We were excited to see penguins and penguin chicks in Punta Tombo Argentina. After seeing lots of them at Peninsula Valdes, we wondered how much different it would be visiting here. Home to over 600,000 Magellanic penguins, it’s one of the largest penguin colonies in the world.
But we said “why not?” and booked the trip to Punta Tombo reserve, just south of Trelew, Argentina. It turns out that seeing thousands of penguins in one place is exponentially more exciting than seeing a few dozen.
Penguins at Punta Tombo
The Magellanic penguins return to Punta Tombo year after year from September to April to nest and raise their chicks. We arrived just in time to see the newly hatched chicks. The parents share responsibility for the chicks. While one sits on the nest, the other goes out to sea to find food.
My favorite part was when the penguin parents would tire of standing over their chicks and suddenly just plop (like a belly flop) right on top of the chicks. It seemed like the chicks would get squished! Penguin chicks are so adorable.
We couldn’t decide between using our DSLR vs Point-and-Shoot camera, so we used both, just as we did while visiting Peninsula Valdes, Iguazu Falls, and Tikal National Park. While these pictures seem close up, we were actually keeping a respectable distance, to be respectful to all wildlife.
More from Punta Tombo
Memorable time at Punta Tombo
Our visit to Punta Tombo was incredible. Seeing thousands of penguins across the beach, adorable chicks, and penguins diving into the ocean was a truly unforgettable experience.
Stepping on penguins? Dilemmas in green travel
While I was at Punta Tombo, however, I felt we got a little too close for comfort. Take one step without looking, and I could have literally stepped on a penguin.
We were warned to “not get too close.” But what is too close? No one told us the specifics. Many tourists leaned within feet of the penguins just to get better pictures. And of course the tour group was loud.
It was difficult to know our immediate impact. It seems like in order to build the walking trail years ago, some nests would have had to be moved or destroyed. And since the penguins return to the same nests year after year, what happened to the penguins whose nests were in the way?
Penguin population at Punta Tombo is getting smaller
Sadder still is that the penguin population is slowly dwindling. The pollution and over-fishing in the Atlantic Ocean means that the penguins’ food sources are dying and moving further from shore. Thus the penguins have to swim further away from their nests to find food. Penguins are monogamous and share parenting duties. One parent guards the nest while the other goes for food.
But because its partner is gone longer in search of food, sometimes the penguin on the nest will starve by the time the other returns. Or the nesting penguin may abandon the nest to get food — leaving the eggs or chicks unprotected. When that happens, the penguin is often so near starvation it dies before it even gets to the water. And we were told that the chicks are getting smaller because they aren’t fed as frequently.
While I loved the opportunity to take lots of cute photos of penguins at Punta Tombo, I was struck with the dilemmas of being an environmentally conscious traveler. How do I justify disturbing this place? And what can I do to prevent the pollution that causes these penguins to starve?
I felt a bit guilty after visiting Perito Moreno Glacier and Peninsula Valdes as well. Both, like Punta Tombo, are major tourist attractions. Yet, they all come with a cost of destroying the natural habitat, little by little. People and companies are profiting; tourists are “experiencing;” yet, the flora, fauna, and other natural surroundings are the ones who pay the price after thousands of people come traipsing through, year after year.
The visit was a reminder of how interconnected people and animals are, and that traveling doesn’t come without costs. With the holidays just around the corner, a lot of us will be traveling. Let’s try to make an even greater effort to be a little more environmentally conscious. Whether it’s bringing a reusable water bottle to the airport, parking further away rather than driving in circles looking for a parking spot at the mall, or wrapping presents in the Sunday comics, every little bit helps.
While Punta Tombo was a wonderful experience, because I strive to be a green traveler, it is difficult to say whether I would recommend it or not. Like the glaciers and other natural spaces, too much “people intervention” is detrimental. I believe people, for the most part, try to do their part to respect their surroundings while visiting these places, in this case, the penguins, penguin chicks, and nests. However, it is still invading on their natural habitat.
Argentine Breakfast – Typical foods and enjoying Thanksgiving
Argentine Cuisine – Top 17 Argentine Foods & 1 Drink You’ve Got to Try
Argentina Money Tips: Costs, ATMs, Coin Shortage & More
Argentina Parrilla Experience ~ The Best Steak Ever
Backpacking South America – 5 Green Backpacker Activities
Bariloche Argentina – Chocolate Taste Test and More
Buenos Aires ~ What to See and Do in Buenos Aires
Chacra Millalen: Volunteering on an Argentina Organic Farm
Long Term Travel – Too Much Time to Think?
Prepare for Extended Travel – 7 Steps to Mentally Prepare Yourself
Travel Burnout – To go or not to go to Tierra del Fuego
11 Things to Know Before You WWOOF