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Jorge Abila

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Americas > Argentina > Ushuaia > Useful Info
Updated on Jul 25, 2020 Useful Info

How to see penguins in Ushuaia, Argentina

  • Ushuaia is one of the two best places to see penguins in Argentina (and South America in general), the other one being Punta Tombo near the Valdes Peninsula in northern Patagonia. Compared to Punta Tombo, the the colony here is smaller. However whereas in Punta Tombo you'll only find Magellanic penguins, in Ushuaia you will also find Gentoo penguins and a few King penguins as well

User submitted photo of Ushuaia

  • Specifically, the (only) place in Ushuaia to see penguins is an island 60km east of Ushuaia called Isla Martillo, so as you can imagine this island is one of the most popular places to visit around here. Below I will detail the best way to see the penguins on Isla Martillo from Ushuaia

  • Best time to visit: penguins are migratory animals and they don't stick around in the same spot all year around. So, the best months of the year to see the penguins in Ushuaia/Isla Martillo is between November and late February. In March the birds will start to migrate away, and they start to come back until October. There's basically no penguin activities between April and September, so don't bother visiting during this time
  • How to see penguins on Isla Martillo:
  • The ONLY WAY to see penguins Isla Martillo is to get on an organized tour. You cannot DIY this and go visit it independently, because their habitat is heavily protected and the number of tourists need to be limited
  • There are two kinds of tours you can get on: 1) walking tour on Isla Martillo and 2) boat tour around Isla Martillo. The best way to see the penguins is of course option 1 where you get to walk on the island and get fairly close to the birds. However, option 1 is also very limited in available spots and if you don't book early enough you simply won't be able to do it, which leaves you with only option 2 available, where you have to settle to watch the penguins from the deck of your boat
  1. Walk on Isla Martillo with the penguins (best way to see the penguins): the ONLY tour company currently authorized to operate walking tours on Isla Martillo is Piratour (https://www.piratour.net, Tripadvisor). The government has limited it to them because they wanted to limit the number of people that are allowed to get onto the island in order to protect the habitat. So, if you want to get onto the island, you will need to either book directly with Piratour through its website or in person at its office in Ushuaia, or alternatively through one of their resellers (e.g. Argentina4U, Viator, etc.) Note that there's no advantage in booking through a reseller because the price will be higher than booking with Piratour directly. Price: the tour costs USD$150 per person if you book directly with Piratour, but if you book through a 3rd party reseller they will costs USD$180 per person. What the tour looks like: the tour starts at 9AM from Piratour's office at the pier (located here), where you get on a bus that takes you to Estancia Harberton, a historic ranch which you get to visit as part of the tour and where you board the boat to Isla Martillo. The total duration of the tour is 8 hours. Keep in mind that spots are extremely limited, with only one tour per day, and max 40 people per tour (20 on the island at a time), so you need to book as early as possible. The tour will not pick you up or drop you off at the hotel, so you need to get yourself to its office. Luckly Ushuaia is a very small town so you should be able to easily get to Piratour's office
  2. See penguins from a boat: if you couldn't get a spot on Piratour's Isla Martillo walking tour, or it's out of your budget, then you can still see the penguins from the decks of boats with other tours. These tours are much cheaper than the walking tour, and costs around USD$50-$120 per person depending on agency and where you book. These tours are offered by multiple operators, and you should be able to book a spot at one of the many tour agencies in Ushuaia. Most of the tour agencies in Ushuaia are concentrated in the downtown area around the pier. You can also book through online travel agencies like Viator and GetYourGuide (search for Isla Martillo on these sites) but they tend to be more expensive than what you can get from a local Ushuaia tour agency
  • Other tips:
  • The weather is very capricious in Ushuaia so when you go on tours wear something to keep you warm and dry
  • Do not touch the penguins on Isla Martillo, but can get fairly close to them as they're not really afraid of humans. Make sure to follow the rules from your guide at all times
  • Again, book your walking tour as early as possible. The number of spots are limited to 40 per day and they will get sold out very quickly