Located 85 kilometers east of Ushuaia is Isla Martillo, a small island in the Beagle Channel and home to a large penguin colony. Isla Martillo is the place to go to see penguins on the Argentine side of Tierra del Fuego.
To step foot on Isla Martillo and walk amongst the thousands of penguins there, I booked a trip with a tour operator in Ushuaia. On the day of the trip, several other tourists and I travelled in a white van to Estancia Harberton, a livestock ranch located on the Beagle Channel. Isla Martillo sits just offshore from Harberton. Before heading to the island, we toured a small museum at Harberton. The museum was filled with the skeletons of many different types of marine mammals, such as dolphins, whales, seals, and sea lion. Most of the skeletons were fixed to the light blue walls of the museum.
After the museum, we all hopped on a zodiac and were taken to Isla Martillo. The trip by zodiac took less than 15 minutes. When we alighted on the little island’s narrow and pebbly beachfront, it was packed with penguins. Mixed in with the thousands of Magellanic Penguins were quite a few Gentoo Penguins. We were allowed to walk amongst the colony but only in a designated area.
The penguins didn’t seem to mind our presence. We ambled by hundreds of penguins without incident. Most penguins simply ignored us. We snapped many pictures and stood observing penguin behavior. Penguins are perhaps most amusing when walking on land. I don’t think another creature exists that ambulates as awkwardly on land as a penguin.
Hanging out by the Magellanic Penguins’ nesting area were several Predatory Skuas, a type of seabird that predates the eggs and young of other birds, including penguins. At times the Predatory Skuas caused quite a ruckus in the colony. The Skuas tried to lure the adult penguins away from their burrows in order to try to get at a fat, fluffy chick. I saw no successful attempts by the Skuas, at least not when it came to penguin chicks. I did see a Skua eating a rat.
Aside from enjoying the penguins, the natural setting of the area was dramatic and gorgeous. The mountains of Tierra del Fuego served as a backdrop to the rippling, dark waters of the Beagle Channel. An armada of clouds drifted over the channel as a cool wind carried the scent of the sea. The late afternoon sun made occasional appearances, casting the penguin colony in a clear, golden light.
While standing on Isla Martillo, it was hard to believe that I was where I was, so far south and so far from North America. I couldn’t believe that I had made it so far south, to the very end of South America. But soon the scenery would change radically, as I was headed to big bad Buenos Aires next.