Patagonia Penguins – Walking with Penguins Tour in Ushuaia, Argentina
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Because Samantha repeatedly asks if she can have a penguin as a pet, this was the perfect birthday present for her to get up close and personal with hundreds of Patagonia penguins in their natural habitat.
A few hours after our Beagle Channel tour, we were back at the same PiraTour office (in the tourist pier area) at 2PM to check-in for our Walk with Penguins tour at 2:30PM. We think PiraTour’s website sums the tour up perfectly by saying, “If you can’t have them in your home… visit them in theirs!”
A quick, but very important note: PiraTour is the only tour company with permission to visit Martillo Island, where the penguin rookery is located.
The other tours will take you right up to the edge of the island via boat, but you won’t be able to disembark. So, if you actually want to walk around with tons of Patagonia penguins a mere few feet/meters away from you (and why wouldn’t you?!), PiraTour is the only way to go!
Once checked in, we loaded onto a large tour bus with our lanyards to take the hour-and-a-half ride to Harberton Ranch.
Much of the ride was on the iconic National Route 3, which stretches almost 2,000 miles (3,000 km) from Buenos Aires all the way down to where it ends in Tierra del Fuego National Park! Argentina’s own Route 66!
We recommend sitting on the left side of the bus as you’ll have unbelievable views of the huge mountains jutting into the sky along the way.
Get ready to waddle!
On the way there, our bilingual tour guides gave us a rundown of what to expect for the next few hours and went over a few ground rules.
Once to the ranch, we split up into two groups (one Spanish-speaking and one English-speaking), as only one tour group at a time is allowed on the island with the Patagonia penguins.
One group goes straight to Martillo Island, while the other group gets to tour Acatashún Museum.
Our English-speaking group toured the museum first, and although the museum was not over-the-top fascinating, it was neat to see the various skeletons of marine animals.
This is still an active research facility too, so we also got to see some of the workers in action, cleaning and preserving the skeletons of all the creatures that washed up on their shores.
Man, oh man, was that a smelly little hut where they kept all of the skeletons!
At long last, it was time to head to see the penguins! Finally! After a short 5-minute walk from the museum, we arrived at a small dock and loaded up onto a small boat for a 10-minute ride over to Martillo Island. Barely able to contain our excitement, we hopped off the boat and walked up the shoreline where dozens of Patagonia penguins were just lounging around!
Shake your tail feathers
We snapped several pictures, including one that looks like Samantha is holding a penguin, and then ventured on to another part of the island.
Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about all things penguin, and gave us more information than we could even remember about the two species of Patagonia penguins on the island, the gentoo penguin and the Magellanic penguin.
Something we do remember: the gentoos build nests while the Magellanic penguins burrow holes into the ground for their eggs.
And these guys and gals were hard at work crafting the perfect nest/hole for their offspring! It was so fascinating to learn that all of these penguins come and go from this same island every single year during breeding time!
While on the island (on a very strict path), we even saw one king penguin, who was clearly visiting, stand out amongst the rest because of his sheer size (king penguins are the second-biggest species of penguin) and his orange coloring at his neck!
Around the corner and over the hill, hundreds more Patagonia penguins appeared! We really had to watch our step because these little guys were everywhere, some burrowed in their holes and some hidden in the bushes.
With such strict rules on the island and not wanting to disturb the penguins anymore than we already had, we didn’t chance breaking out our bottle of wine to enjoy with them, but that didn’t stop Samantha from showing her new friends the cup she brought them all the way from home! If we understood their honking correctly, we think they liked the gesture!
They didn’t seem to mind us being there either, as they went about their business, waddling to and fro — which is the absolute cutest thing ever! — and even making their trademark honking sound, which kind of sounds like a donkey and a goose morphed!
We continued to marvel at these little creatures (probably the better option anyway) running around building their nests or just hanging out with each other all over the place.
Sadly, our one hour (fastest hour ever) with the cute Patagonia penguins was coming to an end, so we started the short walk back towards the boat, but not before getting just a few more pictures of these fascinating animals.
Back on the covered zodiac boat, we cruised for about 10 minutes before arriving back at the ranch/museum to board our bus back to Ushuaia.
We bantered back and forth with each other, as couples often do, about whether we would have rather been the first of two groups to go to the island or not. Like we said, the museum was cool, but didn’t make us go “wow” (except for the smell…), so ending on such a strong note with the penguins was great.
However, going later in the day made the lighting and shadows more difficult to see, and definitely more difficult to photograph. You won’t really have a choice of when you get to go to the island anyways, so just relax and be excited that you get to walk with Patagonia penguins at all, no matter the time of day!
Catch you on the flip side Patagonia Penguins
Back on the bus, we rode for about 15 minutes before stopping again near a large hill for another photo opportunity, this time with many “flag” trees, as they are called. Because of the forceful winds that blow through this area, these trees have been permanently bent in the direction of the wind, even on an uncharacteristically calm day!
The hour-and-a-half bus ride back to Ushuaia was rather quiet, as most folks were tired from a long day….we definitely were! That’s just a sign that you got the most out of your day possible. Way to carpe that diem!
General housekeeping for this tour:
- Our tickets were $120 USD per person, plus a $12 USD entrance fee to the Harberton Ranch, which again, we paid online when we purchased our Beagle Channel tour.
- No food or drink was included in this tour, so be sure to plan accordingly as you probably won’t be getting back to town until about 9PM.
- If you didn’t dress warmly enough for the Beagle Channel tour, this is your chance for redemption! It was even colder out here than it was on the channel, so plan accordingly. Remember your sunscreen, sunglasses, and maybe even a hat and gloves (the ones with touchscreen compatibility so you can take endless pictures, of course), too.
- Bring lots of camera batteries/fully-charged phone….you won’t put it down your entire time of the island!
- As you might expect, there are lots of rules for your walk with penguins. Obviously, you can’t touch the penguins, wander off from the group, or deviate from the designated path.
If you think about it, these are all pretty much common sense and are all aimed at keeping the Patagonia penguins (and you) safe, as well as preserving their home. Thankfully, we didn’t have anyone disobey the rules and ruin the fun for everyone else, other than the occasional slow-poke who just couldn’t take enough pictures!
Overall, what an experience! It’s not everyday, or even every lifetime, that you get to walk side by side with hundreds of Patagonia penguins at the southern tip of Argentina. Sure, many of us have seen penguins in a zoo or in an aquarium, but seeing that many of them up close and personal in their natural habitat was truly awesome!
Another great tour offered by PiraTour and a highly recommended excursion if you find yourself in Ushuaia!
Next stop on our Argentina itinerary is El Calafate!
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We are Samantha & Chris and we are Boozing Abroad (literally). Both stateside and overseas, we are connecting people with local cultures through local booze!