How to see penguins in Ushuaia

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  Tangol 01/02/2024

The most iconic destination to spot penguins in Ushuaia is Martillo Island, also known as "La Pingüinera". This island is home to the only penguin colony in the region and is located about 90 km south of the southern city.

Penguins on Hammer Island

The main penguin colonies are found on Martillo Island. These islands offer the perfect opportunity to observe these birds in their natural habitat, in the middle of impressive landscapes.

From Ushuaia, the best way to get  to Martillo Island, navigate the Beagle Channel. The most important biological heritage is its colony of Magellanic penguins and its colony of Gentoo penguins, unique in the region.

During navigation through the Beagle Channel also Other islands near Ushuaia are visited. Among them, the Isla de los Pájaros and the Isla de Los Lobos. We also visit the Island of the States where the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse is located, an icon of this end of the world.

There are different types of excursions to get to the penguin colony Those looking for a quieter experience can only navigate and observe the island from the catamaran. Those looking to experience this event more closely can take walks through Martillo with guides and small groups so as not to interfere with its natural habitat.

What is the best time? to spot penguins in Ushuaia

On Martillo Island, it is possible to see penguins throughout the year, thanks to the Gentoo Penguins that remain on the island. However, the most notable season is during the mating of Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins, which occurs between the months of October and April.

During this period, The penguin population increases while they reproduce, lay eggs and the birth of chicks is observed. During this period, they care for their young before they are ready to go out to sea in search of food.

Types of Penguins in Ushuaia
The main types of penguins that can be observed on the penguin island of Tierra del Fuego are:

Magellan Penguin

  • Also known as the Magellanic penguin, this South American species is predominant in the region.
  • Size: Approximately 70 centimeters in height and a weight of around four kilograms.
  • Characteristics: Plumage black on top, white on the bottom, with a black stripe crossing the chest.

Gentoo Penguin

  • Present to a lesser extent in Ushuaia.
  • Characteristics similar to those of the Magellanic penguin, although less common in the area.

King Penguin

  • Another species that is observed in less quantity on the coasts of Ushuaia.
  • They stand out for their larger size compared to other species of penguins.

Ushuaia’s ultimate guide for activities, eating, staying and getting there

Ushuaia is actually closer to Antarctica than it is Buenos Aires. Ushuaia is a perfect stop if you want to venture far south or even across to the icy continent from the southern tip of South America. The stunning scenery will amaze you from the moment you arrive in the region and it is a tourist destination worth a visit. There are many day trips available in and surrounding Ushuaia so planning is key. You probably won’t be planning to spend more than 3 days here and therefore you need to plan your days in advance, with the help of this guide you can decide before your trip.

Getting to Ushuaia

If you are coming from Buenos Aires then the best way to reach Ushuaia is by plane which takes about 3.5 hours. You will arrive into the airport named Aeropuerto Internacional de Ushuaia Malvinas Argentinas. You can fly from both Ezeiza and Aeroparque which are easily accessible from the city centre via public transport, transfer or taxi. You can reach Ushuaia by bus from BA, taking a route of more than 3000km across the south of the country. The bus ride will take at least 35 hours, involve several changes and a trip through Chile. Close to Ushuaia you will begin to see the Andes and you know you are close when you pass the huge waters of Lake Fagnano. 

Ushuaia is also accessible from other airports in the country such as El Calafate, Salta, Córdoba and Mar del Plata. There is a bus station in the city with frequent arrivals from Río Gallegos and the well-connected bus routes across Argentina connect with this city, making it easy to reach Ushuaia.  

The airport is located just south of the city of Ushuaia and is accessible by taxi and local bus. 

When to visit Ushuaia

Ushuaia is at its warmest during the summer months of December, January and February. The coldest months are June, July and August. The summer months are the most popular time to visit this region because of the warmer temperatures which mean there are more activities to do. In the winter months snow-sports are a must! The shoulder months of March and April are autumnal and are beautiful months because of the leaves changing colour. Whenever you visit you must always be prepared for cold winds and unpredictable conditions because of the remoteness of this city.

What to see and do

Beagle Channel Cruise

What better way to see the city and the surrounding beauty than from a boat tour on the water. Wildlife such as dolphins, sea lions and birds are often sighted during these cruises and as you pass the Isla de Lobos and Isla de Pájaros you will be sure to see activity. Longer cruises will take you towards Martillo Island (Isla Martillo) where you will view the penguin colony and pass the Les Eclaireurs lighthouse on the way! Cruises vary in length with some lasting just a couple of hours to others taking up a full day. 

Tierra del Fuego National Park

The scenery across the province of Tierra del Fuego is unmatched, but the National Park is the place to go to visit an unspoilt landscape. You’ll be able to hike, camp and canoe in this park at the end of the world. It can be easily reached from the city by bus and taxi where you will travel along the final stretch of the Pan-American Highway. 

Maritime and Prison Museum

Many prisons across the world are located in interesting places, such as Alcatraz in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, but imagine being taken to one at the end of the world. Once home to some dangerous criminals, the prison closed in 1947 but political prisoners were still housed here until 1961. The museum opened in 1994 and it is fascinating to witness how life would have been in such a remote prison. 

Winter snow-sports

Cross-country skiing, sleigh riding and 4x4 riding are some of the winter-sports you can partake in! The mountains and forests surrounding Ushuaia offer all kinds of winter-sports. Many tours are available including one that involves an off-road 4x4 tour through the snow offering panoramic views of Lake Escondido (Lago Escondido) and Lake Fangano (Lago Fangano).

Esmeralda Lagoon (Laguna Esmeralda)

At the end of a 9.5km hike you will come across the Laguna Esmeralda which is fed by the Albino Glacier. The trail begins at a small roadside car park less than 20km from the city and winds its way through the Lenga Forest. The trail is straightforward and relatively easy considering its small ascent and descent. You might witness the beavers on the river or red foxes in the forest. This trail is likely to be muddy and involves crossing peat moss, be prepared! You can do this trail alone, or as part of a tour.

Local Handicraft Fair (Feria de Artesanos)

A fairly small craft fair is located close to the cruise port of Ushuaia. Here you can buy local artwork, leather goods, jewelry and souvenirs handcrafted by local people. 

The train to the end of the world (Tren del Fin del Mundo)

This steam train takes visitors 7 kilometres along the original track which was built to serve the Ushuaia prison. The train leaves from the ‘End of the World’ station which is west of the city and passes by the Pipo River, Lenga forest and the Macarena waterfall. The train is served by an audio system that is available in 7 languages to tell you the history of the area. 

Explore the town

Ushuaia is a busy tourist town and walking around it is a pleasure. You can choose to walk along the main avenue of San Martín and choose where to eat that evening, pick up a souvenir or drink a ‘café con leche’. Consider walking out to the waterfront where you will see large cargo ships, cruise ships and fishing boats bring in the fresh catch. Be sure to stop by one of the many craft beer bars to take in a pint of local beer!

End of the World Museum (El museo del fin del mundo)

To learn about the history of the region and the people who first inhabited this place, then visit this museum. You will find information about the early penal colonies, wildlife, indigenous people and the natural history of the region. 

Visit the Martial Glacier

Close to downtown Ushuaia is the Martial Glacier, where at the highest point of 1050 metres above sea level fantastic views of the Beagle Channel, the city and surrounding mountains are breath-taking! Having reached the top by chairlift, you will find the trails where you can hike and enjoy the scenery. 

Estancia Harberton

The first estancia on the island of Tierra del Fuego, this farm located on the shore of the Beagle Channel provides an interesting historical insight into the region. The estancia was established by Thomas Bridges, an English man who arrived to start a new life in the 19th century. Visitors can tour the farm which today is a working cattle farm and even stay in the house. 

Where to stay 

Ushuaia has all the accommodation for every single type of traveller. The remoteness of Ushuaia makes prices in the area more expensive than other places you might visit on your trip.  

Recently featured on BBC Twos ‘Race Across The World’, the Arakur hotel is the place to stay for luxury. The hotel is situated 800 feet above sea level and overlooks the city and out towards the Beagle Channel. It has to be the best hotel in Tierra del Fuego! 

If being closer to the water is for you, Los Cauquenes Resort and Spa is perfect. Situated alongside the Beagle Channel with direct beach access, the views from the rooms are magnificent! Stay here for luxury. 

The Fueguino Hotel Patagonico is a new hotel located right in the heart of Ushuaia’s centre. The views don’t match the previous two hotels, but the location is really great, being in the centre means a wealth of restaurants, transport options and shops are located on your doorstep. 

Where and what to eat

Meat, meat, meat and more meat is what you’ll likely to be eating whilst in Argentina and that isn’t a bad thing because it’s some of the best in the world! Tierra del Fuego is a place where you can eat freshly caught delicious seafood as well as Patagonian Lamb and the typical Asado. 

For seafood, La Cantina de Freddy is well-known for its offering of King Crab and other fresh fish and shellfish. Its central location along Avenue San Martín makes it a popular choice and subsequently prices are relatively high.

A top choice in the city is the restaurant Kaupe. A French style restaurant that is consistently reviewed as one of the best in Ushuaia. The chefs use all local produce and the changing menu consists of items such as crab chowder, seabass ‘en papillote’ and Antarctic scallops. A fantastic wine list is available that will pair well with your choices. 

Ramos Generales is a good stop for a quick meal along Avenue Maipú in the centre. The restaurant come café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and you can eat a quick meal of empanadas and baguettes or if you prefer more of a meal then you can opt for something like the seabass. This place is highly rated for its sweet offering of pastries, cakes and desserts. 


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