After my eight-day hike through Torres del Paine, I took a couple of rest days at Hotel Diego De Almagro in Punta Arenas. My first order of business was a shower. Once I noticed the ring of dirt left behind, I decided a second shower was in order. After that I spent the next two days enjoying a real bed, reading, getting my limited supply of clothing cleaned, and enjoying the local restaurants. On my third day I embarked on a boat tour to Magdalena Island to see the famous Magellanic penguins. (The tour price says $160 now, but my receipt says $142.) The tour also includes a passing of the seal colony on Isla Marta, weather permitting. (Our weather was just barely permitting.)
The company picks you up from your hotel, and from there it is a ~45 minute ride to the boat launch. The boat ride over the choppy seas of the Strait of Magellan was bearable. People were in high spirits, chatting amiably about their trips and seeing the penguins. The boat ride back was a different story: winds had picked up by midday and a silence had settled over most of the boat. While everyone focused on not being sick, the guides cheerfully told us that the weather was “normal,” and even slightly better than usual.
Before even seeing the penguins, you’ll notice the overwhelming smell of the colony. It had the strong potency of standing in the middle of the farm, but mixed with the smell of the sea. Luckily they’re cute.
There is a short path around the island that takes about 15 minutes to walk, with a small lighthouse turned information center at the halfway point. We were warned to stay at least three feet away from the penguins at all times, even when they crossed the path and walked up to us.
I visited in early January, which was a little over a month after the chicks had hatched, and right as they were claiming their independence and the adults were shedding. It is estimated the colony numbers over 55,000 couples, with 20 nests for every 100-square meters!
We had about an hour to walk around the island, which was enough, but I’m sure most of us could have spent double the time enjoying watching the penguin families. It was easy to anthropomorphize the chicks as they squawked and flapped their wings in feigned but timid aggression, begrudgingly allowed their parents to groom them, and settled into for cozy cave naps.
Anyone with a spare day or two in Punta Arenas during the summer should consider a trip out to Magdalena Island (maybe with some Dramamine)!