Magellanic Penguins: A Jounrney to Punta Arenas and Isla Magdalena

After a lot of thought and discussion we have decided to bus from the southern tip of Argentina all the way to the northern Brazilian border making many stops along the way. This is roughly equivalent to busing from Vancouver to Toronto (over 4000 km). Our first stop was Punta Arenas, known for it’s proximity to Isla Magalena and it’s Magellanic Penguins. 

Our first long bus ride was from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, it included a ferry across the Strait of Magellan where the swells were larger than I’ve ever seen before. There was a small passenger area where we hid inside most of the time. Shorty after we crossed the border into Chile, getting our second exit stamp for Argentina. The border crossing was relatively smooth, multiple line ups as always and about 10 km of “no mans land”.

Punta Arenas is set on the Strait of Magellan and acts as a port for Chile. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot to do other than the reason we came – a tour to Isla Magdalena to see the colony of 160,000 penguins. We arrived late on Saturday and headed out for dinner. We found a beautiful little restaurant that was recommended on Trip Advisor. The menu wasn’t written down – just verbal from the waiter…and no prices were given. A bit worrying but we decided to try it anyways.  We ordered a salmon ceviche appetizer, alpaca steak, and cantaloni stuffed with king crab. Neither of us had ever tried alpaca – it was good, a lean healthy meat, a bit tough.

DSC02962Nothing is open on Sunday’s (including the Penguin tours) so we had a relaxing day. We found one Café open and sat down for coffee. When the waitress returned with two cups of warm water and a jar of instant coffee I was disappointed but should have known better. Chile strangely only drinks instant coffee. While they may not know much about coffee, Chileans do know a thing or two about delicious (and cheap) wine…

Wine Update: While Chile supposedly produces more Cab-Sav than anything, it has become known for its Carmenere wines (a grape originally from France although no longer grown there). After buying a 2$ bottle of Cab-Sav from the corner store that proved to be useful only for cooking, we bought a 6$ bottle of Carmenere to try. The wine proved to be delicious and complimented our salad and chicken with rice dinner well. It was spicy as the grape is known to be but also smooth.

Monday morning we walked along the beach. The beach was not picturesque nor well-maintained. It was covered in washed up litter, not surprising with the winds and waves that rush through the Strait. We found a skull of some large animal although we weren’t able to identify it (please let us know if you can!). Shortly after we found an animal carcass and more garbage – we decided from there to head into town. We had done our research and found a tourist-friendly café that served espresso (thank you Trip Advisor). Of course, still no soy milk so Kyra stuck with an Americano.


Now to the real reason we came…The Magellanic Penguins.

“The Magellanic penguin is a South American penguin, breeding in coastal Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands, with some migrating to Brazil where they are occasionally seen as far north as Rio de Janeiro. The Magellanic penguin was named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who spotted the birds in 1520. Magellanic penguins are medium-sized penguins which grow to be 61–76 cm tall and weigh between 2.7 kg and 6.5 kg. Adults have black backs and white abdomens. There are two black bands between the head and the breast, with the lower band shaped in an inverted horseshoe. The head is black with a broad white border that runs from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, and joins at the throat. Chicks and younger penguins have grey-blue backs, with a more faded grey-blue colour on their chest. Magellanic penguins can live up to 25 years in the wild, but as much as 30 years in captivity. Like other species of penguins, the Magellanic penguin has very rigid wings used to swim under water.” – wikipedia



When our ferry finally pulled up to Isla Magalena, it was quite the site! Penguins dotted every bit of land on the island. It clearly showed the sole purpose of the island was for the Magellanic Penguins to make their burrows and raise their young before their trip to Brazil in the winter. We were positioned to be the first ones off the ferry so we could be ahead of the crowd (approx. 200 people) on the small trail across the island. We had a limit of 1 hour on the island as per the park regulations and were not allowed to touch the penguins or stray from the path. The penguins were so cute, especially the young fluffy ones that hadn’t lost their feathers yet. The inquisitive penguins commonly crossed the path in front of us and came right up to our legs. The experience was fantastic and well worth the two-hour ferry ride each way and the 60$/person.


*As much as I would have to loved to have posted all 483 photos on here, we had to select a key few – the rest of the ‘keepers’ are posted on our Flickr Album.

On a side note, we have noticed the majority of travelers in South America are Israeli. The first Israeli we met in BsAs mentioned we would soon discover this. Another told us there approximately 6000 Israeli’s travelling in South America right now. It seems that when they finish serving their time in the army they travel to South America. Germans are a popular second and we haven’t met very many Canadians so far.

4 thoughts on “Magellanic Penguins: A Jounrney to Punta Arenas and Isla Magdalena

  1. Anna Jean Msllinson says:

    This is amazing! I looked at a map on line and see the continent begins to fragment into hundreds of islands. I’m glad seeing the penguins made your long bus and ferry ride worth while. Are they one of the Natural Wonders? They ought to be. l love the details about where you stay,whom you meet, what you ear and drink.

  2. Dave says:

    Tiny little birds with flippers meant for swimming, crazy, crazy. Strange for them to be named after a European explorer. And also strange that Israelis are the number one traveller. Thanks for all the stories.

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