Where to See Penguins in Patagonia on Isla Martillo, Argentina
Who doesn't love penguins? They're adorable! They're also curious and loud, boisterous and social, doting and territorial, stinky, loyal, sleepy, and the list goes on.
Planning an independent trip to Patagonia may take some planes, trains, and automobiles organizing but it's so worth it. Exploring this region is like nothing else. The landscape ranges from vibrant and lush to gray and austere, depending on the time of year you visit and where in Patagonia you are at the time.
The one wildlife encounter in Patagonia that we were looking forward to was seeing penguins and one of the best places to see penguins in Patagonia is on Isla Martillo in Ushuaia (oosh-WHY-ah), Argentina.
You just have to get to Ushuaia, the city at the end of the world! And once you get to Ushuaia, you may very well see penguins on your own when you're hiking around beautiful Tierra del Fuego. A few here or there.
You can find penguins around the world, but there's not too many places where you can see a variety of penguin species in one place, other than in southern Patagonia.
Where to See Penguins in Patagonia
But if you'd rather not leave it to chance, there are several tour companies that can take you to a penguin colony like the one on Isla Martillo, a short boat ride from one of Argentina's famous ranches, Estancia Harberton.
The island of Isla Martillo is only accessible by boat, and there's ONLY ONE company that can take you ONTO the island on a closely guided and educational tour to see the penguins up close, and that's Piratour. (This is not a sponsored post, I was just super impressed with the tour and am happy to recommend them).
I didn't realize that not all tours took you onto the island until we were actually there listening to our guide. We watched as at least four other tour boats pulled up to the small island, stay for three minutes while tourists snapped a few pictures, and then the boat left!
Don't take that tour :-)
This post may contain affiliate links: if you make a purchase through these links, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Piratour takes you to Estancia Harberton where your first stop on the property is the Museo Acatushun. Though small, the museum has a variety of interesting exhibits about local species, marine mammals and native bird species, plus an on site research laboratory.
I loved seeing the full-size blue whale skeletons outside, laying side by side near the waters edge. After an hour tour (with time to walk the grounds), you'll board a boat for Isla Martillo, about a 20-minute ride away.
Penguins in Ushuaia
There are three species of penguins at the end of the world in Patagonia: But for now, take a look at the three species of cuties we saw - Magellanic, Gentoo, and King penguins.
Black Magellanic penguins (below) have a black mask across their face and wide black bands at their throat (like a bow-tie) and across the white expanse of their breast. The majority of penguins on Isla Martillo appeared to be Magellanic penguins.
They have a distinctive call for attracting and tracking down their mates among the thousands of other birds, and watching them can take the better part of your day.
For the entire time we were on Isla Martillo, this little guy below was calling his heart out, first with his wings spread out to the side. The longer - and louder - he called, the more his wings raised straight up over with his head. Hoooooooonnnnnnnnnk!!!!!!!!!!
Gentoo penguins are black with distinctive orange beaks and feet. As we approached the island, a juvenile Gentoo penguin was chasing his mother back and forth from one side of the beach to the other, and in and out of the water, until finally, she regurgitated and fed him his meal.
We were so excited to see just four King penguins on Isla Martillo, a real treat since they're usually not found outside the Antarctic circle. King penguins, with their bright yellow and orange coloring, are similar in color and size to the popular Emperor penguins, and one of the penguin species in Antarctica.
Magellanic penguins stay loyal to the same mate for life. Each breeding season, they return to the same nest and the same partner. Now that's penguin love!
Seeing penguins up close like we did with Piratour was one of our favorite things to do in Ushuaia.
What to Bring With You to See Penguins
Getting the chance to see wildlife of any kind anywhere in the world in their natural habitat is an amazing opportunity. Obviously you want to preserve the moment with photos and video to look back on and share with your friends. Here are some things to bring along with you:
Whatever your camera brand choice you prefer, be sure and bring a long lens or a camera with such capability. You shouldn’t ever get too close to wildlife and the same is true for penguins. A good tour guide will not let you get too close either, so a long lens will be necessary.
I rented a 400mm lens from Borrowlenses just for this leg of our trip, so the photos you see were taken with that. If you’ve never rented camera gear, I highly recommend these guys. It’ll cost you a fraction of buying a piece of equipment you may only use occasionally!
Whether you’re taking video or stills, a small tripod is a good idea for taking landscape photos.
A good backpack is indispensable when it comes to holding and ditributing weight so you can be comfortable enough to hike, move, or crouch down on the ground eye level with penguins.
We love Osprey packs — they’re among the best travel backpacks made, and never disappoint. We have three among the two of us, and switch between them depending on our destination and use.
Good Travel pants
You’ll be doing a lot of crouching down when you’re photographing penguins, so be sure you wear comfy travel pants, the kind you can easily move around in.
Comfy Hiking shoes or boots
If you’re searching for penguins in Patagonia, chances are you’ll be walking on rocky beaches, not the kind with smooth sand. Patagonia is rocky, and boulder-y. A sturdy and well-fitting pair of hikers is a must!
Where to Stay in Ushuaia
Ushuaia has so many good places to stay whether you're exploring the Tierra del Fuego region or jumping off to Antarctica. From luxury hotels to budget hostels and so many moderately priced accommodations in between, you'll find something to fit your style and budget.
Here are three of our favorite in each category that we loved:
The Antarctica Hostel is consistently high-rated as one of the best values in Ushuaia. Clean, comfy, and the location is good. Check rates and details.
We loved our stay at Tierra de Leyendas. The location is just outside of town in a residential part of town, and the food created by the Chef/Owner is fantastic. We had all sorts of traditional Chilean food specialties for breakfast and dinner. The rooms are spacious and beautifully-appointed and we could have stayed at breakfast there all day! Check rates and availability.
If you're in need of some serious pampering after all the hiking and trekking — and horseback riding — you’re doing in Patagonia, Arakur Ushuaua Resort & Spa has what you need....absolute luxury. The rooms and restaurant are upscale with killer views of the Beagle Channel, but the indoor/outdoor swim-through pools (right) are worth the stay alone. Check availability and more details.
Have you seen penguins in the wild? Share it with us below, or shoot us an email with any questions you might have about where and when to see them!