04 March – 07 March, 2018
Patagonia’s largest city and the regional capital, Punta Arenas, can be approached by air, a long bus ride, or sea. We opted for the 3.5 hour flight from Santiago on Sky Airline. From the air we got a peek into what was in our future – glaciers and brilliant turquoise lakes.
Although the magnificent granite needles of the Torres del Paine put Chile’s most southerly region on the international map, today many tourists come to this city on the Strait of Magellan to see penguins in all shapes and sizes, or continue to Ushuaia and Antarctica. Our original intent was to head to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in South America, but our plans changed as we continued to fill in the empty spaces on our travel calendar. “Can’t see it all” became our mantra as we narrowed the scope of our trip, so instead we settled for the southerly most city in Chile, Punta Arenas. This industrial city relies on fishing, shipping, petroleum, duty-free retail, and tourism for its continued economic health. Our intent was to take a tour to Isla Magdalena to see the delightful burrowing Magellanic penguins and visit the Chilean sector of Tierra del Fuego National Park, to see the majestic King penguins.
After a short taxi ride to our hostel, we tossed our bags into our room and took to the streets for a short walk along the water.
Day 1 Punta Arenas
The next day before dawn we set off for the office of Solo Expediciones, where we began our tour that took us to Isla Magdalena and Isla Marta. We chose this tour company because of the size of their fleet and their ability to get closer to the sea lions that live on Isla Marta.
Jonathan was our wonderful guide as we boarded the Isla Isabel speedboat and traveled across the choppy channel to Isla Magdalena. He gave us some history on the burrowing Magellanic penguins that we would spend the next hour with, explaining that 80% of them had begun their migration north about 30 days ago and almost all of the chicks had left. There were still plenty to see and a welcoming committee to greet us as we docked. This year they had ~ 44,000 pairs of penguins on the island and we were able to find one fluffy chick that remained behind with mom and dad.
Our time had ended and we were back on the boat to hopefully get close to Isla Marta, in search of sea lions. Weather allowed our approach and we climbed to the outside bow of the boat for some photo ops.
Day 2 Punta Arenas
Rainy day in Punta Arenas allowed us time to explore, book our tour for the next day, and enjoy some of the local fare. La Marmita Restaurante was highly recommended and was so wonderful that we dined there twice. Braised lamb in red wine, guanaco, sweet corn pie, local greens, and figs stuffed with nuts and a spun-sugar crown dazzled our palates.
Day 3 Punta Arenas
A recommendation from Alison of Adventures in Wonderland led us to Turismo Laguna Azul, where we booked our much-anticipated King penguin tour. Another early morning for us and what would prove to be a late night brought us to our first national park in the country, Tierra del Fuego National Park. A large island off the southern coast of South America houses what is one of only three King penguin colonies outside of Antarctica, or so we were told by our colorful guide Diego. As a side note, when I asked our guide Diego where he would visit in the United States if he could, his response was “Burning Man”, which is an annual gathering in northwest Nevada. It is described as an “annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and self-reliance”. 🙂
You really have to want to see King penguins to do this tour, unless you love crazy-long days (7:30 am – 10:30 pm) traveling across wind-swept steppes, on gravel roads strewn with potholes, in close quarters with 12-15 of your newest best friends, and on crowded ferries. Yes, we wanted to see them that much, even though our time with the penguins was for only an hour of this day. Would we do it again? Heck yes!
The colony of King penguins we saw had established themselves at Estancia San Clemente on Bahía Inúit (Useless Bay) and have made their annual pilgrimage for the past 11 years. This colony consists of ~ 150 penguins, although we weren’t sure just how many we were viewing from our secure platform across the inlet. Besides the majesty of these wild creatures, the sound they exhale as they throw back their heads to sing is eerie and beautiful all at once, an odd-pitched whirring clamor. We were in awe.
A short stop in the port town of Porvenir rounded out our day. Although it looked like an interesting little borough, we had little time to visit the small museum and grab dinner before we had to leave for the ferry. One of our German travel mates almost caused us to miss the boat as he disappeared and couldn’t be found until minutes before it was time for the ferry to depart. He was not the most popular guy on the shuttle after his disappearing act. 😉
Next Up: Time to Hike in Torres de Paine National Park
36 thoughts on “Penguins, Parks, & Ports ~ Punta Arenas, Chile”
Delicious food, adorable penguins, and icebergs… what’s not to love? Sounds like an amazing 3 days. Can’t wait to read about Torres del Paine!
That’s up next, whenever I have time and internet. You know how that goes!
The wildlife there is incredible. Lovely pictures
Yes it is!
Looks like you’re off to a fabulous start 🙂
So far so good Ingrid!
So glad you got to the King penguins! Aren’t they amazing? We didn’t go to Isla Marta. It must have been fabulous to see all those seal lion. It sounds like you’re having a fabulous time!
It was the highlight of our time in Punta Arenas Alison. Thanks so much for giving me the name of the tour company you used. Getting in close to Isla Marta was great also. Solo Expediciones uses smaller boats so we were able to float in close.
Amazing! I didn’t know that penguins nested in little caves, burrows.
I didn’t either until I read about the Magellanic penguins.
I think I could watch seals and penguins for hours. Your photos are excellent, and it looks as if the whole gathering of humans is having a great time!
I am right there with you. We humans were loving the show playing out before us!
I say you hit pay dirt with spying all those sea lions. So cool. The King penguins just make me giggle. They are so dang cute. I am truly enjoying following along on this adventure. Be safe and enjoy the journey.
That we did Marsha. Thanks for following along with us!
Penguins!! I’ve been waiting for this! And you got to see two species! Your photos are fabulous and so artistic. So interesting to see the enormous fluffy awkward brown chick — it doesn’t look at all like its parents. This is such a grand adventure—thanks for taking us along with you. 🙂
My pleasure Laurel. This has been one of the highlights of our trip so far. Last year’s brown chick didn’t look like he fit in with the rest of the group, often standing by himself, looking out to the sea. Our guide said that he could be waiting for mom and dad to come back with a meal for him. Kinda sad to see. 😦
Love the pics& your written memories. Frank
As I was scrolling down to comment, my eyes caught Oh the Places We… and I was taken back. I read the comment and thought, I don’t remember responding since I just read the post. What is going on! Early dementia!! Then, I read the whole blog name. I missed “See!” Someone is getting a little close with OUR name…haha!
Anyway…those two trips would have made my year. I just love penguins and sea lions. And you got to see two different penguins at that. Wow!! The King babies at the parents’ feet is so strange. I wish there had been a person in among the King Penguin so we could appreciate their size. Seeing a group almost a yard tall must have been spectacular. Love that Magellanic waving hello. Great photo:) You must have been tingling after these two visits. What a great start to your journey!
I would love to see a flock of Chilean flamingos as well Pam, but if not, seeing the penguins and sea lions was such a treat! We were not allowed as close to the King penguins as the Magellanic but it was still a wonderful sight.
I hit send too soon. I was going to mention that the first time I saw the blog “Oh, the Places We See” I did a double-take as well.
Itchy feet set in having read this and enjoyed your photos. That is a mad long day but thankful you suffered so we armchair travellers could enjoy the photos, you really are great like that!
I try to pull my weight Ste J! 😉
Wonderful LuAnn! We only stayed over night in Punta Arenas on our way to the park so didn’t get to see the penguins! That looks like an amazing tour! Just tells me that we will have to go back someday! All I remember was how windy it was there. 😌
It was windy there but so far that is a consistent theme in Patagonia. 🙂
Yes the wind is insane! Once we experience all four seasons in a day and we got snowed into a refugio. Crazy weather but so incredibly beautiful!
I am in heaven!
Perfect timing to see both kinds of penguins which for some reasons I think can only be seen in the Arctic or antartica! Enjoyed all your photos, this is my kind of adventure, thank you for taking us along Luann!
You are right MonaLiza! This particular colony does migrate to the Falkland Islands and to the Island of Chiloe and is the only colony here in S.A.
Now you’ve given me two more great reasons to return to the bottom of the world…La Marmita looks like reason enough alone! Lamb and figs stuffed with nuts?? Seriously! And the other reason is the King Penguins. I haven’t yet seen those. Gentoos, Adelies, Chinstraps, Magellanic, Rock Hoppers and even the Jackass penguin…but the Kings still elude me..
I would love to see all the penguins you have. As for La Marmita, had we stayed in Punta Arenas longer, we would have dined nowhere else. It was that good!
Oohs and Ahhs, LuAnn. Who doesn’t love penguins? It looks like your effort, the long trek and weather conditions resulted in a day very well spent on the island with the colorfully named “Useless Bay.” 🙂 I had a good laugh when I read your guide, Diego’s reply of what he most wanted to see in the US. Burning Man and Black Rock City, Nevada, usually don’t top the list although I agree it would be fun to visit! Anita
I have contemplated the experience of Burning Man, the total liberation of it all…Terry not so much. I wouldn’t say it would rise to top of the list for places to visit in the US. 🙂
Penguins, sea lions, icebergs …Oh My!
You would have had a blast snapping photos Nancy! 🙂