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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

The Galapagos of Patagonia - pure life in Puerto Deseado

Dolphins, dolphins and more dolphins – pure joie de vivre
Escorted by sea lions - a fun kayaking trip on Rio Deseado
Thousands of Magellanic penguins on Penguin Island
The Rockhopper penguins live up to their name

We're on our way to Ushuaia. We recently set off from the Valdés Peninsula (>>> see our blog) to tackle the 2,000+ km route. However after a few hours of driving we are already annoyed... We still have a "buffer" of about 2 days. Actually, it is planned for border crossings, ferries and other unknown things. Then we discover Puerto Deseado, also called the Galapagos of Patagonia, a bit off the actual route on the map. We got the recommendation from our German friends in the Iberá National Park (>>> see our blog), Ute and Holger. After a quick and dirty research, we turn off acctepting the detour of almost 4 hours. And not to keep you in suspense - YES, it was worth it!

We definitely want to go to Isla Pingüino, about 25 km south-east of the Puerto Deseado. There are one of the few colonies of Rockhopper penguins. These can only be found on very few and difficult to access islands. This island can hardly be reached without a guided expedition. We book at short notice with Darwin Expeditions the night before. The next morning we get to know our guide Roxanna and the other passengers. We are a diverse, international group of 10 people. Put on life jackets and off we go in the Zodiac boat on the open water. After just a few minutes, the boat driver throttles the motor and we see the first dolphins! They are so curious, they circle and escort our boat. We're blown away. They're getting more and more. And they have at least as much fun as we do!

The boat ride itself is so cool. The captain keeps on filming with his GoPro, usually with just one hand on the rudder and always on the lookout for the biggest waves. He definitely likes his job! After about 1.5 hours we reach the island. A very rugged coast awaits us. Not so easy to get on land. Going ashore with our inflatable kayak would have been difficult if not impossible. Hardly on the island, we see the first Magellanic penguins. It's breeding season right now. The males eagerly bring grass to build nests, the females are already breeding. The penguin females lay two eggs, which are incubated for around 40 days. You really have to be careful not to step on the approximately 70 cm tall penguins - they are lying in the grass all around us, sometimes well hidden under stones.

Magellan Pinguine auf dem Weg ins Wasser Puerto Deseado Argentina Highlights
Magellanic penguins on the way into the sea

Magellan Pinguin Puerto Deseado Argentinien
Magellanic penguin in front of the old lighthouse

After a short walk across the island we reach the colony of rockhopper penguins. As their name suggests, they dwell on rocky terrain. The north side of the island is predestined for this. You can find those cute animals everywhere. At around 50 cm, they are slightly smaller than the Magellanic penguins. Their typical features are the orange beak as well as black and yellow head feathers, both for males and females. They are on the island from October to April. In between, they are in the open waters of the Atlantic, usually without long stays on land. They wouldn't survive that either, since it's usually too warm. Every year they come back to the island for breeding. The males arrive first, followed a little later by the females. And the reunion is a big event. Penguins are usually monogamous and stay together for their entire lives – exceptions, of course, confirm the rule. The females lay eggs in November, exactly two of them. The first is usually slightly smaller than the second. The smaller one often falls prey to birds. Unfortunately, they cannot protect themselves from the attacks. The only defense is the warning of their fellows with loud chatter. For this reason, the breeding sites are very close to each other. The penguin chicks hatch in December and leave the island with their mothers in April. The males separate from them – temporarily, until the next spring. We are blown away by the Rockhopper penguins. Currently there are more than 1,400 nests on the island, and the number is increasing every year.

Rockhopper Pinguin Puerto Deseado Wildlife Argentinien Highlights schönste Orte
Rockhopper penguin with fancy hairdress

Now it's time to return. Right after boarding, the captain has another surprise for us. We head to the north of the island where countless sea lions lie on the rocks. And as soon as we speed past, they jump into the stormy waters and swim happily around us. I have never seen such active sea lions. They make huge jumps. Just unbelievable! An absolutely unforgettable sight.

We definitely want to repeat the dolphin encounters with our kayak the next day. Roxanna recommends a tour in the Cañadon Torcido, a sidearm of the Rio Deseado. The canyon is only accessible from the water at high tide. She researches the tides for the coming day and warns us of strong currents. We spend the night directly on the river bank, in an idyllic location. A picturesque sight! Hardly any wind and pleasant temperatures. The next day we can launch our kayak directly from this place. We start early in the morning. Unfortunately we don't see any dolphins. But not far from the shore is a small island where sea lions live. We paddle there and after a few minutes we are surrounded by the curious animals. They dive all around our kayak, wheeze loudly and have fun splashing. How cool is that!

Traumhafter Übernachtungsplatz in Puerto Deseado am Fjord Argentinien Highlights Camping
Overnight with a view in Puerto Deseado

Now we continue in the direction of the canyon, it should be about 2 km. The current is pushing us so that we move quite fast. After about an hour we ask ourselves where the turnoff to the canyon is and take a look at the GPS. Oh no! We have already paddled more than 8 km. With the current conditions, we can't get back, or only with maximum effort. We make a half-hearted attempt to paddle against the current, but quickly give up. Micha is - to put it mildly - slightly angry. I kept assuring him that I knew the way into the canyon. Oooooops. Paddling back is not an option, it would just be a waste of energy. We decide to land the kayak and walk back to our car along the coast. Unfortunately, the path is a bit longer than the direct one on the river, approximately 12 km. And we only wear flip-flops - at least we're not barefoot :-) About halfway, a car actually overtakes us. We wave excitedly and ask for a ride. Por cierto! After another hour we finally made it to our kayak with Hugo (thank god we have an off-road vehicle) and load it. Haha. That was once again a "Type 2 fun" (Editor's note: Not funny when it happens, but funny afterwards). Well, for me it was actually funny the whole time :-)

And now it's time to leave. We still have almost 1,300 km to Ushuaia. Off to the next adventure!

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