Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas
We took a 10.45am bus to Punta Arenas (5,000 pesos / $8.50) which took about 3 hours including a stop at the airport. There’s no central bus station in Punta Arenas, who knows why. For a big city, this is a painful approach to transport. Depending on what company you take, it’s likely to finish at its own office.
Be prepared for rain, wind, snow, sunshine all in the space of a few hours. You are a very long way South at around 2,500km South of Santiago. We arrived on 7th November to gale force winds and drizzling rain. Within a few hours there was a short hail storm and strong rain amid the sunshine.
We’d been given a few tips on hostels, but sadly there was no room. We ended up at Hospedaje Mireya (8,000 pesos / $13.50) in a private double. The owner was really friendly and chatty, but sadly the whole place could do with a good clean. The room we were in also had no direct heat outlet which made for a cold first night.
We did take a few moments of time to sample the local beer called Austral. This has been available throughout Chile, but this is where it comes from and it is Chiles Southern most brewery. For some reason getting a tour is pretty hard, so we didn’t even try.
Visiting Isla Magdalena was the main reason we were in Punta Arenas and it’s because of the large colony of Penguins (approximately 70,000 couples) and birds that call it home. This is a seasonal thing, so best to ask locally if the conditions are good. Typically they should arrive around September for the egg laying process, It takes 40 days of incubation for them to hatch. Independence of the hatchlings occurs around January-February and soon after they move to coastal waters of the Pacific and Atlantic to feed around March-April.
The island was formed as a Natural Monument in 1966 and is located 35km North of Punta Arenas in the Strait of Magellan.
The two main ways of visiting are by private tour costing around 50,000 pesos ($85) each or by a cargo ferry for 30,000 pesos ($50) each. The cargo ferry is run by a company called Austral Trans Broom.
We made a reservation through a local hostel which might be useful in peak season, but not when we were there. The boat leaves at 5pm from a dock near to the airport. You can take a collectivo taxi for 400 pesos ($0.70) each and takes about 10-15 minutes. Make sure you arrive some time before departure, 4.30pm for example, as there are a lot of people lining up and paying. You can’t buy your ticket on the boat. From the outside the Ferry looks quite small, but the passenger cabin in surprisingly big with two levels thankfully with good heating and some outside balconies.
Word of advice, take some warm clothes to protect against wind and rain.
As you approach the island, it’s worth it to get outside and line up to be one of the first off the boat. You can also get some nice photos of the island as you get closer.
The ferry takes about 2 hours to get to the island at which point you disembark like a herd of animals. You don’t need to pay an entrance fee here, it’s already included in the boat ticket. There are some full time rangers living on the island who will greet you and try to stop you from doing stupid things. Sadly stupid people exist and Toby had to take the camera off one person who persisted with using “auto” flash and trying to blind some penguins up close.
Please apply the simple rules like you should around any wildlife:
Once we were off the boat, the crowds moved along the marked trail towards the old lighthouse on top of hill. In general most penguins acted as if we weren’t there.
As you can see from the photo below, they dig their own holes as their homes. With so many penguins, that means a lot of holes.
However nice it is to see these animals up close, it is a little sad how some people act in these situations. People using the flash on their camera, talking loudly, running up and down the path and getting extremely close to the penguins for their photos. In many ways it would be nicer if this was more tightly regulated. You get that feeling that you’re intruding on the homes of these animals.
Once at the top of the hill, you can sign the guestbook and read some information on the animals living on the island. The rangers are there to answer any questions you might have.
You get about 1 hour on the island, which is just about the right amount of time especially if the weather is not so nice. Take your time to find a quiet spot (if possible) to observe the animals from a distance. There are a lot of other birds than just the penguins.
The trail is quite easy to walk on and fairly short, so you shouldn’t need to rush around at any point in time.
With our time up, we returned to the boat and took a nap on the 2 hour ride back to Punta Arenas.
When we arrived at the port, it was a bit of a mess. We were expecting some collectivo taxis to be waiting for us. No such luck. There was ultimately a group of 20-30 people walking on the main road back to town. Every couple of minutes a taxi would stop to pick up a group of people. The full walk back to town is over 5km, so it’s definitely best to get a taxi since it’s around 10pm at night. We eventually found a collectivo taxi to take us back to town and near to our hostel.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/