Punta Tombo . Argentina
I returned from Argentina earlier this week. While spending time in Patagonia I took a road trip to Punta Tombo, where thousands of Magellanic Penguins return, pair up, mate and make their home for a part of the year.
Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world, with an wide diversity of landscapes outside of Buenos Aires. I had previously visited Iguazu Falls along the Brazil border, and this time was set on heading south to Patagonia. I considered Ushuaia, El Calafate or Puerto Madryn. Ushuaia provides bragging rights of having visited “the end of the world,” being the southernmost city near where Argentina and Chile meet at the “cone” of South America. El Calafate is home of the Perito Moreno glacier, an astoundingly active glacier which can be hiked and seen up close on surface or by boat.
I researched glacier hiking and outdoor activities around Ushuaia, where to rent warm clothes, and “to dos” in El Calafate. But in the end my travel partner and I decided on Puerto Madryn and the area along the Atlantic Coast. The landscape is the complete opposite from the majestic mountains on the western side abutting Chili. In fact the land is sparse and barren, with only a few hills varying the endless flat miles, (or kilometers,) along the coast. But this region offers a chance to see some amazing wildlife up close in their natural environment. Plus we have plenty of mountains here in Colorado -so we opted for the ocean.
In addition to scuba diving in the Atlantic, and a close visit with some friendly sea lions, (photos to come,) the highlight was a road trip down to Punta Tombo to see the penguins in their natural habitat.
I didn’t know how many penguins I would see, or if any at all. Early October is the start of the season, just weeks earlier the penguins arrive and start creating their nests made of burrows in the ground. We asked around Puerto Madryn what to expect. A few other travelers told us there were in fact penguins – so at least we knew some activity would be happening. However their enthusiasm didn’t inspire confidence, and was surprisingly bland based on the incredible sights we saw.
Punta Tombo is located about 85 miles southeast of Trelew, the capitol of the province of Chubut. We drove in our rented car from Puerto Madryn, (a beachside town known for whale watching,) down Ruta 3. 20 miles and 45 minutes later down a bumpy dirt road the shimmering Atlantic came into view.
We got a late start and arrived about 2pm. This was good, as most of the small tour buses were departing back to Trelew and Puerto Madryn leaving the already huge park almost unpopulated by humans. We paid 35 pesos, and a few yards away spotted the first penguin laying on his belly by the walkway. A few more were lounging doing nothing, (rather than constantly doing cute things,) so I joked I should return to the entry and buy a “penguin poker” to get them moving and start being cute. (Like on “March of the Penguins.”
We ambled down the 2 mile trail, and after we arrived at one of the “penguin crossings,” the scene vividly changed. A wooden walkway leads over this wide natural path, located between the scrub, which leads to the ocean. It’s used as a route when one penguin leaves the other in the nest in search of food. We saw hundreds of them briskly walking back and forth to the ocean, and looking the other direction inland hundreds of nests pockmarked the scrubby gray land.
I couldn’t help wondering if the solitary penguins were looking for a mate, or returning food hunting in the ocean and searching for their nest. In some cases on penguin will swim hundreds and hundreds of miles into the Atlantic stocking up on food, and days later waddle back up while sounding their unique call to their mate. However I felt concerned for the individual penguins – seeing that one couple had laid an egg already I hoped the majority would pair up in an ideal perfect world way.
We spent about three hours here just wandering the paths. The paths are clearly marked towards the front, but towards the ocean they become less defined. The penguins regularly cross the path and make their burrows in close proximity. In some areas there were so many penguins ON the trails we were careful not to trip over them. It’s required you maintain a few yards distance and of course do not attempt to touch them. One actually started chasing me, possibly because my green jacket looked like a plant. (Not sure if penguins see colors.)
Without doubt one of the most beautiful and amazing things I have ever seen. Something I’ll never forget, and I felt privileged to see such a part of nature so close.
Doing it: From Buenos Aires fly to Trelew, two hours south. Aerolineas Argentinas/Austral has flights daily from Aeroparque. (Buenos Aires downtown airport.) Car rentals available at Trelew from Alamo and Budget.
Photos below, and check out my YouTube page for some YouTube quality videos of my visit. Turn down the volume as the wind is howling in all videos – and I haven’t had a chance to dub some music over them.
edited by Caleb Cross Denver Colorado