Punta Tombo is the most important and largest Magellan Penguins colony in South America. In the summer it's possible to see more than a half million of them along the natural reserve 3 km trail. They migrate to Punta Tombo from southern Brazil to nest and they stay at this site until April incubating their eggs, raising their babies and preparing for migration. Couples usually stay together and in front of their nests but occasionally one of them goes to the sea for food.
We visited this reserve in the middle of March so we knew beforehand that we wouldn't see half a million penguins but just some of them (they start to abandon their burrows in the beginning of March and will not be back until the following breeding season in September). On the other hand there were almost no tourists visiting this penguin paradise so we had all the penguins for us!
To access the rookery we departed from Trelew through the R3, R75 and then the R1 which part of it was unpaved (gravel road). It took us almost 2 hours (115 km distance from Trelew). The last km before arriving allowed us to enjoy the immensity of the landscape. We saw guanacos, choiques and several species of seabirds.
At the Visitor Center, our first stop after paying the entrance fee (180$ARG per person) , there were five exhibition rooms dedicated to penguins and other animals on land and at sea. It was an interesting starting point before getting into the 3 km trail to actually walk with the penguins. Once in the path area we had to walk around 3 km in a clearly delimited area. But since the beginning (more than 1 km from the beach) we started to see penguins sleeping in their burrows or below the wood paths (in the shadow). We couldn't believe the penguins were there, so far away from the sea. We always thought they couldn't be so distant from beaches and water! And the landscape was not the typical one when we think about penguins (see photos below).
More close to the beach we saw even more penguins going to and coming from the sea and some of them just resting in the sand, rocks or their burrows. We also saw some of the youngest (the ones that were born during the previous season) molting into adult plumage.
Of course that one of the greatest features of this natural reserve is the fact that we could see the penguins up close. The watching and contact with this incredible animals in its natural habitat was an extraordinary experience for us!
Some curiosities about penguins we learned during our visit:
- Most penguin species are monogamous (we knew this part before!) and they normally return to the same nesting area year after year
- Both parents share the responsibility of keeping the borrow in good condition and feeding their chicks
- This specie of penguin (Magellanic penguin) spread along the coast of Argentine Patagonia in 63 nesting colonies, Punta Tombo being the largest of all
- The black and white of their feathers help them hide from their predators
- The average weight of an adult male is only 5 kg. The average height for both male and female is 45 cm
- Their life expectancy is 30 years
- Penguins can drink freshwater as well as sea water (amazing!!). Apparently they have glands under the eyes which help rid the body of excess salt
Next stop: Comodoro Rivadavia (just to spend a night) and Puerto San Julian!