PUNTA TOMBO PENGUIN ROOKERY
One hundred and eighty one kilometers from Puerto Madryn and 110 from Trelew, the Punta Tombo Penguin Wildlife Reserve offers travelers the unique possibility of becoming part of a penguin community, by walking among them, observing their activity, watching their pompous stride, learning how they build their nests and raise their young among the bushes, and from a slightly greater distance, admire their swimming proficiency.
Punta Tombo is a narrow and stony strip of land penetrating some 3 ½ kilometers into the ocean; its ample beaches offer a gentle slope where penguins can easily build their nests. In 1979 Chubut province declared it a Fauna Reserve to protect the colony of Magellan penguins and the other species that share this habitat with them.
Punta Tombo is the world's largest colony of Magellan penguins. Furthermore, no other penguin colony of this magnitude is so easily accessible. For this state of affairs to continue, it is only necessary to follow the precept: "Se mira y no se toca" ("you may look at the merchandise but not touch it").
The Magellan penguins arrive each year at Punta Tombo to couple and bear their young (at the high point of the season there are more than one million individuals here).
Then they embark on their return voyage to the northeast coast of South America as part of their annual migration cycle. Visitors are thrilled to see them moving busily around, looking for their nests or running after their chicks.
Penguins are sea birds. They have wings, but these are adapted to swimming, not flying. In fact, these birds spend most of their lives in the water, even sleeping in it. When they swim, they are capable of a speed of 8 kilometers per hour (esto tiene que estar equivocado - creo que nadan mucho más rápido).
An adult penguin measures some 50 centimeters in height and weighs about 5 kilos. Their plumage is white in front and dark at the back with a double black and white collar.
The strange cries of adult penguins are similar to a horse's whinny. They are used to ward off intruders and attract their mates.
The chicks, on their part, demand their food with a constant, whistling chirp.
You mustn't miss taking a photo of the chicks learning to swim by their mothers' sides in the tide pools at low tide (during February).
HOW DOES ONE GET THERE?
You go south from Puerto Madryn along Provincial Route Nº 3 (paved), heading towards Rawson. After 70 kilometers, and having gone through the town of Trelew, you get to the crossing with Provincial Route Nº 1 (gravel track). From there southward, you have another 107 kilometers traveling to do.
The road is consolidated, but somewhat winding. This makes it necessary to drive carefully and reduce speed.
Although the landscape is wild, it hides many surprises, because local wildlife will often appear at the roadside to make your trip more entertaining.
As this is a protected area, it has the necessary facilities for its proper functioning (restrooms, "quick shop", ticket office, and a local Flora and Fauna Information Center that is currently being set up).
You return along the same gravel track to Route Nº 25, where you can opt to visit Chubut's capital city on the coast, Rawson, with its Playa Unión beachfront, or start on a tour of the lower valley of the Chubut river, going through the city of Trelew.
Along the same road that leads to Esquel (Nº 25) you will get to Gaiman, an old Welsh colony that maintains its ethnic traditions. A word of advice: make sure you sample the "Welsh tea".
WHAT CAN BE SEEN ACCORDING TO THE TIME OF YEAR
January: the chicks leave their nests, grow swimming feathers and start learning to swim in the sea.
February: the young molt, occupy the beaches in swarms and make it difficult for visitors to walk to the shoreline.
March-April: the molting season ends for the young and starts for the adults, and the birds start their northward migration.
May, June, July and August: during these months no Magellan penguins are visible, because they are permanently feeding out at sea.
August-September: this is the time that adult males and females arrive, territories are marked off and nests are built.
October: brooding and hatching season, lasting between 30 and 45 days.
November: more chicks are born and parents start caring for them.
December: chicks grow and there is intensive activity on the beach, while seagulls and skuas wait their chance to pillage the nests.