Few places in South America can boast such close proximity to as many penguin colonies as Punta Arenas, the largest city in Chilean Patagonia. Wildlife enthusiasts can delight in watching species of both king and Magellanic penguins in their natural environments, all of which are only a short distance from the city. Let us introduce you to the three most easily accessible Punta Arenas penguin colonies.
Punta Arenas Penguin Colonies
A two-hour boat journey from Punta Arenas, Isla Magdalena is Chilean Patagonia’s most important Magellanic penguin colony. With its rookery of around 120,000 penguins, this tiny island in the middle of the Strait of Magellan is a significant breeding ground for the species and was declared a national monument in 1982.
One of the most unique features of this penguin colony is the fact that visitors are able to land on the island and take a small path between the burrowing birds. Ending at the lighthouse, this trail is an excellent way of seeing the penguins closely, particularly as they are curious and not scared of humans.
How to get to Isla Magdalena: Take a ferry from Punta Arenas or a longer, five- to seven-day expedition cruise that visits some of the other colonies on this list.
When to visit Isla Magdalena: The penguins are only resident during the breeding season which lasts from September through March.
Smaller in size than on Isla Magdalena, the Magellanic penguin colony of Tucker Islets is another top destination for wildlife lovers visiting the area. Around 4,000 birds reside here and while it’s not possible to land on the islands, small Zodiac boats can get close to the beach, allowing you to observe the penguins in their burrows and swimming in the sea.
How to get to Tucker Islets: Tucker Islets is only accessible by Zodiac boat as part of a cruise ship tour from Punta Arenas.
When to visit: Similar to Isla Magdalena, this penguin colony only lives here during the breeding period.
In 2010, the first king penguins arrived in Bahía Inútil, a bay on the western coast of Tierra del Fuego. Since then, the colony has grown to its present size of around 60 birds who are protected thanks to the newly-established Parque Pinguino Rey.
A visitor’s center has information about the colony, while a short path leads to a viewing platform, at a distance of a few hundred meters from the birds.
How to get to Bahía Inútil: Full-day tours depart from Punta Arenas in the morning, although it is possible to hire a car and drive the 190-miles (304km) to the park.
When to visit Bahía Inútil: Although the king penguins inhabit the area all year round, poor weather during the Austral winter makes it far difficult to get to the park during this time. Instead, spring through autumn are the best seasons to visit.