The last leg of our Argentine adventure was in the Southernmost city in the world — Ushuaia. We were both curious to make it all the way to the end of the continent since we were already so far south but, in truth, our main goal while there was really just to see penguins.
We stayed at the Macondo House — a nice guest house set on the hill away from the heavily touristed streets. Ushuaia is a cruise ship stop, so the streets would periodically fill with tourists when one (or more) of the huge cruise ships came in. The city is also a jumping off point for tours to Antarctica and tourist agents were selling last minute tours at discounted prices (unfortunately lack of time, funds, and Julie’s concerns about being able to handle the seasickness meant this wasn’t in the cards for us). The city felt a lot like Seattle — a rainy port city. We found Ushuaia to be a bit rough around the edges, but the setting was pretty spectacular.
Our first day in town we walked down by the docks and booked a Beagle Channel boat trip for that afternoon. We booked a tour with Patagonia Adventure Explorer; we’d read that they use smaller boats that can get closer to the islands than the large catamarans that some of the tour companies use. The trip was indeed on a pretty small boat, and there were only 15 people on the tour so it wasn’t crowded. The trip took us out and around the picturesque lighthouse, by two islands with Rock Cormorants, by an island with a noisy sea lion colony, and then we had a brief stop on Islas Bridges where we disembarked and walked around to view some of the flora. Unfortunately it was a bit cold and started raining, so we didn’t linger too long before returning to the boat.
The next day we took a tour out to see a penguin colony. The tour involved first taking a minibus to Estancia Harberton. Surprisingly, this drive was the most harrowing of our entire trip, and we were both looking green by the time we got to Estancia Harberton. We then got on a little boat which took us out to Martillo Island (about a 15 minute ride). When we got about within 100 ft of the shore they cut the engine, and then we realized that there were penguins in the water all around us. We had been talking and joking about seeing the penguins for the whole trip, and for months before. When we did finally head out on this tour we both tad worried that it wouldn’t live up to our by now totally outsized expectations. Those concerns vanished when we got off the boat onto the shore. There were penguins everywhere (mostly Magellanic but maybe a couple dozen Gentoo as well), getting into the water, getting out of the water, jumping out of the water, laying on the beach,walking up to their nests, squawking, and occasionally looking to see what these tourists were doing. Perhaps if penguins were as numerous as pigeons then they wouldn’t be so novel and amusing, but seeing these goofy, tubby, awkward birds in their own habitat was just super-cool; not to mention having the dramatic scenery of the Beagle Channel as a backdrop.
- It was easy to book our Beagle channel tour that same day. Down at the “tourist dock” all the different tour companies have little stands and despite being high season it seemed like none of the tours were full that day.
- Pira tour is the only company that runs tours that actually disembark Martillo Island (other companies take boats that go to the island but the penguins can only be viewed from the water). We also got the impression that Pira tour was doing the trips in a responsible manner; we were clearly instructed to remain at least several feet away the penguins, and the guides were knowledgeable and keep an eye on everyone to ensure that the penguins were not disturbed.