading to Las Grutas. To see the exact route from Buenos Aires or to check the route from other cities, take a look at Google Transit.
There is a train that services the area including a train from Bariloche to Viedma that passes through San Antonio Oeste, 15 km from Las Grutas. Once a week during the summer there is a luxury train with a restaurant, disco and cinema called Expreso Arrayanes.
As with many of the trains in Argentina, service is on again off again. At the moment the Bariloche-Viedma line is down due to damage on the rails after a violent storm. Check the Tren Patagonico webpage to see if service has been restored.
Las Grutas town spans just a few city blocks, so you can walk pretty much everywhere. There are buses to San Antonio Oeste every thirty minutes. Renting a car if staying in the local area is not necessary unless you want to explore some of the surrounding sites. One worthwhile excursion is the penguin colony at Sierra Grande, 120 km to the south.
Be aware that in the summer high season (Dec-Feb), it is necessary to make hotel or hostel reservations for Las Grutas, because this once-secret hideaway is a favored vacation spot for people all over Patagonia.
A little away from the center of the action, 1km out of town is Marinas del Golfo offering comfortable furnished apartments for rent. The 23-apartment complex includes a golf course, outdoor pool, sauna and Turkish steam bath.
All of the apartments have a private balcony. Guests can rent a bike, get a massage, and the friendly staff will help you to arrange sightseeing excursions.
Melewe Las Grutas is listed as a three-star hotel but is really an apart-hotel with fully equipped family-size units in the center of town. Although the exterior is somewhat unappealing, units are equipped with cable tv, wifi, cleaning service, a shared party house and barbeques.
The two-star Hotel Acantilado offers basic accommodations equipped with wifi, breakfast, access to the fitness center, spa and an in-house restaurant. Complejo Habitacional Acantilado, is run by the same people and offers the same amenities.
Guests at Complejo Habitacional Acantilado must check in at Acantilado Hotel down the street.
For budget travel, there are a few of campsites equipped with showers and parillas (barbecue grills) for preparing food.
Las Grutas has a variety of restaurants and cantinas, all packed into the town’s center around a few blocks. Here you can enjoy fresh seafood dishes featuring prawns or octopus that are hard to impossible to find in Buenos Aires.
As with other destinations in Argentina, ask locals for recommendations and look for restaurants that are full of diners.
Five three-week old kittens discovered in a hole in the ground in the Chubut province of Argentina.
December and January are the most taxing months for animal protectionists in Argentina.
The cause is holiday fireworks. Across Argentina, pets get scared by fireworks on Christmas and New Year’s Eve and run away — most never to be found again. Strays abandon their pups and kittens, meaning animal protectionists are inundated with orphan animals at this time of year.
Thanks to the efforts of Mari Atuñez and her Animal Protection Agency of Buenos Aires and the people who care for stray animals in the city, Buenos Aires is starting to get its animal overpopulation problem under control.
Outside the city of Buenos Aires, extreme overpopulation of unwanted dogs and cats continues to be a problem.
Thanks to readers who support Wander Argentina by purchasing our city tours, tango shows, sport events such as professional soccer games, travel insurance, wine tastings and use our XOOM link to transfer funds from the U.S., our Amazon link to purchase items online, vacation packages with Expedia, Cheapo Air for airplane tickets and car rentals, purchase Groupon Deals and those who make hotel reservations via our links to Hotels Combined, Hostel Bookers and Booking.com, we are able to sponsor the care of stray animals, adoptions and animal sterilizations in Argentina.
This month 20% of Wander Argentina profits will go to help care for stray animals and sponsor sterilizations in the Chubut province, where unwanted animal overpopulation remains a big problem.
The unexplored and unexploited beaches of Las Grutas are located in the southern and chillier half of Argentina’s long coastline.
Despite its location closer to Antarctica than popular beaches to the north, the Gulf of San Matias boasts the warmest and bluest waters, at almost 27 C, on the entire eastern seaboard.
Located only 15km from San Antonio Oeste, Las Grutas, or ’The Caves,’ is so named for the coastal cliffs that line the beach. Here, clear waters are swimmable late into the fall, when vacationing crowds are thinned out and prices are low.
So, for those sick of the sticky, city summer heat who don’t want to join the ranks across the river to Uruguay or get squeezed onto a towel-sized spot of land in Mar de Plata, you can take an overnight bus ride from Buenos Aires (16 hours) and arrive in Las Grutas just in time for lunch.
At first, Las Grutas was only a popular picnic spot for Rio Negro provincials but in the 1980s developers stumbled upon the natural beauty here and decided to bring in running water, electricity, and a casino.
Nowadays, there is a year-round population of 3,500 people and a tourist influx of 250,000 a year. When the out-of-towners flood the sleepy pueblo between December and February, it can make for long lines at the ATMs and kiosks. But with plenty of quiet peaceful beaches to escape to nearby, there is enough space to feel practically alone.
Because of the strong coastal currents of Bahia de San Antonio, the tide in Gulf of San Matias gets sucked far out to sea, leaving almost an entire kilometer of exposed coral and sand at low tide. When the water recedes, and the sun heats up the green rock surface it warms the water to tepid temperatures. That, in combination with 12 hours of sunlight per day and average weather forecasts of 30 C, makes for a balmy beachside experience. There are also large rectangular pools visible at low tide, carved into the rock and flagged off by lifeguards that act as natural sandy-bottomed swimming pools popular with kids and parents.
The white-washed walls and strikingly blue waters of the golf are reminiscent of a Grecian seaside but, as the locals are quick to point out, come at a fraction of the cost. With a meandering rambla (boardwalk) that hugs the cliff side, filled with cyclists and roller-bladers, you can enjoy the view overlooking the ocean and then stroll down one of the 12 designated bajadas (descending staircases) to chase the tide back and forth along the beach.
If you came for playa (beach) there are plenty to pick from in this region, such as the tranquil Playa de Piedras Coloradas, the sharp shell-beach of La Conchilla or the hidden Rinconada. You can buy a few inflatable toys at one of the many seaside shops or a game of paleta (rubber-ball tennis) and join the hundreds of people snoozing under umbrellas sipping hot mate.
Along the three km stretch of beach, you’ll find everyone from grandparents sporting skimpy swimwear to young couples getting cuddly and little ones learning to kick a soccer ball in the sand. There are white horses to rent for moonlight rides, popular kite-surfing classes, recreational diving through crystal-clear water or shore-fishing for sea bass and groupers. A common fisherman’s catch are cornalitos, small neotropical silversides. Abundant on local menus, they are usually fried whole. They make a tasty snack — if you don’t mind the little black eyeballs staring straight back at you.
Once you have soaked up some sunshine, you can head outside the city to hike some surrounding sand dunes; explore the Fuerte Argentino plateau, an 80-meter high natural balcony overlooking the gulf; or go on a jeep safari through Los Alamos, where you can track endangered Andean Condors through binoculars.
There is also the ever-popular and well-advertised Las Grutas Bikini Open in February, along with the two beauty pageants, Fiesta Nacional del Golfo Azul and the 38th annual Fiesta Provincial del Mar y del Acampante. All bring girls from across the country to compete for the ‘summer’s best booty.’
Voyeurism aside, it’s no wonder year-round crowds are drawn to the mild temperatures, warm clear waters, and scarce rainfall of Las Grutas. This cozy seaside gem remains an ‘undiscovered’ treasure that the Patagonians feel hesitant to share with their beach-seeking neighbors to the north. So if you go, don’t tell the masses. Otherwise, next year you may find yourself jostled among a slew of stampeding porteños, all speeding southbound towards Las Grutas.
— by Kathryn Elgee
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