Tours to See Puerto Madryn Penguins, Patagonia

by on 22nd July, 2022

The famous Puerto Madryn penguins, where up to a million Magellanic penguins congregate to breed, are not found in Puerto Madryn.

While the town is famous for being one of the best places to see penguins in Argentina, Puerto Madryn penguin tours actually take place in Punta Tombo. However, the tours do start in Puerto Madryn.

The colony of penguins at Punto Tombo allows people to get close to these adorably cute creatures. Read the lowdown on how to get there, what to expect, plus fun facts about Magellanic penguins. We’ll also talk about the area, replete with wildlife.

Introduction to Magellanic Penguins

Magellanic Penguins were named after the coloniser and explorer Ferdinand Magellan when his crew first spotted them in 1520. Surprisingly, Magellanic penguins are the only migratory penguins that also forage offshore, their migrations taking them from the southern tip of the Americas as far north as Peru or Brazil.

They are pretty and petite — the average adult Magellanic penguin stands 60-75cm tall (2 to 2.5 feet) and weighs anything between 2.5 to 6.5kg (5.5 to 14lb). Their diet consists of anchovies and sardines, and they breed in burrows or under bushes, often on islands or headlands.

Magellanic Penguin, Bahia Bustamante, Patagonia, Argentina

Visiting Magellanic Penguins at Punto Tombo

Figures vary wildly, but an estimated 400,000 up to one million Magellanic penguins make the annual pilgrimage to Punto Tombo to breed, making it the largest penguin colony in the Americas.

Day trips often start early, with a three-hour ride along asphalt and gravel roads to Punto Tombo. Later trips are usually busier, and an early departure can help avoid the relative crowds.

Punta Tombo is an exceptional site, a 2 mile / 3 kilometre and 600m wide rock formation jutting out into the sea. Sandy beaches are surrounded by clay and gravel, which the Magellanic penguins have made home.

Boardwalks and bridges crisscross the colony on official park trails, offering excellent wildlife viewing and photographic opportunities as the Magellanic penguins waddle around.

Penguins may be digging caves, bickering over territory, or feeding their chicks.

Keep an eye out for other wildlife, too. There are skuas, several species of petrel, and snowy sheathbills, to name a few.

Luis and Francisco La Regina donated the penguin reserve to the Argentine state, it having once been part of Estancia La Perla.

When’s the Best Time To See Punto Tombo’s Magellanic Penguins?

The best time to see Magellanic penguins at Punto Tombo is during the mating season, from September to March. However, some may linger in the area until April.

The peak season is October to February, when visitors and bird numbers swell. Other months still boast many tens of thousands of birds. There are more visitors when the penguin numbers are more significant, so expect to see people during the high season.

September and April can be quieter regarding visitor numbers, but there will be fewer penguins. You can combine penguin spotting with a whale-watching tour as southern right whales breed in the surrounding seas from June to December. These whales often leap from the water in a spectacular show.

Magellanic Penguins at Bahia Bustamante, Patagonia, Argentina

Fact file: The Lowdown on Magellanic Penguins

Height:            60-75cm tall (2 to 2.5 feet)

Weight:           Between 2.5 to 6.5kg (5.5 to 14lb)

Diet:                Anchovies, sardines, cuttlefish, squid

Swimming:      Ranges up to 50 miles / 80km and diving down to 75 metres.

Top speed:       15mph / 25kmh in water

Hunting:          In groups

Appearance:   Black bodies, head, and flipper with white bellies and insides of flippers. A white band from the eyebrow to the chin and two black horizontal bars between the chest and head.

Breeding:        From 4 years old and upwards. Monogamous. Return to the same nest.

Clutches:         Two eggs laid, with 40 days incubation. Parents take turns to keep the egg warm for 2-3 days while the other feeds.

Identification: Pairs call out to each other.

Predators:       Patagonian foxes, leopard seals, large fur Seals, and killer whales (orcas)

Life range:      15-20 years

Population:     1.5 million breeding pairs worldwide

Magellanic Penguin walking, Bahia Bustamante, Patagonia, Argentina


What’s the Collective Noun for Penguins?

Magellanic penguins nest, swim, hunt, and feed in close proximity. The ever-inventive English language has devised a descriptive solution for their group mentality.

On land, the collective noun for a group of penguins is a ‘waddle’ of penguins. In the sea, this changes to a raft of penguins.

Alternative on-land collective nouns include a rookery, colony, or huddle of penguins. Baby Magellanic penguins are called chicks and gather in groups called crèches.

Five Fun Facts About Magellanic Penguins

  1. They excrete salt from seawater from special glands near their eyes.
  2. Overheating Magellanic penguins shed feathers near their beak and pant like a dog.
  3. Magellanic penguins are nervy and can disperse if approached by humans.
  4. Unpaired adults bray like a donkey to attract mates.
  5. Like all 18 species of penguin, Magellanic penguins are protected from egg collecting or hunting.

What Other Trips Can I Take From Puerto Madryn?

Puerto Madryn is a lovely small town to visit, with some excellent restaurants and oceanside walks alongside Golfo Nuevo. From June to December, wander to the town’s pier, and you may be able to spot whales leaping from the sea.

Trips of note include:

  • Wildlife watching at Peninsula Valdes (whales, armadillos, rheas, guanacos, and more)
  • Whale watching from Puerto Piramides, including from a submarine!
  • Enjoy a Welsh tea at Gaiman
  • Kayaking of Golfo Nuevo
  • Punto Lomo sea lion tour — choose a wildlife viewing or snorkelling tour

The historic El Pedral Estancia is also well worth a visit; Peninsula Valdes’ attractions come together in this special place. You may spot whales (Aug-Sept the best months), killer whales, penguins, elephant seals, and sea lions, as well as visit the estancia’s private penguin colony. Orcas hunt sea lions in March and April.


Practical Information About Puerto Madryn Penguin Tours

Here we’ll detail everything you need to know about getting to Puerto Madryn, what to wear on your trip, and more.

How To Behave Around a Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic penguins look cute, but they are wild animals and behave accordingly. They will become aggressive if they feel threatened, pecking at you or your equipment.

  • Don’t stand in their way
  • Don’t put camera lenses in front of their faces
  • Don’t leave any waste or rubbish
  • Don’t try to touch or handle them or their chicks
  • Stick to the park trails
  • Follow your guide’s instructions at all times

Magellanic penguins, Bahia Bustamante, Patagonia, Argentina

What Clothing Should I Bring to Punto Tombo?

The sun and wind are intense in Patagonia. Bring plenty of suncream, sunglasses, and a hat to protect you from the sun’s rays. We also recommend bringing warm and waterproof layers to protect you from the Patagonian coastal winds.

How Do I Get to Puerto Madryn?

Argentina is an enormous country, the eighth-largest country in the world. Most visitors fly or take a bus to Puerto Madryn.

Puerto Madryn’s airport is called El Tehuelche Airport (code PMY), which connects directly with a two-hour flight to Buenos Aires (two hours).

The nearby Trelew is 40miles / 65 km from Puerto Madryn. Its airport (code REL) has occasional direct flights to and from Ushuaia, Buenos Aires, El Calafate, and Cordoba.

  • Buses between Buenos Aires and Puerto Madryn take around 17 hours one way.
  • Buses between El Calafate and Puerto Madryn take around 21 hours one way.

How Do I Get to Punto Tombo?

Punto Tombo lies 117 miles / 188km south of Puerto Madryn.

Puerto Madryn penguin tours start in Puerto Madryn and take you on asphalt then gravel roads to Punto Tombo. The who trip takes three to three-and-a-half hours.

People that hire cars should drive south from Puerto Madryn on National Route 3 (RN3), pass through Trelew and head south on the RN3 towards Garayalde.

After approximately 77 miles / 125 kilometres, take a left onto Provincial Route 75 (RP75).

The RP75 eventually meets Provincial Route 1 (RP1), a well-maintained gravel road leading to Punta Tombo.


Puerto Madryn Penguins and Punto Tombo Tours

Puerto Madryn’s penguins are actually in Punto Tombo. However, you’ll need to stay in Puerto Madryn the night before your planned visit. We recommend taking a hotel with a sea view in case the southern right whales start leaping from the sea.

We think Punto Tombo offers one of the best penguin experiences outside Antarctica and certainly in Argentina. Being among so many of these enchanting and lovable creatures is one you’ll never forget.

Contact us for more.



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