Punta Arenas is the main town in southern Chile and, with the largest airport in the south, it is the main gateway for those visiting Patagonia. Thus, we flew into Punta Arenas and rented a car from there to start our journey into Patagonia. But, before leaving coastal town, we wanted to visit a breeding colony of penguins.
After all, we’re only steps away from Antarctica, so how could we resist?!
A 2-hour boat ride from Punta Arenas takes you across the Strait of Magellan to Magdalena Island. Magdalena Island is home to over 120 000 breeding penguins. It is now a nature reserve, allowing visitors only 1-hour per day to visit the penguins for conservation purposes.
Magdalena island itself is small and rocky, with almost no vegetation. This makes it easy to see the thousands of penguins wandering about.
Over 120 000 penguins populate Magdalena Island in the summer. They are Magellanic penguins, which are unique to South America (Chile, Argentina and the Falkland Islands). They grow to about 2 feet in height, and are quite curious, having no problem crossing your path as you wander about.
The penguins come to Magdalena Island every year to breed, where they build their nests in small burrows underground. They lay their eggs here, and the parents take turns incubating and raising their chicks. The penguins mate with the same partner every year, and the males will reclaim their same burrow every time they return to the island.
Magellanic penguins are classified as “threatened”. Commercial fishing depletes the natural food sources for the penguins, and sometimes the penguins even get caught in the fishing nets. Since classifying this island as a nature reserve and banning nearby commercial fishing, the population of Magellanic penguins has actually increased!
Our limited 1-hour on the island sadly went by much too quickly! Time flies when you’re having fun watching penguins waddle by, build their burrows, and canoodle with one another.
Tickets for the ferry can be purchased the day of in Punta Arenas or reserved online here. If you are visiting in high season, we recommend you reserve your ticket online in advance as they sell out quickly. Regardless of your method, the ticket must be picked up in Punta Arenas prior to the ferry departure, so make sure to allocate extra time for doing so.
The ferry ride is 2-hours one way, and you are limited to 1-hour on the island once there for conservation reasons. The ferry itself is very comfortable with reclining chairs (great for a nap!), bathrooms, and food for purchase. Once on the island there is a one way hiking trail up to a lighthouse and back that is approximately 1 km in length.