The Penguins!

“We can’t go all the way to Patagonia & not see penguins!” Ushuaia is pretty much ‘The End of the World’: the Straits of Magellan, the Beagle Channel. We have to go.

So… Jenny & I took the short flight from El Calafate to Ushuaia to see the penguins. We stayed an extra day to trek in the Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Jenny and I went with a group of twenty people to a small island filled with Magellanic & Gentoo penguin colonies. On the boat we sat in two lines, facing each other, like riding the subway, as we were whisked a short ride over the water. Eyes were looking everywhere at once, taking in the white-capped waves, the endless water and open skies. Voices were raised and cries of, “There they are!” filed the small space in the enclosed cabin. The minute we pulled up to a tiny dock everyone stood up to go. It wasn’t that easy to get off the boat and everyone needed helping hand. I didn’t need to be pushed and stepped on by the guy behind me.

Once on the pebbly beach our fearless, loud, military-like leader was more than a match for her unwieldy group as she laid out the rules for our hour on the island: stay together, stay on the path, do not go closer to the animals than six feet, do not touch, do not have food, respect. How can you listen to rules when there are dozens of gorgeous wee penguins running in and out of the waves, chasing each other and having such fun? We did try to listen to the penguin facts but it was difficult to hear over the wind, especially with our hats pulled over our ears. We were very thankful we had worn all our warmest clothes. Once we’d had a good long time on the beach, our guide managed to get the group onto the pathway that went up through the many waddling pairs of penguins on the grassy hillside. Who knew that penguins dug their burrows in the dunes and called out to their friends? They were completely unafraid and just went about their busy business of burrowing, chatting, and singing. Phenomenal. The guy who stepped on me getting off the boat wanted pictures of his girlfriend posed with the penguins. He seemed to single me out to nudge me away until I finally told at him to leave me alone. Then I stood off to the side and waited until everyone went past, sat down on the path to have a nice quiet time with these gorgeous babies. A pair was very interested and came to visit me. Best photo of the day! Then I stumbled backwards trying to stay my six feet away from them. Our expert guide was busy answering questions & steering the group back down to the beach for our return boat trip. There was one King penguin standing on the beach guarding a precious egg; maybe the groups that visited the next day would see the baby!

Maybe it was the weather, cold & wet in February. Maybe it was the town, one main street filled with tourists. Maybe we were just tired at the end of a big trip. Ushuaia, for us, was only about the penguins. We wished we had stayed at the big hotel right on the water, and not bothered with the busy tourist train or walking in the park.

On our last afternoon Jenny went for a run along the Beagle Channel waterfront. I attempted Spanish at the post office, mailing a present to my grandson and again at a bakery requesting ‘pain & queso’. That was really fun. Just a bit out of the way and I felt I was meeting the real people of Ushuaia and they were lovely.

We found a sunny spot on our hotel’s enclosed rooftop space & enjoyed a picnic with chilled wine that we had been saving. It was lovely to have time to relax, read our books and look through our many pictures… remembering our big adventure.

  • Tierra Turismo did an excellent job managing everything for us
  • Hotel Alto Andino was fine & had a seating area overlooking the harbour, but be prepared for the steep climb up to it from the main street.
  • The restaurants Ramos Generales on the harbour & Tante Sara on the main street were good.  
  • Our Trek in Tierra del Fuego National Park was a pleasant walk.
  • Estancia Harberton, an historic farmhouse with a coffee shop was an interesting glimpse of history.

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