My heart starts to pound in excitement as our raft eases closer to the island. The breeze has died down and the temperature is a comfortable 50 degrees F. The sun is trying to come out from behind the gray and white clouds that fill the sky. We don’t really care what the weather is. We have traveled so far and we are finally here! The zodiac raft cuts its engine and glides very slowly to shore. The sight before us is as delightful as we’d hoped. We are in Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, and we are here to see penguins!
Martillo Island, where we have pulled ashore, is home to thousands of Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. The Magellanic penguins are all over the beach and are curious about our boat. We quietly disembark and walk with our guide. We don’t get too close as we don’t want to disturb them. We would rather see and photograph happy penguins than angry ones! They are small, maybe a little over two feet tall, and have black fur with white markings that circle their faces and cover their stomachs. Too cute! After spending a few minutes on the beach, we walk inland where we see the Gentoo penguins sitting on their nests. The males and females take turns incubating the eggs in the nest. We can’t tell the difference; they all look the same to us!
We peek into the burrows in the sand and grass to see the nests of the Magellanic penguins. They do a better job than the Gentoo of hiding their eggs from the Skua, a marine bird that feeds on them. Our guide tells us that the week before there were two leopard seals who came to the island from Antarctica, which is unusual. I’m glad we missed that, as the seals made a meal out of many of the penguins before moving on. Not something I want to see!
The views around us are amazing, snow-capped mountains, green grass, the blue-gray ocean and the adorable penguins. It is worth the effort to get here to experience this.
Can I do this adventure?
On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.
Courage Level: 1 This is an easy trip, nothing to be afraid of!
Fitness Level: 1 This is not physically taxing, as long as you can walk around mildly hilly terrain.
Do I need special gear?
If you have a good camera, bring it. It won’t get wet and the photo opportunities are amazing. Wear layers as the weather can change to chilly without warning. We went in November and the weather was fine.
Any more info?
There are a lot of tour groups that take visitors out to the Beagle Channel. Look for the ones that have permission to walk on the penguin’s island. Only two agencies will have permission at a time, and it changes. All the agencies have kiosks in downtown Ushuaia. Take the time to visit them all, until you find what you are looking for.
We stayed at the Tango B&B in Ushuaia. The rooms are very basic, but there are ensuite bathrooms, and a continental breakfast. A good reason to stay there is for the tango lesson and accordion concert that you are treated to one night (if you stay more than 3 nights.) The guests can learn how to do the tango while sipping wine and enjoying each other. The innkeeper, Raul, even helped us with renting a car for a few days so that we could easily explore the area. http://www.tangobyb.com.ar/index.php