Jorge Abila

Travelled to 7 countries / regions

Written 39 briefs
I'm an Argentinian local, have done this before



Americas > Argentina > Punta Tombo > Useful Info
Updated on Jul 25, 2020 Useful Info

How to see penguins in Punta Tombo, Argentina

  • Punta Tombo has one of the largest penguin colonies anywhere in the world with almost a million Magellanic penguins coming here every year to mate and raise babies

User submitted photo of Punta Tombo

  • The penguin colony is located inside the Punta Tombo National Reserve, and is one of the major tourist attractions in Argentinian Patagonia. This reserve is one of the two best places in Argentina to see penguins (the other place is on Isla Martillo near Ushuaia). Compared to Isla Martillo, Punta Tombo's colony size is much bigger. However, there's only Magellanic penguins here whereas on Isla Martillo there's also Gentoo penguins and a few King penguins too. Visits to Punta Tombo is done as day tours from the nearby town of Puerto Madryn and Trelew. I'll explain how to visit Punta Tombo in detail below
  • Where it is: Punta Tombo is located about 180km south of the Valdes Peninsula, which is a popular area for outdoor activities and marine wildlife watching. Puerto Madryn is the main town in this area and many visitors use that as the base to explore this general area. While Punta Tombo is not technically on the Valdes Peninsula, it's usually grouped together with it because it's relatively close, and travelers tend to explore both areas together

  • Where to base yourself: Puerto Madryn is the biggest town in the area and is a quite a beautiful town too as it's located on the coast with beach access. Most tourists that visit Punta Tombo and/or Valdes Peninusula will stay in Puerto Madryn and there are many hotels and accommodation options there. The airport, however, is located in the town of Trelew, which is located almost halfway between Puerto Madryn and Punta Tombo. Trelew also has many hotels, but the town itself is nowhere near as scenic as Puerto Madryn. My recommendation is to stay in Puerto Madryn — while it's farther from Punta Tombo, the transportation option to Punta Tombo are identical whether you stay in Trelew or Puerto Madryn, so might as well stay in the nicer town. Plus Puerto Madryn is much closer to Valdes Peninsula, which is another big attraction in this area
  • How to get to Punta Tombo National Reserve:
  • The first step is to fly to Trelew Airport (REL). This is the gateway to the entire Valdes Peninsula region including Punta Tombo. Most of the flights to Trelew are coming from Buenos Aires and I actually don't think there are any international flights directly to this airport. Flight takes 2 hours from Buenos Aires, and fare is around USD$110-$130 round trip. Alternatively, if you're looking for a budget option that's cheaper than flying, there are also many overnight buses from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn. Buses take 18-20 hours each way, but only costs around USD$40 per person. You can catch these buses at the Retiro Bus Terminal in central Buenos Aires (located here), which is the main bus terminal in Buenos Aires, and you can also book their tickets online through various websites (like BusBud). Another alternative is to get to Puerto Madryn by cruise. This is a popular cruise stopover town for cruises departing from Buenos Aires in Argentina and San Antonio in Chile
  • Unless you're going by cruise, you will need to get an accommodation in either Trelew or Puerto Madryn. Again, my recommendation is to stay in Puerto Madryn because it's a much nicer town and better tourism infrastructure. From the REL airport you can catch a taxis to downtown Trelew for about USD$4-$5 per car. From the airport to Puerto Madryn there is a shuttle bus (their website) that costs USD$11 per passenger (the price is 800 pesos, which is worth $11 right now, but the price in pesos will increase every 3 months or so because of our high inflation). You can also book a shared airport transfers to Puerto Madryn for USD$25 per person (from websites like Viator)
  • From either Trelew or Puerto Madryn, you have two options to get to Punta Tombo:
  1. Get on a tour: this is the most common way to see the penguin at Punta Tombo. There are lots of tour agencies in both Trelew and Puerto Madryn that have one-day tours to Punta Tombo. The tours pick you up from your accommodation and drive you to the penguin colonies, provide a guide, and finally drive you back to your hotel at the end of the day. You should be able to ask your accommodation in Trelew or Puerto Madryn to find you a penguin tour operator (there are so many!), or you can just walk around town and find tour agencies all over town. In Puerto Madryn if you walk along the waterfront street (Avenida Julio Argentino Roca) you will find many tour agencies. In Trelew the tour agencies are concentrated in downtown on San Martín street or the side streets branching off San Martín. The cost of the tours vary from USD$40-70 per person for a spot in a group tour, or a private tour for USD$400-$600 for your entire group. The length of the tour varies from 6-10 hours, depending on your budget and how much activities you want to squeeze in. Most tours do not include the cost of the admission, which you have to pay separately. Instead of booking with a local travel agency, you can book online through sites like Viator and GetYourGuide, but their tours will be much more expensive than what you can get locally
  2. Rent a car and drive yourself: if you don't want to do a tour, the only other way to get to Punta Tombo is to rent a car and drive yourselves there. There are many car rental agencies in Puerto Madryn (along the waterfront road Avenida Julio Argentino Roca in the downtown area), Trelew Airport (Hertz and several other rental agencies are available there), and Trelew downtown (agencies are pretty spread out all over town, it's best to use Google Maps to find it or ask your hotel for a location). Car rental costs about USD$50 per day for a compact sedan, USD$75-$100 per day for a standard sedan and SUV, plus maybe around USD$20-$40 in gas driving to and from Punta Tombo. Renting a car anywhere in Argentina is a simple process. You only need your regular driver's license from your home country (unless the license is written in non-alphabet script like Russian or Chinese, in which case you need an International Driving Permit), and be over 21 years of age. The road conditions are pretty good outside of Buenos Aires, so you shouldn't have any issues driving there. I've written a detailed post about how to drive in Argentina. Keep in mind that most cars here are manual transmission, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to rent an automatic car at all. The drive takes about 2.5 hours from Puerto Madryn, and only about 1.5 hours from Trelew. The entire stretch of the roads are paved and you don't need an all-wheel drive or off-road vehicle; any regular car will do. However, make sure you get the damage waiver/insurance in your car rental (many credit cards cover this) because there's big section of the drive on gravel roads, which can scratch the car
  • If you're going to drive, the navigation is super simple with very few turns. It's basically straight south along Route 3 and then taking a left turn to route 75. There are very few signs on the roads so it's best to have a GPS for navigation (for your GPS literally put "Punta Tombo" as your destination, this spot). When you follow the GPS along the route 75, you will get to the ticket office
  • Cost and admission: it cost about USD$10 per person for the admission, paid at the entrance. Most tours don't include this in their prices. Payment method is cash pesos only, credit cards are not accepted and neither is foreign currency cash including the US dollars
  • Hours of operation: the Punta Tombo National Reserve is open 8am to 6pm everyday
  • How much time to spend at Punta Tombo: 3-4 hours is the most common amount of time people spend there. There's a 3km walk from the parking lot to the colony itself, so this will take up a good chunk of the time. You can spend as much time there as you want, so if you're an avid photographer you can easily spend more than 4 hours there
  • Best time to visit: keep in mind that the penguins are not here all year around! They start arriving around October, but November to mid-March is the best months to see the penguins as this is when all the chicks are born the penguin population is the highest. April-September there's barely any penguin activities here so don't bother visiting during this time
  • Rules and other tips:
  • You should bring a large bottle of water with you as it will be hot during the peak penguin season and there's no shade in the area to hide from the sun. On the same note, wear sunscreen and hat if you can, and dress for the summer heat (November-March is summer in Argentina)
  • This is a nature reserve, so pay attention to the rules laid out by the rangers. Don't get too close to the penguins and certainly don't touch them
  • If you're going to drive there, make sure to book your car as early as possible because they can get booked out during the busy seasons, especially if you need an automatic transmission which is less common in Argentina. When you book you car make sure to include damage waiver/insurance because you will be driving over gravel roads which can cause scratches to the car body pretty easily
  • Wear comfortable footwear as you will be walking lots