If you plan to travel in Chile’s southern Patagonia and want to see penguins, Magdalena Island (Isla Magdalena) is one of the best options now that it is significantly cheaper to visit than its Argentinian counterparts. You can book the trip with a tour agency in downtown Punta Arenas or go to Tres Puentes and purchase your tickets directly with Austral Broom. The prices with the agents and for direct purchase are the same. The difference is that you can go with a speedboat if you visit the agents.
I did the afternoon tour with Austral Broom and my tickets included a two-hour trip each way on the ship and an hour on Magdalena Island. You can also take a full-day tour to visit king penguins on Tierra del Fuego.
About Magdalena Island
Magdalena Island is an uninhabited island located in the heart of the Strait of Magellan, and it is home to 350,000 Magellanic penguins. The number of penguins has been increasing since the Chilean government has banned commercial fishing activities and made an effort to preserve the natural resources of the island.
Magdalena Island was first discovered in 1520 by a Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, as a part of his global circumnavigation route. The penguins there are two feet tall and they are very sociable. They hunt and hatch in groups and they are not afraid of interacting with human beings. They can also travel in water at a speed of 15 miles per hour and dive up to 318 deep to search for food like cuttlefish, squid, and krill.
Getting to Magdalena Island
I arrived in Tres Puentes in Punta Areas at 1:40 pm on a December afternoon for the start of the boat trip at 2 pm. I was onboard with 200 other travelers and locals. It was a two-hour journey crossing the Strait of Magellan before arriving at Isla Magdalena, but the seascape along the way part of what made this trip worthwhile.
It was a beautiful afternoon, and many of us went out to the deck and soaked in the sunlight. I looked at the fjords and restless waves along the strait where Magellan first explored it five centuries ago and felt in awe that I was able to retrace it. The magnificent and brooding landscape along the strait remains unchanged to this day.
Arrive on Magdalena Island
We were led out of the ferry and set our feet on Isla Magdalena where thousands of penguins were everywhere, returning to their holes, building nests, playing with their families, and walking in their natural inhabitant. We were instructed to walk on the designated trail, so we did not disturb their activity and habitat. The wind was intense, but we were in no hurry. Luckily, there was no sign of rain and we were surrounded by penguins and the sea on all sides.
We saw penguins walk in front of us in groups and make poses for us to take pictures of. Some earthly penguins waddled across the walking trail in groups and it was definitely one of the most interesting things I have ever seen. Apart of the penguins, there are many bird species like imperial cormorants and Chilean skuas that share limited space with the penguins.
We wandered through the pathways and made stops to contemplate the interesting behavior of the unique creatures. We did not forget to check out the natural majesty the strait provides where penguins swim in the sea in flocks and seagulls fly above in groups. We were in the middle of nowhere and far away from anywhere in this world.
Halfway through our walk, we were in front of the red-striped lighthouse. Southern Chile has some of the world’s most dangerous waterways and this historical lighthouse started its operation in 1902 for Chile’s Navy to guard the coast. This lighthouse later became a place for people to use to manage this penguin colony, and they have a viewing platform where you can see the greenery, penguins, and azure sea from a high point.
We spent a little over an hour on the island and then headed back to the ship.
I enjoyed my afternoon visit to Magdalena Island. Although we spent a long time getting to the island and only had an hour there, we had a wonderful time walking around and seeing the unique creatures that can only be discovered in this remote part of the world.
This is an excellent penguin tour from Punta Arenas and I highly recommend it. I loved the penguins and my journey on the Strait of Magellan. If you are interested in seeing penguins and learning about their interesting behaviors, then a trip to Magdalena Island is perfect for you.
Things you need to know about visiting penguins on Magdalena Island
-Departure time is 2 pm from Tres Puentes in Punta Arenas every day in the high season but be aware that the tides and winds in the Strait of Magellan can be strong, so be prepared for cancellations and delays.
-The tour does not include meals and you will not have dinner till 7 pm at the earliest so make sure to eat enough lunch and bring your own snacks and water.
-Bring a coat and dress in layers. Magdalena is cold and windy as it is in south Patagonia and surrounded by the sea on all sides.
-Isla Magdalena is a tourist destination. With 200 passengers getting off at this half-mile penguin colony at the same time, seeing people taking pictures and stopping to watch penguins is a common sight. However. that did not ruin my experience there and I believe it will be a unique experience for you to remember as well.
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