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Penguins are my favorite animal and it is one of my dreams to see all 18 species of them in the wild. When I found out that you could see two types of penguins in Ushuaia, Argentina, I knew I had to go.
Walking among hundreds of penguins in Argentina is one of my favorite travel experiences to date. Although Ushuaia is not the easiest place to visit, it was definitely worth it between the penguins and the surrounding nature. This post will go over what you need to know to see penguins in Argentina, as well as some tips for traveling around Ushuaia!
Where to see penguins in Argentina
Patagonia, a stunning part of the world made up of Argentina and Chile, is home to four different types of penguin species – Magellanic, Humboldt, Gentoo, and King.
The main places to see penguins in Patagonia are Puerto Madryn near the Valdes Peninsula, Punta Arenas in Chile, and Ushuaia in Southern Argentina. What makes a trip to Ushuaia special is the chance to walk along with several types of penguins in a group no larger than twenty people.
Ushuaia is FAR South. There’s even a sign there that reads “Fin Del Mundo”, meaning the end of the world. It’s known as the official gateway into Antarctica, although thankfully, you don’t have to go all the way there to see penguins! As remote as it is, getting to Ushuaia is not as difficult as you might think.
Your first option is to Fly to Ushuaia. There is an international airport, located 4km south of the center of Ushuaia. There are non-stop flights from El Calafate and Buenos Aires, where you connect with many other major airports around the world. A more expensive, but much quicker option.
Alternatively, there are daily buses to/from Ushuaia where you can grab a bus to other parts of Patagonia. I took an 8-hour bus to Punta Arenas (Chile) to see more penguins. Some other travelers I met took a bus to El Calafate that took 24 hours. I’ve done these 24-hour buses in Argentina and they are not that fun, but significantly cheaper than flying between locations).
Best time of year to see the penguins in Ushuaia, Argentina
The best time to see the penguins in Ushuaia is between November and February as this is when the population is highest. However, I was there in March and still saw many penguins! Just get there before April as that’s when the penguins start heading North to migrate. Penguins begin to show up on the island for the breeding season again around early October.
How to see the penguins in Ushuaia, Argentina
The penguins actually live on Martillo island which is only accessible by organized tours, so you need to book with a tour company in advance. I booked my tour with Piratour, which was a great experience. Piratour offers a few different tours in Ushuaia. I opted to do the Penguin Colony + Navigation through the Beagle Channel.
Penguin colony + Beagle Channel Navigation
On the day of the tour, I woke up in so much excitement to go see the penguins. The Piratour starts when you check-in at their office at the main pier in Ushuaia and they give you a penguin pass to get on the bus with. The Piratour office is on the main pier in Ushuaia, next to the end of the world sign.
The tour departs at 8 am and you drive for about two hours through beautiful landscapes of mountains and forests. On the way to Martillo Island, the tours stop to see these unique trees. They have grown sideways because they are always hit by the wind in the same direction.
After another short drive, we arrived at the boat that would take us to Martillo island where the penguins live. They only allow 20 people on the island at a time so the group gets split in two according to the color of your penguin pass. Thank goodness I was on the first group as I don’t think I could have contained my excitement any longer.
Types of penguins you can see on Martillo Island
As soon as we got off the boat you could see hundreds of penguins waiting to greet you. The majority of penguins on Isla Martillo are Magellanic penguins. Closely related to African penguins, Magellanic penguins have a black mask across their face and wide black bands at their throat. They migrate up north in the winter months, sometimes as far as Brazil.
I saw the penguins on Martillo Island in March right before they were starting to migrate so they were molting their coats in preparation. So cute!
The Magellanic penguins are pretty curious and will come up to you although the guides ask you to stay 3m back to help protect them. They generally breed in burrows or under bushes. It was adorable seeing them come up for their little underground burrows!
Gentoo penguins are black with distinctive orange on their feet and beaks. The groups of Gentoo penguins on Martillo Island are much smaller than the Magellanic Penguins, we just saw a few of them. It was still such a treat to see these awesome looking creatures, as the majority of the population in the world lives Antarctic peninsula.
And a King Penguin?!
I was beyond excited and surprised to see a king penguin on Isla Martillo, as they do not advertise this. King penguins are not usually found outside the Antarctic circle, and it’s relatively new that they’ve started appearing on the island. At the time we visited, there was just one lone king penguin.
It was so cute how the other Gentoo penguins were hanging out around him as if they were admiring him! King penguins have bright yellow and orange coloring and are similar in color and size to Emperor penguins.
After walking with the penguins, you take the boat back to the mainland and switch with the other group. While waiting, you can visit Museo Acatushun. It’s a small museum but has some interesting exhibits about the local species, marine mammals, and native bird species.
Beagle Channel Navigation
The combined walking with penguins tour I tdid with Piratour also included a gorgeous three-hour boat ride back to Ushuaia through the Beagle channel, which divides Argentina and Chile. The landscape of the channel is stunning, I couldn’t look away for a minute without missing another beautiful scene.
In addition to the wonderful natural landscape, the channel is full of marine wildlife. We saw multiple humpback whales, swimming penguins, tons of birds, and a huge sea lion colony. It was the perfect ending to a magical day.
If you are a lover of penguins or wildlife encounters, I recommend coming to Ushuaia to visit the penguins. It’s an amazing eco-friendly way to see these incredible creatures up close in their natural habitat.
Other activities to do in Ushuaia, Argentina
Aside from the Penguins, Ushuaia is a stunning part of the world to explore. It’s the gateway to Antarctica, and if you’re lucky you may find a last-minute discounted cruise deal there. Ushuaia is part of Patagonia and the landscapes here do not disappoint. There are a number of great hikes to do in Ushuaia.
Where to stay in Ushuaia, Argentina
Budget: Staying in hostels will help reduce your overall costs in Ushuaia. I stayed at Antarctica Hostel and La Posta Hostel which are both lovely, clean places. La Posta Hostel is a little further out of town but the walk into town, which about 25 minutes, is beautiful.
Mid-range: Tierra de Leyendas has amazing reviews and looks like the coziest spot to spend a night. Ushuaia can be chilly, and it looks like a perfect place to warm up.
Luxury: If you want to pamper yourself after some trekking, Arakur Ushuaia Resort & Spa looks stunning. Outdoor swimming pool with views of the beagle channel? Yes, please!