Following our visit to Torres del Paine National Park, the End of the Earth itinerary was suppose to have us visiting the Otway Sound penguin colony outside Punto Arenas, Chile however heavy rains and historic flooding washed those plans away.
While the rain was unfortunate, G Adventures arranged to have us visit a different colony of penguins once we arrived in Ushuaia. And at no extra cost.
Christian, our Chief Experience Officer, also added that unlike the Otway Sound colony, we’d have the chance to get up close and personal with the penguins near Ushuaia.
A few days later, we arrived at the Southernmost city in the world, and began our penguin adventure from a nearby estancia (the name for an Argentine ranch).
In order to squeeze in the unexpected, half-day penguin trip, we’d given up a free afternoon. None of us minded, as we were all excited about the chance to see penguins in the wild.
Penguins are only found in the Southern hemisphere, and are split between warm-weather and cold-weather species. I’d seen two other warm-weather species before the trip to Patagonia.
My first encounter was with the African Penguin at the Boulders Beach Colony near Cape Town. I’d always associated penguins with the cold weather of Antarctica, so it was surreal to see them hanging out on a warm, sandy beach.
My second encounter was with the Galapagos Penguins, which lives further North than any other species. Indiginous to the Galapagos Islands, from which they got their name, they practically live on the Equator. They were tiny, and I’d only see a dozen or so over the course of two days.
We had a smooth, twenty-minute boat ride from the estancia to the island where the penguins go to mate every year. Stepping off the boat, we were immediately amidst hundreds of black and white Magellanic Penguins. These were the smallest species on the island, and the most numerous.
Almost immediately, we all noticed a larger penguin with a yellow mark on the side of its head. Our guide explained that this was a juvenile King Penguin. As they’re growing up, they do their own thing, and this one happened to be visiting an island colonized by two other species.
The King Penguin is the second largest species in the world; only the Emperor Penguin is larger. It was easy to see the size difference between the juvenile King and the adult Magellanic penguins.
A third species, the Gentoo Penguin, was also present on the beach. There were more Gentoo than King, but far fewer than Magellanic. Gentoo Penguins are the world’s third largest species. They were easy to tell apart from the others, as they have reddish-orange beaks, and yellow feet. The other two species have black feet.
The Magellanic Penguins were molting, so there were feathers everywhere. It was beyond cute to see some of them coupled up with their mates for the year. Our guide explained that some of them would already be working on building their nests now, even though the actual mating wouldn’t occur until months later.
By the end of the afternoon, I’d seen three new species of penguins in the wild, bringing my lifetime total to five. Only 12 more to go, and I’ll have covered all 17 of the world’s species!
Have you had the chance to see penguins in the wild? Leave a comment and let us know where.