Ultimate Guide to Seeing Penguins in Punta Arenas
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Of course, you want to see penguins in Punta Arenas! This blog is all about the Punta Arenas penguins including the TWO types of penguins you can see, the best tours, what they cost, and info about visiting on your own too!
Well, that was true…to a degree.
From Punta Arenas, it is possible to go on a day trip or an organized tour to see penguins on nearby islands. But, don’t be mistaken, there are no penguins actually in Punta Arenas city itself and it is a little bit of a mission to see them.
So in this blog, I’m going to tell you all about the penguins you can see near Punta Arenas as well as how to see them for yourself! I’ve included heaps of info on penguin tours from Punta Arena, but also step by step guides on visiting on your own – enjoy!
Types of Penguins you can see in Punta Arenas, Chile
From Punta Arenas, there are two different penguin colonies or types of penguins you can visit. They are the King penguins and the Magellanic penguins.
1. King Penguins
King penguins are beautiful. With their orange and yellow coloring they look royal (hence the name “king” I guess!)
They are also special as they are the second-largest breed of penguins in the entire world (after Emperor penguins found in Antarctica.) They stand up to 100 cm (39 inches) tall and can weigh up to 18 kilos (40 lbs.)
King penguins mostly eat krill, squid, and fish and have been seen diving as deep as 300 meters!
They are quite unique when it comes to breeding and finding a partner. Once a penguin finds a partner, they pretty much stick together (literally side by side) until the egg comes along. Then, it is one parent’s responsibility to stay with the chick while the other goes out looking for food. If one parent is killed, the other parent no longer can stay with the chick and must look for food, so the chick is then abandoned.
If a pair of King penguin parents are successful in raising a chick one year, they’ll stay together for years to come. But if they aren’t or one thinks they did a better job than the other, they will each find themselves a new partner.
King Penguins are found mostly on sub-antarctic islands such as the Falkland Islands, or Price Edward Islands which makes actually visiting them a tourist extremely hard – except for the small colony on Tierra del Fuego Island near Punta Arenas!
Unfortunately, the king penguin species numbers are declining severely and quickly. They are likely soon to be an endangered species.
2. Magellanic Penguins
These little guys are considered medium-sized penguins in comparison to the 18 different breeds of penguins from around the world. They can stand as tall as 61 cm (24 inches) and weigh up to 6.5 kilos (14.3 lbs.)
Magellanic penguins eat crustaceans, krill, squid, and fish. They can dive up to 50m deep in the ocean and are excellent swimmers!
Unlike the King penguins, a Magellanic penguin’s breeding cycle is much quicker and they are often more successful in raising chicks. They also lay two eggs at one time and often try to raise them both. For this reason, large colonies of Magellanic penguins exist all around Patagonia including Punta Tombo where the world’s largest colony live!
With all of that said, the Magellanic penguin is still considered a threatened species thanks to oil spills which have wiped out thousands, and climate change which is challenging their natural ability to survive.
There is still a large colony of Magellanic penguins near Punta Arenas on the Island Magdelena. This island is said to be home to over 120,000 penguins and with its close proximity to Punta Arenas, is the perfect place to visit these little guys for yourself!
Seeing King Penguins in Punta Arenas
Where are the King penguins from Punta Arenas?
There is one King penguin colony near Punta Arenas, and that is on Tierra del Fuego Island. Tierra del Fuego Island is the large island at the very bottom of South America which is shared by both Argentina and Chile.
The King penguin colony is found at Parque Pinguino Rey, which literally translates to “King Penguin Park.” The park is actually on privately owned land, where the owners have created the park and allowed visitors.
You must pay 12,000 CLP ($16 USD) to visit the park and see the King penguins.
What is it like visiting the King penguins?
Although in a “park” the penguins are 100% wild where we (the human visitors) are actually contained to particular paths and viewing areas. It’s essentially a trail you walk along up to a sheltered viewpoint that is about 20-50 meters away from the penguins depending on where they are hanging out that day.
From here, you can watch the penguins go about their normal lives, swimming, waddling about, and you can even see chicks! The park has simply been created to make a safe space for tourists to come without disturbing the penguins.
Even though you can’t get super close to the King penguins, it is still an amazing experience! You can really see them and it feels good to know that you’re not disturbing them at the same time.
There are also binoculars that you can use it you really want a close-up.
When is the best time of year to see King penguins from Punta Arenas?
You can see them all year round! However, the summer months are warmer and generally more enjoyable for visitors.
King Penguin tours in Punta Arenas
Since Tierra del Fuego isn’t exactly close to Punta Arenas, one of the best options is to join a King penguin tour from Punta Arenas. These tours depart Punta Arenas first thing in the morning and return in the evening – usually a full 12-hour day!
We actually went on a Punta Arenas King penguin tour simply because we were limited on time and it was the easiest option. And to be honest, I loved the tour and would have no problem recommending it to anybody.
Punta Arenas King Penguin Tour Itineraries
All of the Punta Arenas King penguin tours I know about visit more than just the penguins. It is more of a full-day Tierra del Fuego excursion that does involve a fair bit of transport and an hour-long stop at the King penguin colony in Penguino Rey park.
Here is a typical, approximate itinerary of a Punta Arenas King Penguin tour (or at least what we experienced)
Ferry to Tierra del Fuego – 2-hour long ferry ride across the Strait of Magellan on a large vessel with a snack bar and multiple viewing decks. During the right times of year you can see whales or dolphins.
Town of Porvenir – You depart the ferry at a small town called Porvenir. This is the capital of Tierra del Fuego Island. Here you can visit a museum, learn about the indigenous people (the Selk’nam), visit viewpoints and monuments, and stop for an amazing lunch (thats not included but was extremely cheap!)
Drive to Parque Penguino Rey – It is about an 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to the King penguins.
Parque Penguino Rey – We spent just over an hour here and it was enough for us. We saw about 40 penguins at about 25 meters away. This is nature, so sometimes they might be a little further away, but for us we got lucky! We even saw a little brown fluffy chick!
Drive to Cerro Sombrero – Here, we had another stop to explore some the this town’s attractions before heading back to the mainland on another ferry which was only about 20 minutes long. This time we saw Commerson dolphins which was really cool!
Drive back to Punta Arenas – It is about an hour and a half drive back to Punta Arenas. We made a couple of stops along the way at shipwrecks and our guide spoke a ton about the history of the area.
Sure, it was a lot of driving and transport but I really did enjoy it. The King penguins are magnificent and our guide provided tons of information along the way. Plus, the views and wildlife we saw were also amazing and to me, it was a really great tour well worth doing.
King Penguin Tour Price
Expect to pay about $100 USD per person for this tour not including the entrance fee to Penguino Rey park (an extra $12,000 CLP). Lunch also is not included, but we stopped at a very affordable locally owned restaurant in Porvenir and ate here for about 4,000 CLP ($5 USD) each.
What to Pack/Know Before
Bring water, snacks, comfortable clothing, rain, and windproof gear (Tierra del Fuego is a windy place!) Binoculars are great if you have them.
Be prepared for a bit of driving, so maybe bring some music or entertainment for this part too.
How to Book
You can book in advance online. This is the tour that I did, and I can personally recommend it!
Visit the King Penguin Colony on your Own
If you want to visit the King penguin colony from Punta Arenas without a tour, you’re going to need to rent a car. Once you have that, then you are all set!
You must first get the ferry to Tierra del Fuego (Porvenir) which departs only a few kilometers outside of Punta Arenas town (you need your passport or driver’s license to board the ferry.) Then, you drive for about 1 hour and 40 minutes to reach the King penguin park.
Seeing Magellanic Penguins in Punta Arenas
Where are the Magellanic penguins from Punta Arenas?
All of the Magellanic penguins are located on Isla Magdalena. Isla Magdalena is located in the Strait of Magellan, 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the shore of Punta Arenas.
The only inhabitants of this island are a handful of park rangers, and of course, penguins! There are approximately 120,000 Magellanic penguins wandering about – so you’re sure to see some!
It costs 3,000 CLP per person to set foot on the island as a CONAF (Chilean conservation organization) fee. However, this fee is included in your ferry or tour price normally.
What is it like to visit the Magellanic penguins?
Once at Magdalena Island, you will be required to walk on a marked path. This is for conservation purposes and to give the penguins space. The trail is a few hundred meters long and leads to a historic lighthouse (that has become somewhat of an icon of the island.)
The penguins on Isla Magellanic are not shy and they will often come very close to tourists. You may even be lucky enough to get a selfie – how cool! Do not touch the penguins though, this is strictly forbidden.
When is the best time of year to see Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena?
October to March is when you will definitely see penguins on Isla Magdalena as this when they are nesting! If you go around February, chances are you will even see baby chicks!
Magellanic Penguin tours in Punta Arenas
In order to get out to the Magellanic penguins, you can join a tour from Punta Arenas. Tours are a little more expensive than going on your own, but to me, they are worth it because you spend less time on a boat, have additional wildlife spotting stops, and have a knowledgeable guide!
Punta Arenas Magellanic Penguins/Magdalena Island Tour Itineraries
There are two kinds of tours you can book to Isla Magdalena from Punta Arenas:
1) A guided tour that uses the public ferry (Melinda) for transport to/from Isla Magdalena
2) A guided tour that takes their own speed boat to and from Isla Magdalena
In my opinion, only book option #2 with a private boat.
Why? Well otherwise, you might as well save yourself the extra money and just book the ferry on your own (see instructions on how to do this below.) The ferry takes two hours to get to the island, whereas the speed boats take 45 minutes! Not to mention, going on a small boat with a smaller group of people will make the entire experience more enjoyable.
So for the purpose of this blog, I’m going to focus on Isla Magdalena tours from Punta Arenas that have their own transport on a speed boat.
Here is a typical itinerary for a tour to Isla Magdalena from Punta Arenas to see the penguins:
Speed boat ride to Isla Magdalena – The boat will take about an hour to reach Isla Magdalena. Along the way, there are plenty of opportunities for spotting whales or dolphins!
Isla Magdalena – Your guide will show you around the island walking on the designated walking trail all the way to the lighthouse and back. You’ll spend over an hour on the island observing the penguins and taking in the beautiful island views.
Isla Marta – You will jump back on the boat, and if weather permits, stop at Isla Marta where you can see sea lions and seals!
Boat back to Punta Arenas – This is another opportunity to spot more wildlife!
The tour last for about 5 hours overall and is a great day trip for those wanting to see wildlife without having to join a 10-12 hour day tour (or sit on a rocky ferry for several hours.)
For a tour like I mentioned above (with their own speed boat transport) expect to pay about $125 USD. This includes the island entrance fees, but not lunch.
What to pack
Comfy shoes, wind and rainproof clothing, warm clothing, water and lunch, and a zoom camera lens or binoculars if you have them!
Motion sickness medicine is a good idea to take before getting on the boat too as during some conditions it can be a little rocky.
How to Book
It can be hard to know which tours just take the ferry and which ones have their own speed boat. This particular tour takes a speed boat and stops at Isla Marta as mentioned above.
You can also book in town when you arrive, but booking in advance is always best to avoid missing out!
Visiting Isla Magdalena on your Own
I would only recommend this option to people who are very concerned about their budget as in my eyes, it isn’t an ideal way to spend a day.
You must catch the Melinda Ferry to Isla Magdalena first thing in the morning. You can buy your round trip ferry tickets in advance online. They cost 55,000 CLP ( 74 USD) per person and include the island entrance fee.
Expect the ferry to take about two hours. However, you’ve been warned, it can sometimes take longer (we heard stories of it taking 4 in strong winds.) The ferry will dock at Isla Magdalena for one hour only. You and all 200 other guests will get off and walk the trail to see the cutest Magellanic Penguins before getting back on the ferry.
The return ferry goes directly back to Punta Arenas. Overall, the entire day will take between 7-8 hours if the ferry has good weather.
The BEST Penguin Tours in Punta Arenas –
King penguin tours vs. Magellanic penguin tours
If you have time, why not do both! But, if you have to decide between the two here are some differences between both Punta Arenas penguin tours:
|King Penguin Tour||Magellanic Penguin Tour|
|Length of tour||12-14 hours||5-8 hours|
|# of penguins you can see||Up to 40||Potentially hundreds|
|How close you get to penguins||20-50 meters||Within arms reach (if you’re lucky!)|
|Wildlife you can see||King penguins, armadillos, dolphins, whales||Magellanic penguins, comorants, sea lions, seals, dolphnins, whales|
|Time of year |
|All year round||Best from October to March|
|Our recommended tours||This tour is the cheapest you’ll find and includes lots of interesting stops||This tour uses a speedboat as transport and includes a stop to see Sea Lions|
My Personal Recommendation
To me, the best Punta Arenas penguin tour is out to see the King penguins! Although a long day, I just learned soooooo much! Plus, the King penguins are more unique to see and it is a once in a lifetime experience for most people!
Book my personal favorite Punta Arenas penguin tour here!
What else is there to do in Punta Arenas?
Contrary to popular belief, there is actually lots to do in Punta Arenas besides visiting penguins! Shipwrecks, museums, food, viewpoints, and mountain biking are just a few!
In fact, I wrote a blog about 17 exciting things to do in Punta Arenas, give it a read for the details!
Where to Stay in Punta Arenas
There are literally hundreds of places to stay in Punta Arenas – so many that it can be hard to know what to choose! Below are my top three personal choices for where to stay in Punta Arenas based on your budget!
Best Budget Hostel in Punta Arenas – Samarce House
Samarce House was one that came highly recommended to us by a family member. They offer both affordable dorm beds and private rooms which all include a delicious breakfast! The hostel is super clean, and it is apparent that the family who runs the place takes great price in their hostel and do everything in their power to help guests whenever possible.
Best Affordable Hotel in Punta Arenas – Cabanas Valenti
We stayed here and it was beautiful. The rooms were modern, comfortable, and very clean. All rooms have a kitchen as well which was handy for cooking our own meals which saved us money from having to eat at restaurants all of the time. Some of the rooms are large enough to fit a family or even 4 adults comfortably. Rooms are affordable at less than $75 USD per night.
Best Luxury Hotel in Punta Arenas – Hotel Dreams
Dreams Hotel is the most luxurious hotel in Punta Arenas featuring a pool (with a sea view), hot tub, gym, sauna, and included breakfast. The onsite bar and restaurant is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a waterfront at sunset. This location is central too and they have the city casino in the building. Really, it is the ultimate hotel in Punta Arenas if you ask me! Rooms are about $150 per night.
Exploring more of Patagonia?
Of course you are! I mean, nobody solely visits Punta Arenas, right?
We’ve been lucky enough to have traveled Patagonia not once, but twice! And, we have written a ton about it! Be sure to check out all of our Patagonia blogs, and if you have any questions or comments, be sure to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!
Some other blogs that you may find interesting are:
- How to get to the Marble Caves in Chile
- Cerro Tronador Hike in Bariloche
- The BEST Hotels and Hostels in Valparaiso
- Torres del Paine 5-day Hike – My Story
January 16, 2020