Argentina: Patagonia; Puerto Madryn, Punta Tombo Penguin Colony

We have been in Patagonia for a few days now in this massive wind blown barren expanse of low growing shrubs amid miles and miles of stretching arid nothingness under wide open skies. We took a 19 hour bus trip from Buenos Aires here to Puerto Madryn to see the penguin colony and to go whale watching. Luckily it was a cama ejectivo bus; a large squashy seat which reclines a long way back with a pull out padded board for your legs, so it’s not a bed but it’s way more comfortable than your average airplane seat in economy and a lot cheaper than a flight. Add on board movies, food, toilet and waitress service and 19 hours flies by. We left Buenos Aires at 3pm, watched 3 movies and ate dinner and fell asleep around midnight. A brief security stop just after midnight woke me up when a guard got on the bus to shine his flashlight on to everyone and looking out of the window I noticed that they’d taken all the bags off the bus so the sniffer dogs could have a wander through them. We were cleared and continued on with everyone dozing off again, waking around 7am for breakfast and pulling in to Puerto Madryn around 9am.
A few notes of trivia; Patagonia was thought to be named after the Tehuelche people’s moccasins which made their feet appear huge. Pata means foot in Spanish. Charles Darwin spent a lot of time researching animal species here, Bruce Chatwin’s most well known book is ‘In Patagonia’ and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid went on the run here and hid out in the mines. But we came here for the wildlife.

So on Wednesday 22nd October we took a tour to Punta Tombo, a peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean which is 68 miles south of the city of Trelew in the Chubut Province of Argentina. The 1.9 mile long and 1,969 feet wide peninsula is covered with sand, clay and gravel and Punta Tombo is the most important Magellan Penguins colony in Patagonia and the largest of its kind in South America. We were told to keep clear of the penguins in their natural habitat but this one below got very inquisitive with our travelling companion Nathalie’s shoe laces! Every time we moved away it followed us again.
Reservoir Penguins? !

It was standing up honest, but typically flung itself on the ground when the photo opportunity came around.

Between September and April, up to half a million penguins come to this site, making the trek from Southern Brazil to incubate their eggs, and prepare their offspring for migration. Couples stand in front of their nests or burrows, protecting the eggs from birds and other predators, and occasionally one adult goes to the sea for food. The area has been strictly protected since 1979 according to provincial decree.

Herds of guanacos, a member of the llama family, live happily among the penguins.

Dave makes way for penguins crossing the path.

Half in and half out of its burrow nest.

After visiting the colony we were taken to Gaiman, population around 6,000, a Welsh town here in Patagonia where the highlight of the day is being served welsh tea and handmade cakes, scones and jams at 40 pesos each..that’s £8….a bit steep but the grub was excellent although being in the setting of a welsh tea house in Patagonia was rather surreal. The town was founded in 1874 by settlers from Wales and the Central of Chubut Railway arrived in 1908 connecting it to the nearby city of Trelew. Several hundred people in the region still speak in Welsh as well as Spanish. Unsurprisingly the main industry of the area is sheep rearing. There are also several protestant churches in this region.

The pier in Puerto Madryn. This small city, population around 66,000 was founded by Welsh settlers in 1886.



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