Millions of happy feet

The penguins look so hot at Punta Tombo in Argentina’s Patagonia region. Where is the ice? There are millions of them and they’re right in front of you!

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Punta Tombo, Patagonia, Argentina

Why is it so hot? I thought penguins were supposed to live in the cold, on snow, surrounded by icebergs.

Instead they’re standing in the dunes, far from the water, in direct sunlight on a 40 degree day.

They’re panting in the heat. So am I. This is not what I expected from a penguin colony.

Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, Argentina

It’s not even like just a couple of them got confused and thought the Argentinian summer would be a nice break from the freezing temperatures of Antarctica. There are more than one million penguins here at Punta Tombo, making it the largest colony in South America.

Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, Argentina

Obviously it’s not the penguins who are confused, but me. I guess I was expecting ‘Happy Feet’ but instead got ‘Floppy Heat’.

This is the natural habitat of the Magellanic Penguins, which spend their time on the coastlines of Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

Here at Punta Tombo they make their nests from September to April and the next generation is born.

Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, Argentina

They’re monogamous animals and breed with the same partner each year.

In September the males come to shore and prepare the nest. The females then join them and lay two eggs.

Both the mother and the father will guard and incubate the eggs and when the chicks are born both parents will continue to care for the young.

Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, Argentina
Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, Argentina

Argentina’s penguins at Punta Tombo

They share the duties but, in recent times, this arrangement has been threatening their very existence.

While one of the penguins swims out to sea to feed itself, the other takes on the domestic duties in the nest. The animal feeding in the ocean might be gone for quite a few days while it finds food and, in the meantime, its partner waits and starves.

Over the past few years, though, climate change has meant the food source has moved further away and the penguins have had to swim an extra 40 kilometres or so to feed. The extra time away from the nest has meant the partner waiting sometimes dies from starvation.

Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, Argentina
Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, Argentina

The Magellanic Penguins are now listed as a ‘threatened species’. The population numbers are declining for several reasons – climate change being one of them.

During a visit to Punta Tombo, looking around, it’s hard to imagine they are under threat. There are literally hundreds of thousands of penguins as you walk through the colony.

They stand at the entrance to their nests, panting in the heat and watching you with a wary eye; they gather in groups around puddles of water on the pathway; they waddle from bush to bush looking confused and lost; and they lie in the shade of shrubs as their feathers malt off ahead of the new season.

Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, Argentina
Punta Tombo, Puerto Madryn, Patagonia, Argentina

The penguins seem comfortable with the humans who walk around them and weave between their nests. They also seem comfortable with the warmth of their surroundings.

How unfortunate that the humans are creating a warmth on this planet that is killing many of these animals in a most uncomfortable way.


Staying in Puerto Madryn makes a fantastic base to explore the natural wonders in this part of Argentina.


There’s a wonderful laidback atmosphere at El Gualicho Hostel, with a large common area, a lovely garden, and free breakfast.


For space to yourself, Complejo las Catalinas is an affordable modern one-bedroom apartment in a great location.



It may feel like a rustic house with its brick walls, but Los Tulipanes Apart de Mar is actually quite modern, and has a garden and pool.


Overlooking the beach, Dazzler by Wyndham is still close to the city centre and includes a delicious free breakfast.

26 thoughts on “Millions of happy feet”

  1. Oh, I’ve seen them in hot weather, too (at the zoo). They’re quite resilient in the wild though, I’ve always thought. But I’d also love to see them in person. I think they always act so well and cute with one another. What a great place to visit!

    • It’s quite funny to watch them pant in the heat. They’re not uncomfortable – it’s just the way they manage the temperature of their bodies. But you don’t expect it from penguins.


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