On barren South Atlantic shores, 107 kilometers southeast of Trelew , more than 200,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins waddle ashore every austral spring to nest on only 210 hectares at Punta Tombo. Despite its isolation, more than 100,000 visitors a year—and up 2,500 in a single day— find their way down RN 3 and a new shortcut to a dusty southeasterly lateral and the continent’s largest single penguin colony. Besides penguins, there are giant petrels, kelp and dolphin gulls, king and rock cormorants, and shorebirds including oystercatchers and flightless steamer ducks—not to mention offshore whales.
Despite their numbers, penguin populations here and at Península Valdés  may be in trouble. A late 2006 article in Science concluded that continued overfishing of the Patagonian anchovy, which constitutes half the penguins’ diet (and also sustains elephant seals, dolphins, and other South Atlantic species) could cause a population collapse.
Tours from Trelew (around US$40 pp) arrive around 11 a.m., but the birds are so dispersed that it rarely seems crowded. Authorities have marked off the nesting grounds, and human visitors must stay on marked trails and boardwalks; visitors must now walk in rather than drive on the roads. Still, since penguins do not respect fences, it’s possible to get up-close-and-personal photos while respecting the birds’ space (their beaks can inflict a nasty gash).
Tombo’s infrastructure remains limited, though a visitors center is ostensibly in the works. Still, the simple confitería has fresh-baked lamb empanadas and clean modernized toilets.
At the entrance, provincial authorities collect US$19 pp for adult foreigners, US$3.20 for Argentine residents and citizens of neighboring countries. No camping is permitted.
While it’s also possible for a group to hire a taxi for a day trip to the reserve, renting a car in Trelew  or Puerto Madryn  would make it possible to follow the scenic desert coastline south past the ghost town of Cabo Raso to the picturesque fishing port of Camarones and Cabo Dos Bahías , a reserve with both penguins and sea lions. From Camarones it’s possible to return to Trelew or Puerto Madryn via paved RN 3.