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Ultimate Guide to Seeing Penguins in Punta Arenas

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! 

When booking our flight to Patagonia, the cheapest destination to fly in and out of was Punta Arenas, Chile. When I saw that I immediately thought “yes, we can see penguins in Punta Arenas!” 

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
King penguins we saw on our King penguin tour from Punta Arenas!

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 (984 feet)! 

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 doesn’t make it, 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. 

Related Read: Besides seeing penguins there are lots of other exciting things to do in Punta, Arenas, Chile!

2. Magellanic Penguins 

penguins on isla de magdalena
How cute is this little guy?!

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 (164 ft) 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! 

Related Read: Check out our tips on how to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the most famous attractions in Patagonia!

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? 

person viewing king penguins from the viewing shelter in king penguin park in chiles
Me, in the viewing shelter watching 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 (65-165 feet) 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 – 1-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 (that’s not included but was extremely cheap!) 

kala the mumified selk'nam in porvenir chile
This is a real mummy inside the museum in Porvenir.

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 (80 feet) 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! 

a fluffy brown baby king penguin chick
Here is a photo I took with my phone through the binoculars of the chick – how fluffy is he?!

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! 

commerson's dolphin near punta arenas chile
These are commerson’s dolphins. Unique for their black and white coloring!

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 $147 USD per person for this tour not including the entrance fee to Penguino Rey Park (an extra $12,000 CLP/$12.84 USD). 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 

ferry near punta arenas
This is the ferry you’ll take to Porvenir from Punta Arenas.

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.  

It is a lot of driving, so if you do go on your own maybe it would be best to plan to stay a night in Porvenir, or use this as a side trip on a road trip to Ushuaia (it is more or less on the way!) 

Related Read: Check out our blog all about renting a car in Patagonia that includes important tips to know before you go!

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 ($3.19 USD) 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? 

selfie with a magellanic penguin
Me, taking a selfie with a Magellanic penguin!

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 is when they are nesting! If you go around February, chances are you will even see baby chicks!

Related Read: Check out our first timer’s guide to Puerto Natales, Chile so you can have all the info you need to start planning your visit!

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

ferry to isla magdalena from punta arenas
This is the public ferry that runs daily from Punta Arenas to Isla Magdalena. Photo Credit: Bigstock

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.  

a couple of sea lions laying on a rock in chile
A couple of lounging sea lions! If you’re lucky, you’ll see some on Isla Marta!

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.)  

The Price 

For a tour like I mentioned above (with their own speed boat transport) expect to pay about $128 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 

seeing penguins is one of the bes tthings to do in punta arenas chile
A Magellanic Penguin on Isla Magdalena!

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 96,943 CLP ( $103 USD) per person and include the island entrance fee. Note: this price is for October 2022 to March 2023.

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.  

Related Read: If you’re up for one of the most epic hikes in South America read about our experience on the Torres del Paine W Trek

The BEST Penguin Tours in Punta Arenas –

King penguin tours vs. Magellanic penguin tours

two people looking at king penguins in parque penguino rey chile
Dan and I, taking a selfie with King penguins!

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

  • Price: $147 USD + 12.84 USD park fee
  • Length of tour: 12-14 hours
  • # of penguins: up to 40
  • Distance to penguins: 20-50 meters (65-165 feet)
  • Other wildlife: Armadillos, dolphins, whales
  • Best time to go: All year round

Magellanic Penguin Tour

  • Price: $128 USD
  • Length of tour: 5-8 hours
  • # of penguins: potentially hundreds
  • Distance to penguins: Within arms reach (if you’re lucky)
  • Other wildlife: Cormorants, sea lions, seals, dolphins, whales
  • Best time to go: Best from October to March

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? 

the waterfront promenade in punta arenas
The waterfront promenade in Punta Arenas

Contrary to popular belief, there is actually lots to do in Punta Arenas besides visiting penguins! In fact, I’ve written a blog about all the exciting things to do in Punta Arenas, give it a read for the details!  Or check out this overview of some of my personal favorite ideas:

  • Tour of Punta Arenas & Parque del Estrecho – City tours are always a great way to familiarize yourself to the area and learn about its history. This tour is the most popular and spends up to 8 hours visiting key landmarks in Punta Arenas and Parque del Estrecho.
  • Hike or Bike in the Reserva Forestal Magallanes – Speed through Chile’s wilderness on a mountain bike tour or on foot on this half-day hiking tour. Look close for views of the Strait of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego Island and Otway Sound. Plus keep watch for wildlife!
  • Salesian Museum (Museo Maggiorino Borgatello) – This museum will help you learn about the endiginious people, life during their time, and the eco system. Most displays have English translations. This city tour also makes a stop at the Salesian Museum along with several other attractions so it’s a nice option if you would like to do a bit more than this.
  • Humedal Tres Puentes – This natural wetland is a fabulous and free place you can visit if you are interested in seeing the areas most prized bird species. Humedal Tres Puentes has over 50 species of birds including the Chiloe Wigeon and White-tufted grebe. You can choose to walk the land here or opt for a tour in person by bike.
  • Night drinking tour – What better way to feel the personality of the city than to see it come alive at night? In this tour you will be greeted with a sour before exploring a restobar in Punta Arenas before heading to another restobar or nightclub. Each stop includes a drink of your choice – so 3 in total. Entrance to bar/club is included.

Where to Stay in Punta Arenas 

punta arenas wanterfront and dreams hotel
The large skyscraper is the Dreams Hotel – just imagine the view!

There are quite a few places to stay in Punta Arenas – so 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 ArenasHaiken Hostel

Haiken Hostek offers private rooms with private external bathrooms which all include a delicious breakfast! There is also a spacious shared kitchen so you can save money on your other meals by cooking here. The hostel is super clean and the 24/7 front desk does everything in their power to help guests whenever possible.

Check prices and availability for Haiken Hostel!

Best Mid-Range Hotel in Punta Arenas – Almasur Punta Arenas

This is the hotel for you if you like amenities and being just a couple minutes from the main square! The rooms are modern, comfortable, and very clean. The hotel has a gym and a hot tub to relax in. They provide a buffet breakfast and for dinner a spread of Chilean dishes and wine. All this for just around $139 USD a night!

Check prices and availability at Almasur Punta Arenas!

Best Luxury Hotel in Punta ArenasHotel Jose Nogueira

One of the most beautiful hotels Punta Arenas inside of a historical old building from 1895 that is within walking distance to many shops and restaurants. Rooms are huge and cozy. The onsite bar and restaurant is the perfect place to relax and enjoy during the evenings and there’s even a comfortable sunroom too. Really, it’s one of the more memorable stays in Punta Arenas if you ask me! Rooms are about $192 USD per night.

Check prices and availability at the Hotel Jose Nogueira!

Related Read: Our blog on the best hikes in South America has everything condensed you can see which hikes in which countries are calling your name!

Planning your Trip to Patagonia

two people looking at king penguins in parque penguino rey chile
Dan and I, taking a selfie with King Penguins!

Accommodation in Patagonia

Booking accommodation is one of the biggest aspects of your trip, and we should know as we stay in a new hotel up to 40 times per year! Funny enough, we make 99% of these bookings on one website and that’s Booking.com – and there are a few reasons why we use this site!

Number one is the website is easy to use and sort accommodation options. That takes the stress out of planning which honestly still affects us and we do it more than not.

And two, is the price guarantee. We have literally booked a hotel months before and then 1 week out found it cheaper (we always do a quick search) and they’ll match that price from anyone’s website including the hotels!

And three, is the Genius loyalty program. If you make a certain amount of bookings per year you get a Genius discount. We are level two geniuses because we make more than 5 a year. At participating hotels, we get things like free breakfast included, early check-in, and up to 15% off.

You can check out all their accommodation options throughout Patagonia!

Renting a car in Patagonia

Our rental car in Patagonia
Our rental car!

We enjoyed a rental car for our second trip to Patagonia – and wow, what a way to travel! But the best part was that we only paid $40 USD per day for a 5 person sedan!

But how? Well if you’re renting a car the cheapest company is Discover Cars. We often get questions from readers asking us if the website is fake because it seems too cheap!

If you do want to compare prices (and you should) do a quick search on Airport Car Rentals too. They’re another big competitor and each company often has its own deals to offer!

Tours in Patagonia

drinking glacier water from perito moreno glacier
Drinking pure glacier water on our glacier tour!

Tours are a tricky one. We love booking online because we can check reviews of that exact tour but they can be pricier than booking directly in person. So for this, we often do it 50/50 – half of the time in person and the other half of the time we book tours online in advance.

When we do book online we use Get Your Guide and Viator. Both companies offer the same service with different selections of tours and reviews on each tour.

Travel Insurance

We can never recommend traveling without insurance, and we never do. For those on a budget, there’s a great company Bailey uses called SafteyWing that only costs $37 USD a month and covers all your basic medical emergencies. It’s one of the cheapest policies out there!

For me, I need more coverage. Having $5k worth of camera gear and a $2k laptop means I need full coverage. So I use World Nomads Travel insurance and get a comprehensive cover!

Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!

If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!

SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4-weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.  

World Nomads is a good option for anybody looking for fully comprehensive travel insurance including things like trip cancellation and adventure activities. They included coverage for over 250 different adventure activities, everything from snowboarding to whitewater rafting! You can also buy the insurance in advance in case your travel plans are interrupted, or, while you’re already on the road. 

We’ve personally used both SafetyWing and World Nomads for different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive.)

It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey stands on a rock overlooking Glacier Grey
Welcome to Patagonia!

Exploring more of Patagonia? Of course you are! I mean, nobody solely visits Punta Arenas, right? 

We’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to 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

Where to stay in Valparaiso

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