Article also available in french here

1,000,000 Penguins ? What ? For real ? Where ???!!!

This is the usual conversation when you travel and somebody tells you something or one of us reads something about the area. When we left for Puerto Madryn, Jenny ended up reading an article online about 1 million penguins… Imagine her excitement when she read we will be only 130 km from Punta Tombo where we could see thousands of Magellanic penguins.

In fact, during this year breeding season about a million mangellanic penguin have migrated to Punta Tombo, drawn by an unusual abundance of sardines and anchovies. This species, classified as endangered arrived in September to give birth to their chicks and raise them until migrating back north toward Brazil in March.

It’s February, we are just on time. We might not see a million of them but we thought it was a great timing to see those penguins that populate the whole Patagonia Region (from Puerto Madryn to Ushuaia).

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Magellanic penguin facts :

  • This species was discovered during the journey of the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520
  • It can grow up to 76 cm and weight only 5 kg !
  • They feed on cuttlefish, squids and sardines but are hunted by leopard seals, sea lion and killer whales. The egss 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 to the same mate after solo migration of about 320 000 km

Early in the morning, we hop in the car and drive down towards Trelew for about 70 km on paved road. After about 10 km south this town, we turn off and start the last 60km of gravel road. As mentioned in our previous article about the Peninsula Valdes, we can’t exceed 40 km on those roads which makes the round trip a pretty long journey. It takes 2 hours to do 60 km, in 30°c, with the windows closed to not breath the dust thrown in the air by the cars and jeeps. At last we arrive around 11am at the entrance of national reserve. Before heading toward the penguins, we must pay a ridiculously expensive entrance fee and visit an information center where none of the exhibition is in English.

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The “foreigner” price in Argentina

I guess this is the right moment to complain about this Argentinian way of making tourists feel welcome. As you can see at the end of this article, the prices for foreigners are twice as expensive as the locals.  What the hell, why? Is that something we do back home ? I’d like to see the Argentinian tourists faces if the Eiffel tower was also to apply similar distinctive fees. And this is not the first time. It seems that these prices are applied to all the National Parks and reserves of the country (Iguassu falls, Perito Moreno, etc.). It would actually be fine and harder to argue with if only the cost was justified by the information translated in a couple of other languages…Right now, tourists pay more and if you cannot read Spanish then do not get a full chance to learn about these amazing places.

Punta Tombo entrance fees

Passing through the entrance quite angry, we take the car and drive towards the second car park about a kilometer away. From there, the 3 km path is well demarcated and is restricted to one trail in order to avoid walking onto the penguins’ nests.

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Here they are, chilling in their nests, walking toward the beach or calling their loved ones. The chicks have grown and are finishing molting (changing their fluffy hair to feathers). They are getting ready for the migration.

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We walk along the path and stop to watch the penguins that are no less than a meter from us. Such a great encounter ! At the end of the path, we arrived at a view point (surmontant) which overlooks a very long brown and red beach where we can observe thousands of penguins swimming and standing on the sand.

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We spend a bit of time watching them getting angry at each other or running towards the water displaying all their clumsiness. What a chance to witness so many of these birds nesting and raising their chicks. Even in Antarctica Jenny had not seen this much penguins !

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Around 3 pm it is time to drive back to Puerto Madryn, tomorrow we are going to the peninsula Valdes and we are hoping to see Orcas !

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