Walk among penguins in Ushuaia
Yes, you read it right! You can walk among penguins in Ushuaia! Can you imagine walking close to these cute animals that walk funnily balancing from side to side? It has been one of my dreams to see penguins up close in their natural habitat, and this was the perfect chance to see them.
Piratour has numerous tours and activities through Patagonia but if you want to go see the penguins, you will need to book either Penguin Rookery - Harberton Ranch or Penguin Rookery + Beagle Channel. We decided to do the latter one so we can navigate through the iconic Beagle Channel.
The tour Penguin Rookery + Beagle Channel lasts around 9 hours and is divided into 3 sections, we will go over each section in the article.
It is important to say that the weather in Ushuaia is extremely unpredictable and windy so your tour can be cancelled or postponed at any time due to the weather conditions. Our tour was done inverted since the port was closed in the morning due to the extreme wind.
Pro tip: I would strongly suggest doing the tour on one of your first days in Ushuaia so that if it is cancelled or postponed, you can still enjoy your tour on another day.
In order to preserve the habitat and the animals, Piratour only offers two trips per day and limits the number of passengers per trip to a maximum of twenty. So book your tickets in advance!
The meeting point of tour is at the Piratour kiosk in the commercial part of the Ushuaia port. The port has many little commercial cabins selling tours in the port, you will have to find the one for Piratour, which is really close to the big Ushuaia sign.
Once you have exchanged your voucher (when you purchase the tickets they will send you a voucher) you will be given your “boarding passes”.
The road: Flag trees + Haberton Ranch
Once everyone arrives at the meeting point, you are asked to go inside the bus. The bus is very comfortable, you can recline your seat and adjust the temperature like on the planes, but way better.
The road lasts around 1h 30min and it takes you through breathtaking views of the Beagle Channel and the Andes Mountain range. The road is very beautiful so do not dare to take a nap!
The first stop is the iconic flag trees (see images earlier on the section). These are Fuegian trees that are drastically bent by the high-intensity winds of Ushuaia, hence their name. There is so much wind that the trees bend almost 90 degrees. The bus stops close to the oldest flag tree in the region, it is thought that it has close to 200 years. Of course, do not sit or climb the tree in order to preserve it as much as possible.
Pro tip: cross the road and go see the other side, there is a little forest of flag trees.
After taking some snapshots, the tour continues to the next stop, Haberton Ranch. It is from that ranch that you will take a speed boat to go see the penguins. The Estancia Harberton was established in 1886 by the missionary Thomas Bridges and is a HUGE terrain that contains several islands, one of which is Isla Martillo, the Pinguinera.
In the ranch, you are asked to visit the Acatushún museum of birds and Southern Marine Mammals. The tour gives you a guided visit of the tiny museum and explains the biology of the animals by using the collected bones of the deceased whales and other marine animals that are drafted to the shores of the ranch.
After the museum, the tour is divided into 2 groups as there is only a very limited number of people that can go see the penguins in a given time. The first group goes see the penguins while the other half stays ion the premises for lunch. You can have lunch at the ranch’s restaurant or tea house or you can bring your own lunch. We brought our own lunch since we did not know that there was a restaurant there (the price of the ticket does not include lunch). Also, when you bring your own lunch, you don’t get to sit inside the restaurant, you have to eat outside in one of the picnic tables, keep this in mind if it raining or if it is cold.
The penguin colony is located in Isla Martillo, a small island in the Beagle Canal with the shape of a hammer, hence its name. To arrive at the island, you take a small speed boat. You are in the boat for around 15 min and the journey is a little rocky so if you get seasick, this will be an unpleasant time for you. On our way back, we got to see a whale! We got to see the tail and a fin. How lucky are we?
You start seeing the penguins when you are about to set shore and your excitement goes higher and higher. At the shore, you are asked to slide off the boat and you see a sea of small little birds all looking at you in a curious way.
The colony has two different species of penguins which are very different in size and colour. There are the Magellanic penguins which are primarily black with white stripes around the head and wings and the Gentoo penguins which are black and white colours, except for orange feet and beaks. The penguins come to the island to breed. The breeding season is in early spring and summer, beginning in early October. Young can be seen all summer through to February. On very rare occasions, you will be able to see King penguins (they're usually not found outside the Antarctic circle.)
You are on the island for around 1 hour. The guide will explain about the life of the penguins and you will get to see the nests of both type of penguins. One type will dig a hole on the ground with their peak and feet while the others will do a little cradle with rocks to protect their eggs.
The penguins established the colony around the ‘60s and it is believed that the birds chose this island because of the few predators, abundant food and adequate shelter for nests and chicks. As we went in February, we could see the little youngsters that were transitioning their feathers to the adult fur so they had patches of baby feathers along their brand new coat.
The guide strongly recommends to sit and enjoy the moment rather than constantly taking pictures, and I could not agree more. The penguins are really small so you better sit as they will be less intimidated by your presence.
Penguin Etiquette: The guide reminds you of the rules, do NOT touch the penguins, leave at least 3 meters distance between you and the animals and do not feed them, do not take anything from the island and do not pollute. You cannot go wander around the island, you are asked to stay within the permitted perimeter. These are wild animals and you are intruding into their territory so be mindful of them! Please do follow these rules since it is important to preserve the habitat and the animals.
Beagle Channel navigation
The tour usually goes to the Haberton ranch by boat and you come back by bus, however, due to the severe winds we came and went to the ranch by bus and we did the navigation later in the day.
The Beagle channel navigation take through different landmarks. The first island that the catamaran approaches is the Isla de Lobos, the island of preference of the sea lions. There are 2 types of sea lions that inhabit the island, South American sea lions and South American fur seals.
The second island approached is the Isla de Pájaros, birds islands and you will be able to see more than 20 species of sea birds in this rocky outcrop. You will see a lot of cormorants, or as I like to call them, penguins impostors, since they look very similar because of their colours, however, if you look closely you will see that they are bigger and their peaks are bigger too. Both the Magellanic Cormorants and the Imperial Cormorants, look like penguins in disguise.
The route continues to the iconic Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse. Finally, the tour stops at a small island in the middle of the canal. There you can disembark and enjoy the beautiful scenery of the sea and mountains. The stop lasts around for 15 minutes. Do take the time to walk a little and enjoy the breathtaking nature.
The catamaran is very comfortable as you can sit in tables inside, there are a small cafe and washrooms. You can also walk around the boat and go on the deck to take pictures of the different islands. If you get seasick you might want to take something with you as you are around 3 hours in the boat.
Walking among these little cute birds is definitely a must-do experience! I believe that it is an amazing day trip from Ushuaia. The tour was perfectly organized even though it had to be adjusted due to the weather. I liked the fact that the tour is conscious of the human footprint and that it tries as much as possible to preserve the animals and the habitat by restraining the number of people that have access to the island. Also, the guides are very knowledgeable and will explain to you the life of the penguins. This is a unique experience, the perfect mix of wildlife and astonishing scenery.
- How to book? You can ask for a quotation through the website and they will quickly send you an email with all the information. You can also purchase your tickets at the kiosk.
- Price? Around $150 USD per adult + $12 USD for the entrance to the museum + $40 pesos for the port rate. Price can fluctuate.
What’s Included? Guided tour of the Acatushun Museum and return by bus, entrance Estancia Harberton. The tour does not include food or water.
How long? around 9 hours.
Do follow the rules of the tour to help preserve the habitat and the animals.
Ushuaia is located at the southern tip of South America and the temperatures are on the colder side. When we went to Ushuaia it was summer and the temperature was around 5°C. The region has a LOT of wind so do come with the right clothing for your trip at the end of the world. I took my fall jacket (we live in Canada) and a scarf and I felt that is was a little cold.
Motion sickness: In the tour, you have to take a bus and boats so if you are sensible take something to make you feel better. It will be a shame to feel unwell during the tour.
Again, I would strongly suggest doing the tour on one of your first days in Ushuaia so that if it is cancelled or postponed you can still enjoy your tour on another day.
Bring your reusable water bottle!
The tour does not include lunch. You can bring your food or you can eat at the premises of the Haberton ranch.
It is a good idea to bring some cash to tip your guides, driver and sailor.
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Disclaimer: We enjoyed the tour with a discount from Piratour in exchange for visibility. All opinions are my own
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