Where to See Penguins in Argentina

Penguins, for such a tiny little bird they elicit major reactions.

Squeals, oohs, and ahhs, these waddling little tuxedo birds are worth flying to the end of the world for.

Luckily, penguins in Argentina are actually very easy to see.

Massive colonies with tens of thousands of birds each return to the Atlantic Coastline of Patagonia each year to breed.

Many of these colonies are easily accessible on guided tours or on your own where you can safely (for you and the animals) walk among them.

Keep reading to learn about where you can see penguins in Argentina, and links to the best guided tours (because they are not all created equal).

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Breeds of Penguins in Argentina

When you think of penguins in Argentina, the breeds that come to mind are likely King and Emperor.

But there is so much more to penguins than these regal breeds.

  • The Magellanic Penguin is by far the most prolific of the penguins in Patagonia. This South American breed can be found all along the coast of Chilean and Argentine Patagonia and as far north as Uruguay and into Brazil. They are named after Ferdinand Magellan who first spotted them in 1520.
  • Gentoo Penguins (known in Spanish as pingüino papúa or pingüino Juanito) lives mainly in Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands but there is a decent sized colony in Ushuaia, Argentina’s southernmost city.
  • Rockhopper Penguins (you may know them from the kooky guru penguin in Happy Feet) are known for their red eyes and black and yellow crests (that resemble fluffy feathery eyebrows).
  • King Penguins don’t technically call Argentina home, but if you’re lucky you can spot a stray or two. We saw a pair of King Penguins in Ushuaia, lost from their typical habitat further south in Antarctica.

Where to See Penguins in Patagonia, Argentina

When it comes to Argentina penguins you have to head south.

The Atlantic Coastline is a major breeding ground for penguins in Patagonia.

They can be spotted from October through April when they return to the same location year after year to breed.

Penguins are monogamous and even return to the same nest every year.

In fact, our guide on our Ushuaia penguins tour told us the first conflict in a penguin’s life is when he returns to his parents home as an adult penguin.

His father swiftly kicks him out, forcing him to start his own life with his own partner and nest.

I love wildlife and am lucky to call Argentina home.

My family and I travel the country north to south searching for the best wildlife viewings and we’ve seen quite a few penguins in Patagonia.

Here are the top 4 destinations for seeing penguins in Argentina.

A penguin hiding in the bushes at Punta Tombo Patagonia

Punta Tombo

Punta Tombo is easily the most well known colony of penguins in Argentina.

An impressive 800,000 Magellanic penguins (some report as many as a million) reside here throughout the season, from early September through April.

Read my complete guide to visiting Punta Tombo.

What’s great about Punta Tombo is that you can visit on your own without a guide if you have a rental car.

Note that there is no public transportation to Punta Tombo.

If you don’t have a car, you’ll need to take a guided tour like this Punta Tombo excursion.

It is very affordable for both Argentine residents and foreign visitors, at 2,500 and 5,400 pesos respectively in 2023.

Punta Tombo is a beautiful nature reserve and you can get very close to Argentina penguins here.

At the ticketing area there is a small museum, restrooms, cafe, and gift stop. Further down by the penguin colony parking lot are more restrooms and another small cafe.

Once at the penguin colony, you can walk a marked path separating you from the penguins.

The only downside to Punta Tombo is the distance.

It’s takes just over two hours by car south of Puerto Madryn.

Make the most of your effort by seeing other sites along the way. Most visit Gaiman, a Welsh settlement where you can have a proper Welsh tea in the afternoon.

If you’re here for wildlife, I recommend instead booking a Tonina Dolphin excursion in Playa Union, this tour (same as above) allows you to add that option.

Keep Reading: Unforgettable Things to do in Puerto Madryn

A penguin waddling on the beach at Estancia San Lorenzo.

Estancia San Lorenzo, Peninsula Valdes

The Peninsula Valdes, one hour north of Puerto Madryn, is a marinelife paradise.

You can see sea lions, elephant seals, southern right whales, orcas, and of course: Magellanic penguins.

The largest colony here is at Estancia San Lorenzo.

To visit you have to hire a guided tour, directly with the estancia if you have your own car or as part of an excursion like this one.

It is more expensive than Punta Tombo but much more convenient if you don’t have the time for both, as you can combine San Lorenzo with other sites on the Peninsula Vales, like whale watching.

I loved our guide at San Lorenzo, he was very informative and we learned a lot that I didn’t know despite having been to Punta Tombo just a few days prior (since you’re on your own there).

The estancia also has a restaurant set up in their sheep sheering barn (maximizing that rustic Patagonian charm), where you can try traditional Patagonian lamb.

For a free penguin viewing on the Peninsula Valdes, head to Punta Cantor at Caleta Valdes.

While the colony here is large, what you can see from the boardwalk is very small. It doesn’t compare to San Lorenzo or Punta Tombo.

If you take a full-day tour of the peninsula and you’ll be sure to visit the small colony on Caleta Valdes.

Isla Martillo, Ushuaia

Ushuaia is Argentina’s southernmost city and the gateway to Antarctica.

And being so close to Antarctica, it should be no surprise that Ushuaia is also home to its own penguin colonies.

You can see Ushuaia’s penguins from October through April.

To see penguins in Ushuaia you need to take a day tour to Isla Martillo, an hour and a half from the city.

It is one of the most popular things to do in Ushuaia.

This island is home to Magellanic penguins, gentoo penguins, and the occasional pair of stray king penguins.

There is only one tour that allows you to walk on the island with the penguins and that is Piratour (including a visit to historic Estancia Haberton).

All other tours view the penguins from a distance as part of a grander Beagle Channel package tour.

If you want to see the penguins, definitely book this tour to spend an hour walking on Isla Martillo with them.

Important note, Ushuaia can be cold but Isla Martillo will be colder and windier. Bundle up!

I enjoyed seeing a penguin in Patagonia that actually wasn’t a Magellanic penguin. The gentoo penguins were adorable.

Not to mention our group’s excitement when we spotted a pair of king penguins asleep in a nest of gentoo penguins!

They likely got lost and followed gentoo penguins (that they are familiar with from Antarctica) to this rookery on Isla Martillo.

Keep in mind that seeing king penguins in Ushuaia is not guaranteed but it can be an incredibly special surprise!

Related: Where to see llamas in Argentina

See this rockhopper penguin in Puerto Deseado

Rockhopper Penguins in Puerto Deseado

You’ve probably seen Rockhopper Penguins in movies like Surf’s Up and Happy Feet.

Their quirky look, recognizable by a long yellow brow is what makes them stick out.

There is a colony of around 30,000 Rockhopper Penguins in Puerto Deseado, Santa Cruz.

They arrive throughout October and stay until the end of March.

You can see them on this guided tour of Penguin Island Provincial Reserve, where you’ll also see Magellanic Penguins.

Rockhoppers conservation status is vulnerable, having lost a considerable amount of their population in recent years.

How to get to Puerto Deseado? Admittedly, this Patagonian destination is off the beaten path.

The closest airport is in Comodoro Rivadavia, 3.5 hours to the north.

I recommend renting a car and driving south for the most freedom to explore. Otherwise, hired transfers or long distance buses are your best option.

Puerto Deseado may be tough to get to but you’ll be rewarded not only with penguins but with excellent kite and windsurfing, massive beaches, and nature reserves.

Bonus: King Penguins in Punta Arenas, Chile

While this is an article dedicated to where to see penguins in Argentina, one cannot deny that a trip to Patagonia often includes Chile’s side of the border as well.

In the southernmost islands of Chile’s Patagonia, it’s possible to take a day trip to see king penguins.

This full-day excursion includes a visit to a permanent king penguin colony. Keep in mind that despite the tour taking all day, you spend about an hour and a half with the penguins.

This is typical for most tours (it was the same in Ushuaia), but there are plenty of interesting stops included to round out the day!

Penguins in Argentina: A Summary

If you have plans to visit southern Argentina I hope this post helped you work penguins in Patagonia into your itinerary!

Have any questions or have a great penguin encounter to share? Comment below!

Keep Reading about Wildlife in Argentina

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4 thoughts on “Where to See Penguins in Argentina”

  1. I enjoyed this article very much about Argentina. I have plans to visit next there next Spring, their season.

  2. We are visiting both Punta Arenas and Ushuaia in January. We want to choose one penguin tour to go on. Do you recommend the penguin tours at Punta Arenas or Ushuaia? Thank you!

  3. If you had to choose between Punta Tombo and Martillo Island, which would be better with a family for opportunites for pictures with kids?

  4. With smaller kids I’d do Punta Tombo, you can get closer and see a LOT more penguins. The weather in Ushuaia is also more extreme and in Martillo Island it’s even colder and windier than Ushuaia the city, it can be tough on smaller kids (my toddler was NOT happy haha) but it’s not impossible either, if you go just dress more appropriately for the cold and wind than we did ha

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