One of my most memorable days in Patagonia was the full day Ushuaia penguin tour that took me through the Beagle Channel & Martillo Island.
During this day trip I got to spend time enjoying the beauty of the Beagle Channel by boat, walking with penguins on Martillo Island, and viewing the famous flag trees on the way back to Ushuaia.
It is a day of non-stop adventure and one you are certainly going to enjoy and remember during your time in Ushuaia. Learn more about how to take part of the tour for yourself and what to expect all along the way.
1) Where Can You See Penguins in Ushuaia
When it comes to seeing penguins in Ushuaia, your best bet is going to be Martillo Island. The island is located within the Beagle Channel and can be accessed by boat from the mainland.
There are two types of penguins that can be found on Martillo Island – Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. If you are lucky you can also find the couple King Penguins that may be present during a visit. Most of the penguins on the island can be found there from the months of September to April. Since you most likely will be visiting during this time period (summer peak season is between December and March), you should have no issues seeing the penguins.
During a visit to the island, you will have the chance to walk among the penguins and get to see them from up close. It is truly a special experience to take part of that not everyone gets to enjoy for themselves.
Only one major tour operator is allowed on the island – Piratour. If the tours end up booking up, you won’t have the chance to walk among the penguins. Instead, you will just have the chance to view the penguins from a boat tour. Read more in the next section about booking with Piratour.
2) Booking with Piratour
While you may see various penguin tours being offered in Ushuaia, most (if not all) of them are simply going to be Beagle Channel tours with views of the penguins from the boat.
However, if you sign up with Piratour, you will be able to actually walk among the penguins on Martillo Island.
Simply head over to their website, click the Penguin Rookery tour and ask for a quote by filling out the below form. During my time there, they offered the tour in both directions (starting by boat and ending by bus OR starting by bus and ending by boat).
I ended up doing the tour that started with the Beagle Channel and ending with the bus back to Ushuaia. Since that is the route I took, that is how I will breakdown the remainder of this guide. If you end up on the opposite tour, everything will still hold true, but you will just be doing it in the other direction.
Feel free to ask them what the latest availabilities are and book your spot once you know your dates. Since this is the only type of tour that takes you onto the island itself, spots certainly fill up.
The cost for the full day tour was $165 USD ($100 USD for children) + an additional $12 USD for access to Estancia Haberton (more on that soon) + ~$1 USD port fee.
3) Ushuaia Penguins Tour Itinerary
While visiting penguins is sure to be the highlight of your day, the tour actually offers so much more than just the island visit. Below is the itinerary to expect for the day:
7:30AM: Meetup by the Harbor
8:00AM – 10:30AM: Beagle Channel Navigation
10:30AM – 12:00PM: Harberton Ranch
12:00PM – 1:30PM: Martillo Island Walk with Penguins
1:30PM – 2:30PM: Museo Acatushún
2:30PM – 5:00PM: Drive Back to Ushuaia
Overall, expect the day to last around 8-9 hours as you make your way throughout Ushuaia’s surrounding areas. You can see that the walking with penguins part of the day is just one of the many experiences you will get to have. This is the perfect tour if you want to have the most comprehensive Beagle Channel & Martillo Island tour possible.
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4) Map of the Route
The map below shows the route that you can expect on a full day Beagle Channel Navigation + Penguin Rookery tour. On the left hand side you will find the Ushuaia harbor area, where you will be departing from. After leaving the harbor along the red line and taking in the Beagle Channel highlights, you will get dropped off at the Harberton Ranch.
From the Harberton Ranch you will hop onto a smaller boat to take you back and forth to Martillo Island (purple line). From there it is back to the Harberton Ranch and Museo Acatushún, before driving back along Route J & Route 3 to Ushuaia.
5) Ushuaia Penguins Tour
Below you can find a breakdown to what you can expect out on the tour, along with some photos of the top highlights. The day will first start off at the Piratour office, where you will check in and begin your journey.
Beagle Channel Navigation
After checking in at the Piratour office located by the harbor area, you will need to pay the small port fee before heading onto the Beagle Channel boat.
For the next 2+ hours the boat will make its way along the Beagle Channel towards Martillo Island. All throughout the duration of the boat ride you should get some great views of the surrounding Patagonian landscape to enjoy.
I would recommend spending your time on the outside of the boat as you can more easily take pictures and truly take advantage of the experience.
In addition to just enjoying the landscape and the Beagle Channel itself, there are some other beautiful highlights along the way. These include a few islands full of birds and sea lions, and the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse.
The great thing about the tour, is that the boat does stop and encircle these certain islands along the way. This way you should have plenty of opportunities to take photos and enjoy what is out in front of you without rushing.
Just about 15-20 minutes into the ride, the boat will circle an island full of birds – Isla de Los Pajaros. While at first glance these may seem like penguins, these birds are cormorants. It is quite a spectacular shot as you get the thousands of birds on the island and flying around with the mountains and other islands in the backdrop.
Another 20 or so minutes after leaving behind the birds, the boat tour continues to a small Sea Lion Island. Here you will find plenty of sea lions lining the rocks and jumping into the water.
Just nearby is another island filled with even more sea lions and cormorants. Here is also where you can get one of my favorites photo ops of the entire trip. As the boat encircles the island, you will see the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in the backdrop (on a separate island).
Having the birds and sea lions in the foreground with the lighthouse and mountains in the background makes for a beautiful panorama.
From there the boat will encircle the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse island itself, before continuing further down the Beagle Channel.
All of these island and animals occur within the first hour or so of the Beagle Channel navigation. The rest of the way through is mostly going to be just enjoying the Patagonia landscape in all directions.
Just over 2 hours after leaving Ushuaia, you will arrive at Martillo Island. First you will be able to enjoy the view of the penguins and the island from the boat. However, before getting to the island itself, you will be taken to the Harberton Ranch.
The reason you cannot just get off of the main boat and onto the island, is that they split the group into two at Harberton Ranch. This is due to there only being a certain amount of people allowed on Martillo Island at one time.
One group will stay behind at the ranch, while the other group goes to walk with penguins. Once the first group is back, then the second group will head to the island and walk with penguins.
Whether you are the first or second group to go to Martillo Island, you will have the chance to walk around the ranch area either before/after the penguin visit. At the ranch you can grab a drink or a quick bite to eat, and then spend time just wandering around the grounds.
Martillo Island Walk with Penguins
From the Haberton Ranch, the boat ride will be about 10 minutes to the shores of Martillo Island, where you will then get to walk with the penguins.
During the duration of your time on the island you will have a tour guide taking you around. You cannot just walk wherever you please. There are designated paths to stay on and you must obey all the rules given to you.
Throughout the walking tour, you will have the chance to see both varieties of penguins on the beach and more inland. There will be plenty of opportunities to take photos and be right up and close to these beautiful animals.
Check out that third photo, which shows the one King Penguin we came across on our walk!
Altogether you will spend 1 hour walking with the penguins and exploring Martillo Island. After finishing up your time there, you will head back onto the small boat and back to the Haberton Ranch area.
Here you will find the Museo Acatushún, which you will be guided around learning about the marine and bird life of the area.
National Route 3 + Flag Trees
After spending around 30 minutes in the museum, it is then onto the waiting bus that will take you back along Route 3 towards Ushuaia. The bus ride itself should take around 2 hours to complete.
Along the way though, there will be one stop at the famous flag trees. Here you will get a view of these unique trees among the surrounding landscape.
It is then back to Ushuaia as you finish up a fun and memorable day along the Beagle Channel & Martillo Island.
6) Hiking in Ushuaia
While the day out on the Beagle Channel was one of my favorites on the trip, I did spend the rest of my time hiking the various trails all around Ushuaia. There are many hiking options to choose from both within the Tierra del Fuego National Park and outside of it.
Below are some of the top highlights that I would recommend looking into during your time in the area:
The following trails are within Tierra del Fuego National Park:
→ Cerro Guanaco
→ Senda Pampa Alta
→ Senda Costera
→ Senda Hito XXIV
→ Lapataia Sector
7) Where to Stay in Ushuaia
Ushuaia is essentially the only place you are going to want to base yourself in as you explore the surrounding area and take part of some hikes. Below are just a few of my top recommendations when it comes to where to stay in the city.
These are all highly reviewed and recommended options so you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Just note that during the high season (December- February), accommodation can get booked up. So, once you know your dates, you should book your hotels.
→ Los Acebos Ushuaia Hotel (outside of town center)
That about wraps up a guide to an Ushuaia penguin tour along the Beagle Channel and Martillo Island. If you have any additional questions or comments, feel free to add them in below.
Also, don’t forget to check out the other Patagonia itineraries and guides up on the site.
Have fun out there and safe travels!