Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn’s Penguin Hub

There are actually quite a few places to see penguins in Argentina, but none beat Punta Tombo.

Upwards of a million penguins come home to their nests here each year.

You could easily spend hours here weaving among the nests and waddling penguins on the well designed paths.

Over the past few years I’ve been lucky to visit almost all of the major penguin colonies in Argentina and recently, I finally made it to the largest of them all.

This post is a complete guide on how to visit the largest penguin colony in Argentina’s Patagonia – Punta Tomba near Puerto Madryn.

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Why Visit Punta Tombo?

Punta Tombo is a long day trip involving 3 hours on the road from Puerto Madryn each way, so why do so many people do it?

That’s a lot of time in the car for a bird.

But this is Argentina’s largest penguin rookery.

Some estimates claim upwards of a million penguins return here each year.

A million is a lot of penguins.

If you’re worried about the drive, there are alternatives like the San Lorenzo colony on Peninsula Valdes (which is more convenient if you don’t have time for the peninsula and Punta Tombo) or Estancia La Pedral if you want a more complete itinerary for the day.

But neither will have as many penguins as Punta Tombo and both are more expensive than if you go to Punta Tombo on your own.

How to get to Punta Tombo

Punta Tombo is a 3 hour drive from Puerto Madryn to the south.

Trelew’s a bit closer at just under 2 hours.

At the end of this post I have a map with the route and highlights marked.

We visited Punta Tombo as part of a long road trip through Patagonia and we based ourselves on the coast in Playa Union (next to Puerto Rawson) in the hopes of also seeing the unique Tonina dolphins.

Already being in Playa Union, it only took us an hour and a half to reach Punta Tombo, we found Google Map’s time estimate of 2 hours to be a bit slow.

Use Google Maps or Maps.me for directions, but know that you’ll spend the bulk of your drive heading south on the paved Ruta 3.

TIP: Once you leave the cities in Patagonia you’ll lose cell signal. Download a map in advance, Google Maps allows this but I find Maps.me to be the easiest.

The drive from Puerto Madryn to Punta Tombo is an easy drive but you’ll probably be passing a lot of 18-wheelers along the way, so put your most confident driver behind the wheel or be prepared to go slow.

You’ll eventually turn left onto Ruta 75, which – gloriously – was also paved.

Only the final stretch was unpaved and I found it to be in decent condition, and after 4 months on Patagonia’s “ripio” roads I consider myself a bumpy dirt road expert.

Go as slow as your car demands.

With our SUV’s solid grip and clearance we could go a bit faster but rental cars in Argentina tend to be more like tin cans and you’d need to slow down a bit.

Respect the curves (besides losing grip you could meet a guanaco in the road around any corner) and give the car in front of you distance or risk a rock in your windshield.

GUIDED PUNTA TOMBO EXCURSION // No car? Book a guided excursion from Puerto Madryn, consider an optional Toninas boat trip to see this unique Patagonian dolphins.

Can you take Public Transportation to Punta Tombo?

No.

Sorry.

Punta Tombo is the best place to see penguins on a budget because the entry fee is very affordable, even for foreign visitors, and you can go without a guide and truly spend hours alone wandering the paths.

But getting there as a true budget backpacker is a bit more complicated, there’s no bus.

Hitchhiking is also complicated and I wouldn’t do it, as the colony is FAR from the highway, no one is going that isn’t a tourist and tourists don’t really pick up hitchhikers.

Check rental car rates or hire a remis (taxi) for the day and see if someone will join you to split the cost or take an organized excursion like this.

Punta Tombo: The Logistics of Your Visit

There are two stops/parking lots once you finally make it to Punta Tombo from Puerty Madryn.

Entrance Fee & Interpretation Center

The first parking lot, where you think you’re finally going to see a penguin, is actually where you have to pay for your entrance.

Punta Tombo Entrance Fees (Updated Feb 2024):

  • Argentine Residents: $2,800 pesos adults ($1,400 for 6-11 years)
  • Foreign Visitors: $8,500 pesos for adults ($4,200 for 6-11 years)
  • Children under 6 are free of charge
  • These are prices from Feb 2024 and prices will change in pesos, check here to confirm
  • Payment is in cash only and in pesos Argentinos

There’s an Interpretation Center (small museum) here that my toddler absolutely loved. He wanted to go through multiple times.

There’s also bathrooms, a small cafe and a gift shop with cheeky statues of the wildlife here, definitely take a goofy photo with the mate drinking penguins.

The path is 2 miles long with bridges built up over “high traffic” areas.

Visiting the Penguin Colony

From the interpretation center you hop back into your car and drive a short 5 minute drive to the lower parking lot.

There are bathrooms here too as well as a small cafe and shop.

I’ve read in some blogs that you need to take a transfer from the interpretation center to the penguin colony.

It must have changed in recent years as we were told to drive, which was much easier.

And as always in Argentina, you’ll have a lot more peace and fewer crowds if you start your day early (Argentines are not early risers).

I know it’s a long drive, but it’s not a bad idea to leave at the crack of dawn to beat crowds and tour buses.

The pathway to walk through the penguin colony is 3.5 kilometers, or two miles.

You could easily spend three hours here, slowly walking it with plenty of stops to ooh and ahhh.

The path is an easy walk, not a strenuous hike. It snakes along the length of the coast (not near it but keeping it more or less parallel).

Penguin nests, which are burrowed into the dirt mostly under the scrubby bushes, are everywhere.

Many are inches from the path, so be very careful about where you walk.

You should always maintain a 3 meter distance between you and the penguins to avoid putting stress on the animal, and since they aren’t aware of the 3 meter rule it’s up to you to move if one crosses into your path.

When we visited it was very cold and raining off an on so most of the penguins were in their nests.

It was fun to see them all cuddled together, and as the sun came out later they slowly woke up and sunned themselves outside of their burrows.

Respect the penguins, if they cross the path give them room.

When to visit Punta Tombo

About 500,000 mating pairs of penguins come to Punta Tombo each year, between them and their new babies, that’s a lot of penguins.

In September the males arrive to occupy their previous nest or build new ones, later the females arrive.

Punta Tombo typically opens in mid-September.

Penguins are monogamous-ish, they tend to return to the same mate and nest each year to have chicks.

If a male failed to build a safe enough nest or produce strong chicks… he may be rejected next year, etc… but mostly, they’re loyal.

Super cute penguin kisses (or fine, maybe grooming) outside their nest.

In January, the chicks begin to hatch and this is the best time to see penguins in Punta Tombo.

Just keep in mind that Argentines travel in January, it’s peak season. If coming then always book your hotel and rental car well in advance.

In March and April the penguins start to leave Punta Tombo to spend the winter in the waters, seeking food northwards towards Brazil.

In summary, you’ll see the most penguins between October and February, with a lot of babies starting in January.

You can combine a visit with Peninsula Valdes whale watching between October and December.

What to Bring to Punta Tombo

You don’t need to overthink what to pack for Punta Tombo, it’s fairly straightforward.

But here’s a list of things just you don’t forget the obvious items (like me).

  • Sunscreen & Hat | The sun in Patagonia is very strong and you’re exposed throughout the entire walk here. Put on sunscreen and wear a hat (that ties under your chin because the wind in Patagonia is also very strong).
  • Layers | You just can’t predict the weather in Patagonia. We had been expecting a beach vacation (by basing ourselves in Playa Union) but oops, it was actually raining and freezing. Pack some layers, you never know.
  • Comfortable shoes | Patagonia isn’t a fashion show. In colder months I live in my warm hiking boots, in summer wear a sneaker or walking shoe.
  • Camera & Lens | If you love photography, bring the good equipment with you. Its worth the weight and hassle.
  • Binoculars | Never go to Patagonia without good binoculars. Even if they’re close, you could see the ones on the beach better with binoculars. You can look for birdlife etc. Read my list of best travel binoculars or pick up this pair (great value for price).
  • A downloaded map | With no signal once you leave the city, download your map in advance, maps.me is great for this.
You’ll see a lot of guanacos here as well, and I never get tired of guanacos.

What else to do near Punta Tombo

If you’re going to drive all the way down here, add some other activities into the day to get more bang for your mileage.

Dos Pozos

Dos Pozos is an area very close to Punta Tombo that was originally inhabited thanks to a fresh water well that made life possible here in such an inhospitable environment.

There was a historic post office and telegraph station here that has been restored and opened for visits.

If you want to stay near Punta Tombo, the Estancia La Antoineta is here in Dos Pozos and has four rooms as well as a restaurant where you can try traditional Patagonian lamb. It’s also home to a very large elephant seal population.

This is your only accommodation by Punta Tombo and is ideal for those wanting off the beaten path.

Toninas are small dolphins off the coast of Puerto Rawson, an easy add on to a Punta Tombo day trip.

Toninas – Patagonian Dolphins

In Puerto Rawson you can schedule a boat excursion to view the Patagonian dolphins, the tiny Toninas.

It’s an hour an a half north of Punta Tombo near Trelew (more or less the mid-way point to Puerto Madryn.

We actually stayed in Playa Union for the sole purpose of beach lounging and dolphin viewing but 80 km/h winds made it impossible (Patagonian wind is no joke).

This Punta Tombo tour offers the add on of a Toninas excursion or if you’re driving yourself, book direct here.

Welsh Tea in Gaiman

Spending the morning in Punta Tombo and the afternoon in Gaiman has to be the most popular way to organize the day.

Gaiman is a Welsh settlement and is still very traditionally Welsh.

At around 3 pm you can have a Welsh tea service.

The town is cute and it’s not a bad way to round out the day, you’ll also see the life size statue of the world’s largest dinosaur, the Argentinosaurus, outside of Trelew on the way (a classic roadside photo op).

If I had to choose, though, I’d try to see dolphins over tea time.

Punta Tombo Map

Below is a map marking all the things mentioned above from dolphins to tea time in Gaiman, as well as the route from Puerto Madryn to Punta Tombo.

Read More about Wildlife in Argentina

Argentina Travel Resources

  • TRAVEL INSURANCE | It is always a good idea to travel insured. It protects you in so many cases, like lost luggage and trip cancellations, medical emergencies and evacuations. It’s very affordable with the potential to save you thousands in the case of an emergency. I recommend SafetyWing.
  • PHONE PLAN | These days, traveling with data is essential. Especially in Argentina where everything is managed on Instagram and WhatsApp. I recommend this E-SIM card. It’s hassle-free and affordable, for more read how to get an Argentina sim card.
  • ACCOMMODATION IN ARGENTINA | booking.com is the most common hotel site used in Argentina and it’s where you’ll find the most options.
  • RENTAL CARS | I love to travel Argentina via road trip, check out RentalCars.com for the best rates for rental cars here.
  • BUS TICKETS | I like Busbud for long distance bus routes and tickets.
  • VPN | If you’ll be using a public WiFi connection and want to secure your data, I highly recommend using a VPN, I personally use and have had a good experience with ExpressVPN. I also use it to access Hulu and American Netflix from Argentina.
  • FLIGHTS | Always check Google Flights and Skyscanner for flights to and within Argentina. Aerolineas Argentina is the local airline with the most routes. FlyBondi and Jetsmart are two budget airlines with dirt-cheap prices (but expect to pay for every add-on like luggage).
  • NEED HELP PLANNING? | I offer one-on-one travel consultations to help you plan your trip to Argentina. Pick my brain to get a local’s insight. Click here for more information.

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