A Day With Penguins in Argentina

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

A magical day I will never forget.

Until my trip to Ushuaia, I had only seen penguins in zoos. Animals in the wild have been an exciting and fascinating part of my travels. In fact, it’s helped me connect to how much I love animals and put that idea in my hat of possible passion projects.

Penguins enjoying their walk.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2019

To see the penguins on the small Isla Martillo, not far from Ushuaia, you have a few options. However, only one company lets you walk among the penguins, on their island, as opposed to viewing them from afar on the deck of a boat. That company is PiraTour. They do a fantastic job and require you to be respectful of the penguins. We had to remain three feet from them at all times, walk slowly and stay together as a group. (If you’re interested in booking with them – contact them as far ahead of time as you are able via Facebook, and give them some time to respond.)

“Seeing penguins in their own habitat instead of a zoo, you notice how much happier they are and how much more they move around.”

Isla Martillo is home to the Gentoo penguin which lives there year round. The Magellenic penguin is there from roughly September until March, when they begin migrating back up to warmer waters closer to Buenos Aires. We were gifted not only with impeccable weather but also a King penguin! This is very rare to see as the King penguin lives in Antarctica. It was unclear why he was there, and he was alone and expected to leave at any time.

King penguin unexpectedly on the Isla Martillo.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2019

Having only seen penguins in a zoo I was delighted that there were no rocks covered in poop! The penguins frolicked and even seemed to pose for photos at times. We saw both species native to the island and then went to the nesting area where penguin couples were enjoying final moments together before they would be separated when they swim north to warmer waters near Puerto Madryn. They are in danger of being eaten when they go into the ocean. Since they mate for life, should they both make it back the following year they will meet again and create the next penguin generation. The penguin couples seemed very loving, it was a joy to witness.

As we walk along the path for tourists I have to step around a penguin blocking the way. I receive a warning nip for passing too close. Thankfully I have 3 layers of pants on due to the wind, so don’t feel any pain.
After seeing these penguins we take a yacht across the Beagle Channel where we see about 5 or 6 whales. Unfortunately the water is rough and I don’t feel well enough to go outside for photos. However, this is the first time I see the full whale in my life. And, they breach repeatedly. Usually I just miss the tail going into the water, but we saw their fins over and over. It was majestic. 

We stop near a colony of sea lions sleeping in the afternoon sun. The male moves so little that I think he’s a statue. The pups seem to enjoy lying on top of one another.
As we cross the channel clouds move back in making for a great photo of the lighthouse at the end of the world. My dramamine kicks in and I can barely keep my eyes open. Soon we’re back in Ushuaia Harbour and I’m left wondering how I will top this amazing day.

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