Punta Tombo

Me with a penguin pal
The penguins are curious and they didn't seem to be afraid of people, or mind having their photos taken.

Punta Tombo is a nature reserve located at the base of a small peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean within the Chubut province of Patagonia. Over 200,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins breed at Punta Tombo, making it the largest Magellanic penguin colony in the world. The nearest town is Trelew, which is 100km to the north.

You walk along a defined path of about 1km that winds through the penguins' burrowing area to the beach. When we visited in early November the penguins were mostly sat on eggs in their nests. There were penguins everywhere, nesting in burrows and under bushes very close to the path. At the beach you can see the penguins waddling back and forth into the sea - they travel some distance to get to the sea from their nests.

You can get incredibly close to the penguins, but there are park rangers around, who are there to make sure the penguins are not being disturbed. We were under strict instructions not to touch them, but you could take as many photos as you liked.

Punta Tombo is also home to guanacos, which are like small llamas native to Patagonia, and little creatures called cuis that look like guinea pigs. I understand it is also possible to see foxes, armadillos and rheas.

Getting there on a tour

From my research I found out that there are several bus tours that go to Punta Tombo. The trip includes Punta Tombo in the morning, combined with a visit to the Welsh town of Gaiman where you can have Welsh tea and cakes. You would leave fairly early in the morning, have 1-2 hours in the colony, lunch at the visitor centre and then stop at Gaiman on the way home.

There are loads of travel agent shops around Puerto Madryn which would be able to arrange this tour for you.

Getting there by rental car

Gravel Road
The gravel roads are bumpy and slow-going, we were told by the car hire company not to go faster than 50kmh.

We decided to drive to Punta Tombo from Puerto Madryn in a rental car. The main benefit of this compared to an organised tour is that you can get there in the afternoon, when there are less people. The park is open until 6pm.

It took us 2 and a half hours to drive to the penguin colony from Puerto Madryn. You follow the main road to Trelew (Ruta 3) and then keep going south on that main road until you get to a sign pointing the way to Punta Tombo. This is Ruta 75, which was only recently paved and does not appear on google maps. This leads on to Ruta 1 and you eventually get to a gravel road with a big sign saying Punta Tombo. This road takes you the final 20km of the journey. There are plenty of petrol stations around Trelew, but I didn't see any further south.

The first thing you see on arrival is a car park. This is not the main attraction but the visitor centre. You need to stop here and buy the entrance tickets. The visitor centre has information about the penguins along with a restaurant and toilet facilities. It's not obvious that you haven't arrived at the final destination, so you don't need to get all your stuff out of the car at this point.

Once the tickets are bought you go back to your car and drive further down the gravel road to the penguin colony. Here you can leave the car and get to the start of the path. There was a ranger at the entrance giving instructions. Once inside you are free to spend as much time as you like with the penguins!