Patagonia Wildlife Guide
Penguins near Punta Arenas
Every year in mid-September, the first brave Magellanic penguins pop their heads out of the Strait of Magellan and make their way onto the pebble beaches of Patagonia, as their ancestors have done every spring for thousands of years. The males arrive first, closely followed by the females, and the search for a soulmate and breeding partner begins. The mating pairs will stay all summer until their chicks are big enough to join their parents at the end of March on their long journey north.
A new colony of King Penguins is establishing in Tierra del Fuego. It is the only King Penguin colony outside of the Sub-Antarctic islands and is therefore very unique. There are 2 main ways to visit this colony:
- 1 day trip by plane from Punta Arenas, from $298 USD
- 2 day trip by ferry from Punta Arenas, from $510 USD
On both trips you get to walk among the 100 plus strong colony of penguins, reaching up to a metre in height - a truly special experience not to be missed.
A group of around 100 Southern Rockhopper penguins have started to come to Tierra del Fuego, joining the establishing King Penguin colony.
Like the Kings, these penguins are in abundance in the Sub-Antarctic islands but rarely seen in South America, however, it appears they are using Bahia Inutil as a place for their post-breeding moult.
Isla Magdalena & Isla Marta
Isla Magdalena is home to a colony of around 120,000 Magallanic Penguins. You can walk amongst them (within roped off areas to preserve their habitat) for around an hour.
Isla Marta is home to over 1000 sea lions, a variety of bird species, a group of elephant seals, and a colony of Magellanic penguins. You can circle the island by boat but are not allowed to disembark.
There are 3 main ways to access these islands:
- 3 night Adventure Cruise from Ushuaia
- Day trip by Ferry from Punta Arenas
- Day trip by Zodiac Boat from Punta Arenas
These cruises take you on a zodiac boat trip among the network of islands that house this colony, and although you cannot get off and walk among them, your zodiac boat will beach on the shores of several of the islands so that you can get within a metre or two of the curious little birds!
Seno Otway was once home to a Magellanic penguin colony, but unfortunately for various reasons the numbers of penguins here have dwindled so much in the past few years that we no longer recommend it as a place to visit for penguins specifically.
Penguins near Ushuaia: Martillo Island
The Martillo Island Penguin colonies of both Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins can be visited in 3 different ways:
A 6 hour boat trip from Ushuaia takes you up the Beagle Channel to Martillo Island and back. You'll visit A sea lion colony, a nesting island for Cormorants, the famous lighthouse called Les Eclaireurs, and of course Martillo Island itself, where there is a colony of both Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. The ship beaches at the island, where you can view the penguins from on board. This season three King Penguins have also been spotted here! A great trip for bird watchers and nature lovers in general.
You can also reach Martillo Island by road, to Estancia Harberton. This is a 6 hour excursion, where you'll have the opportunity to walk with the penguins for an hour on the Island. A great trip for Penguin lovers as it gets you up close to them in their natural habitat, but does involve a long road trip.
Finally, you can take a canoe trip which visits various locations including Gable Island and Martillo Island. You'll get on a small boat to Martillo, where you'll beach (but not disembark) to view the penguins. A great trip for more active people who are looking for a mixture of hiking, canoeing and penguin spotting!
Penguins near Peninsula Valdes: Punta Tombo
The only penguin colony on Peninsula Valdes itself is on the stretch between Punta Norte and Punta Delgada, however, most penguin watching tours focus on the area around Trelew and Punta Tombo.
Punta Tombo is home to the world's largest Magellanic penguin colony. Approximately 1 million penguins come here each year to roost between September & April. Penguin-watch tours depart from both Puerto Madryn and Trelew, although Trelew is generally more popular due to it's proximity to the colonies. The best time to visit is between October and March, but it can be a very busy, touristy experience.
Penguins on Chiloe Island
The beautiful island of Chiloe is host to two different breeds of Penguins, who nest on three rocky islands accessible from the lovely beach of punihuil. It is in fact, the only place where both Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins nest together! You could choose to take a day trip to the island from Puerto Varas, or to spend a night or two on the island itself. Get in touch for more details.
Tucker Islets are a collection of tiny islands absolutely teeming with Magellanic penguins. We landed by zodiac boat about a metre from a the colony, giggling as we watched them hop clumsily over streams and rocks.
Chloe O'Keeffe Wildlife & Cruise Specialist
See Penguins on These Trips
A spectacular voyage north from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, through remote channels of the Patagonian fjords. Walk among Magellanic penguins, land at glistening glaciers, sail through the famous Magellan Straits, Beagle Channel and Wulaia Bay, and have the chance to…
Meet three of Patagonia's most special creatures in this fantastic 11 day tour, led by hand picked specialist wildlife guides and trackers. Spot the elusive Puma in Torres del Paine, marvel at jumping Humpbacks in remote corners of the fjords,…
Limited availability, book soon. Explore deep into the fjords of Tierra del Fuego from Punta Arenas, with Zodiac boat landings at glaciers and penguin colonies, plus two chances of setting foot on historic Cape Horn. Take some light scenic hikes and…
Voyage south from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia on an adventure cruise packed with incredible wildlife, fascinating history, and the chance to set foot on Cape Horn. Sail through the famous Magellan Straits, Beagle Channel and Wulaia Bay, with landings at…
A day trip that makes a great start or finish to a wider itinerary, giving you great views of the region's dramatic landscape on a short boat ride across the Beagle Channel to Martillo Island. After you've spent the morning…
Available as both a day trip or 2 day trip option, this trip is perfect for the wildlife enthusiast and the avid photographer. Get up close with the King Penguins and discover other sea wildlife.…
A nature and wildlife photo-orientated tour, led by local nature photographers. It has been designed for photo enthusiasts with different skill levels wishing to exploit the possibilities of landscape and wildlife photography alike. Encounters with charismatic wildlife including Andean Condor,…
What Our Customers Think
Many thanks, we had a great time. Landing on Isla Magdalena to see the penguins and sea lions was great fun.
Chris November 2015
Types of Penguins in Patagonia
Closely related to the African Penguin, Magellanic Penguins are the only migratory, offshore foraging species. They are migratory birds, moving north in the winter months, often as far as Peru or Brazil!
Magellanic penguins generally breed in burrows or under bushes, in a variety of habitats from low forests to grassland to bare rocks, often on islands or headlands. Some colonies on the Argentinean side number several hundreds of thousands of pairs.
Their diet is fish based: mainly anchovies and sardines, supplemented by cephalopods.
Humboldt Penguins overlap breeding grounds with Magellanic Penguins around Puerto Montt and the island of Chiloe. They look very similar to Magellanic penguins, but without the secondary black breast band and wider white band around the head. Humboldts also have more extensive areas of bare facial skin, including a pink fleshy patch at the base of the lower mandible. They nest in burrows, often dug into thick guano deposits, among boulders, in sea caves and occasionally in the open, and tend to forage on shore, close by to the colony after sunrise. Their diet is based on small schooling fish such as anchovies and sardines, supplemented with the occasional squid!
Second largest and similar in appearance to the Emperor penguin, King penguins have dark orange cheeks, white bellies, and light grey backs. They live in dense colonies, maintaining territories within pecking distance of each other amongst tussocks & sloping beaches. Adults rear up to 2 chicks every 3 years, and no other bird has a longer breeding cycle! They take 14-16 months to fledge a single chick, which may be left to fast for up to 5 months during winter (May- September). Their diet is more specialised than other penguins - they prefer pelagic fish such as lanternfish which make up over 995 of their diet.
Gentoo penguins can be identified by their orange/red lower mandible, and the white patch above each of their eyes (after 14 months of age).
They are closely related to Chinstrap and Adelie penguins but usually live in smaller colonies that are less densely packed. They tend to stay close to their colonies all year round, but vagrants have been found in various locations.
Their diet varies depending on where they are living, but generally consists mainly of crustaceans (particularly Krill), as well as benthic fish and occasionally squid!
Best Places to See the Penguins
If you're desperate to many species of penguin, there's no better place than Antarctica - home to Chinstraps, Gentoos, Adelies, Macaronis, Kings, and Emperors! Swoop Antarctica can help you choose the perfect voyage for you.