3 Places To See Penguins in the Wild: Argentina

The first time I saw a penguin in his natural habitat was right here in Argentina. I was with a marine biologist on a speedboat, both of us bundled up against the cold, gliding through the still bay off the coast of Puerto San Julián. As we approached the rocky coast of a small island, I spotted a small group of black and white birds emerging from the water, their plumage sleek and glossy, waddling one by one along the beach in a comical parade. I grew up with Mary Poppins and trips to the zoo – seeing penguins on the beach, and getting out of the boat to walk around their little colony, was an experience I’ll never forget.

Traveling to the penguin colony

Traveling to the penguin colony – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

It’s one of a handful of places in Argentina where you can observe Magellanic penguins in the wild. Quick overview: the medium-sized penguin is indigenous to Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland/Malvinas Islands. Magellanic penguins are incredibly athletic, with the ability to dive 250 feet beneath the water’s surface to hunt for fish and crustaceans.

During the breeding season, they congregate in coastal nesting colonies and mate with the same partners as the year before – monogamy in the wild! They lay eggs in nests they’ve built under bushes; both parents care for baby chicks. The Magellanic penguin can live up to 25 years, though the species is threatened due to climate change and, sadly, oil spills. Read more about that on the Wildlife Conservation Society’s page. Then plan a trip to go see them for yourself at one of the following locations.

Penguin colony

Penguin colony – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Puerto San Julián

Magellan landed in this natural harbor in 1520, and Darwin explored the area’s geography. But Puerto San Julián is an unassuming place, a peaceful small town in the province of Santa Cruz – the closest large city is Rio Gallegos, 360km south. You can book the same excursion I did, penguin observation at Justice Island, with the excellent Pinocho Excursiones.

Puerto San Julian

Puerto San Julian – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Reserva Provincial Punta Tombo

This reserve is home to the largest penguin colony outside Ushuaia, with as many as one million Magellanic penguins breeding here from September to April.

The closest large city is Trelew, 110km north, though it’s also possible to rent a car in Puerto Madryn and drive here (or hire a round-trip taxi) after doing some whale-watching off Peninsula Valdés, where you might also spot penguins along the coast. During high season, it’s also possible to visit Punta Tombo on an organized tour from either city.

Penguin with seagulls

Penguin with seagulls – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Ushuaia

The end of the world: Ushuaia is one of my favorite places in all of South America, and Tierra del Fuego is home to three major penguin colonies. From September through April, book with Pira Tour to visit Martillo Island, featuring a colony with more than 3,000 nests. If it’s baby chicks you’re after, go in December or January, when you can see the fuzzy little penguins learning to walk.

Penguin nest

Penguin nest – photo courtesy of Bridget Gleeson

Explore Argentina’s wildlife with LAN Airlines and its affiliates, offering daily nonstop flights from Miami to Buenos Aires, with connecting flights to Ushuaia and Patagonia, plus daily connecting flights from New York and Los Angeles.

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