The Atlantic coast of Argentine Patagonia is so rich that every year a million Magellanic penguins gather just a couple of hours south of Puerto Madryn, to mate and feed.
Punta Tombo National Reserve is in fact the largest penguin colony outside of Antarctica and is one of the easiest places to see the penguins walking just a few meters away for you.
Here you will find a guide on how to get to Punta Tombo from Puerto Madryn and everything you need to know to enjoy this amazing experience.
Punta Tombo in Best Things to Do in Patagonia Argentina
In Argentina, Puerto Madryn and its surroundings are a must-see destination for any wildlife lover.
While the main thing is whale watching during the winter season and the search for orcas and marine mammals during the rest of the year, the Punta Tombo National Reserve remains unknown to most visitors to the region.
And that’s a pity!
In fact, if you were wondering where to see penguins in Argentina, the best answer would undoubtedly be Punta Tombo.
There are of course some other places like Tierra del Fuego or even in Peninsula Valdes, but nothing like Punta Tombo where you can see 1 million of them!
1 Million penguins at Punta Tombo
It is estimated that during the last breeding seasons, about one million Magellanic penguins have settled in Punta Tombo thanks to the abundance of sardines and anchovies on the coast and the few predators in the area.
In August, the males arrive to reclaim their nest from the previous year and prepare it for the female to lay her eggs in October.
After the chicks hatch and feed well for a few months, the penguins migrate north back to Brazil before returning after the austral winter.
This number of penguins in one place is unique. The only other place on Earth with such a large colony is Antarctica.
And despite the long bus hours required to get to Puerto Madryn, it is still an easier (and cheaper) trip to prepare for and undertake than a cruise in Antarctica.
Curiosities about Magellanic penguins:
- This species was discovered during the voyage of the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520. This is the reason for its name
- They can grow up to 76 cm and weigh only 5 kg maximum!
- They feed on cuttlefish, squid and sardines and are hunted by leopard seals, sea lions and killer whales. Eggs and chicks face predators such as seagulls.
- An unpaired adult Magellanic penguin makes a braying sound, like a donkey, when looking for a mate.
- They always return with the same mate after their solo migration.
How to get to Punta Tombo Chubut Argentina
The excursion to Punta Tombo is a day trip from Puerto Madryn or Trelew, the two largest cities in the area.
You can join a tour from either of them, but we recommend that you rent a car and tour the area for a couple of days.
You can easily combine the day trip to Punta Tombo with a visit to Peninsula Valdes to see orcas, and to Gaiman, a small town of Welsh origin.
The cost will be about the same as a day trip, but the main idea is to have the freedom to stay as long as you want to watch the penguins.
Map of Punta Tombo
Drive south on national road 3 to Trelew (about 70 km on paved road).
After about 10 km south of Trelew, turn left and drive the last 60 km on a gravel road.
Be very careful not to exceed 40 km/h on these roads, as the gravel is very loose and the speed could cause an accident.
Punta Tombo is not very far from Puerto Madryn, but if you drive at a slow pace, the round trip can be a bit long, so it is best to leave early.
In total it should take 1 hour to Trelew and 2 hours to drive the last 60 km, with windows closed to avoid breathing the dust thrown into the air by other cars.
Punta Tombo National Reserve penguins and much more…
Before heading to the beaches to see the penguins, you must park your car at the park ranger’s office and pay the entrance fee.
Behind the ticket office you will find an information center, a souvenir store and services.
The Punta Tombo reserve information center is very well organized and interactive enough to learn more about penguins.
However, none of the texts have been translated into English, which makes the experience a bit complicated for non-Spanish speakers.
You can visit the information center whenever you want. We chose to go after we saw the penguins to avoid the heat and the daily tour buses on the beach.
Park opening hours: 9 am to 5 pm – closed April to September.
Punta Tombo excursions rates
Entrance to Punta Tombo: 15 euros (approximate)
Once you return to your car, drive one kilometer down a gravel road to the second parking lot.
From there, the 3 km trail is well marked and is restricted to a single path to avoid walking on or too close to the penguin nests.
From the trailhead, many penguins can be seen resting in their nests, walking to the beach or calling for loved ones.
As you continue walking along the trail, some penguins may join you for a while or cross the path, no less than a meter away. This is such an amazing encounter! They hardly care that you are there.
At the end of the trail, you will reach a lookout overlooking a long beach of brown and red rocks where you will surely observe thousands of penguins swimming and standing on the sand.
You will surely have a good time watching them getting mad at each other or running towards the water showing all their clumsiness.
Tips for a better experience in Punta Tombo tourism
- Pay for your rental car with a credit card that includes insurance so you don’t have to add it to your bill (no problem with that in Argentina);
- Reserve your car as soon as possible. There are a limited number of agencies in town and they are often fully booked;
- Try to find travel companions in your hostel to share expenses and fun;
Drive at 40 km/h maximum on a gravel road to avoid accidents and stones breaking windshields;
- Watch out for wildlife along the road, such as Guanacos and Armadillos. They can cross at any time causing an accident;
- Try to rent a car with air conditioning if you can. The dust thrown into the air along the gravel road makes it almost impossible to breathe with the windows open, and it is very hot during the day;
- Do not touch the penguins, they are wild animals. Respect their environment;
- Respect the distance and stop if a penguin crosses the road in front of you;
- Keep a minimum distance of 3 meters between you and the penguins. They don’t know that rule, so if a penguin approaches you, stop and wait until it leaves;
- Bring water and sunscreen;
- Take pictures and leave only footprints;
- If you notice anything suspicious, report it to the rangers. However, most of them do not speak English.