One of the many highlights of our trip to Argentina’s Patagonia region was our trip to see the Magellanic Penguins in Punta Tombo. Punta Tombo in Chubut Province is home to the world’s largest colony of Magellanic Penguins. More than a million penguins arrive here to breed every year, although, in recent years, the numbers have dropped by around twenty percent. Climate change, marine environment, pollution and overfishing are some of the reasons given for their decline.
We reached the Nature Reserve at 9am and were pleased to see that we were the first visitors to arrive. After purchasing our tickets, we drove another kilometre down to the Penguin rookery. Inside the sanctuary, there’s a three-kilometre walking path you follow, and for the sake of the penguins you must keep to the trail but don’t be surprised if the young adolescent penguins decide to hang out with you for a while, but please don’t touch. (Tempting as it was!)
We were so excited when we came across our first Penguin; we hadn’t expected to get quite so close. But as our eyes started to focus, we soon realised there were thousands of penguins as far as the eye could see. Just relaxing in their nests and family units under bushes; some waddling down to the beach, others protecting themselves under the path from the hot sun. And the noise of penguin chatter was just incredible from the young chicks calling out to their parents to the braying sound of the adult males.
How Long Should I Plan To Spend at Punta Tombo
We spent around four hours watching the antics of these cute guys. Visiting Punta Tombo Nature Reserve was so much fun and really worth the long drive. The Visitor Centre at the reserve was also cool, perfect for kids and filled with information about the life of penguins. Guided tours were available with the rangers. The visitor centre also has a small restaurant, plenty of toilets and a tiny souvenir shop.
From here, we headed back along bumpy, dusty roads to our guesthouse in Trelew via Gaiman, where we stopped for a scrumptious Welsh tea. For more information on our adventures in the Welsh town of Gaiman, click here.
What You See At Punta Tombo Depends On The Time Of Year
- January: The young penguins leave their nest, begin to moult and venture into the sea.
- February: The young penguins continue to moult and head to the beach.
- March/April: The young adult penguins finish moulting, and the annual migration north begins.
- May to August: The penguins are at sea, so not the best time to visit the penguin sanctuary.
- August/ September: The Penguins return to Punta Tombo to build nests. There are some territorial struggles along the way.
- October: 30-45 day egg incubation period.
- November: Lots of baby chicks born, would so love to have seen this.
- December: Taking care of the young chicks.
What Other Wildlife Will I See At Punta Tombo?
If the penguins aren’t enough for you, there is other wildlife in the area. We saw plenty of guanacos which are related to llamas and camels plus many other seabirds: cormorants, seagulls, rheas, Antarctic pigeons (which look like regular pigeons to me but apparently there’s a difference!)
How To Get To Punta Tombo
Most people start from Puerto Madryn, a seaside town in Chubut Province but we started from Trelew, not a particularly attractive town but an hour closer to the Penguins. Day tours ranging from $65 to $100 per person are available from Puerto Madryn, Trelew, and Rawson but it’s a lot more fun to rent a car and do it yourself.
We picked up a car from Trelew Airport for $50 a day. Having a car gives you a lot more freedom, it’s a lot cheaper than a tour, plus you can get to the Penguin Sanctuary before the tour buses arrive and have the place to yourself.
Top Tip – When visiting the Sanctuary, check to see if a cruise ship will be in Puerto Madryn that day. Many of the cruise passengers will be taking tours to look at the penguins, so to avoid crowds arrive early or visit on a day when there are no cruise ships in.
Travel Times and Distance To Punta Tombo
- From Puerto Madryn, takes just under three hours each way. Distance 188 kilometres.
- From Trelew, takes just over two hours each way. Distance 123 kilometres.
- From Rawson, takes two hours 20 minutes. Distance 132 kilometres. Although we didn’t do this, it’s possible to take a boat tour from Rawson to see dolphins.
Note: There is a lot of road construction on Route 3 at the moment (January 2019), so when fixed, I expect travel times will be a little quicker. The last 30
Opening Hours At Punta Tombo Penguin Sanctuary
Open daily from 8 am to 6 pm, but
Punta Tombo Entrance Fees
Entrance fee 400 Argentinean Pesos per person, about $10.
Top Tips For Visiting Punta Tombo
- Wear comfortable shoes, the paths around the rookery are a little uneven.
- When we visited in January, it was hot, and there was very little shade, so wear sunscreen and a hat.
- Bring cash for the entrance fee, as they don’t accept credit cards.
- Don’t touch the penguins (Yes, I know, I wanted to cuddle them too, but don’t!)
- Check the cruise schedule to avoid busloads of tourists. We use Cruisemapper to plan our days. It really came in useful in Patagonia.
- Bring water.