I recently made a spur of the moment trip to Chile when I found myself with some unexpected free time. One of my best friends had just moved to Santiago so of course I had to visit! She had to work a few days while I was there and while looking for things to do I made the crazy decision to fly down to Patagonia and see some penguins. When Penguins are an option, you always should take it, in my humble opinion. Here’s how you can see penguins in Chile, specifically, the king penguins of Tierra Del Fuego. Are you excited?
I will include some informative and hopefully interesting facts here, but mostly this is about adorable penguin pictures. I hope that’s ok with you!
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Tierra Del Fuego is an island in the south of Chile and Argentina, part of the Patagonia region. The two countries share this island almost 50/50.
Chilean Peso (100 USD is 60,000 Pesos). Be aware that 60,000 pesos will often be written like this: CLP $60.000
Flying to Punta Arenas is the quickest way. It is a 3 hour and 25 minute trip and the cost ranges from $250 to $300. It is possible to drive if you have oodles of time and want to explore the country by car. Punta Arenas (the “starting point” for penguin trips) is 3000 km from Santiago. This would take several days by car.
I did a tour that started from Punta Arenas. This is a full day tour from 0730 to 2100. It is possible to do on your own if you have a car. You have to drive from Punta Arenas to Tres Puntas where you will take the ferry across the Magellan Straits to the island of Tierra Del Fuego. Once there you will drive about 2 hours to get to the Parque de Pinguino Rey (Park of the King Penguins).
*** This tour does not go on Mondays***
This is the exact tour I did with a company called Denomades. The tour costs 55,000 Pesos which is $91 USD. Not included is lunch, entry ticket to park (CLP$ 12.000) nor entry ticket to the museum (CLP$ 1.000), which must be paid in cash. I found them easy to work with and they picked me up at my hostel. Tierra Del Fuego Full Day King Penguin Tour.
Like most tours, you will end up making lots of stops to break up the day and some of these will not be that interesting. What I liked about this tour was that it was a relatively small group and there were lots of opportunities to eat and buy snacks (something I find important!). I didn’t like that it returned much later than stated and some of the break stops were way too long. If you don’t have time to have a good breakfast before leaving, don’t worry because you can buy food and coffee on the ferry.
Here is the route:
After hotel pickup early in the morning, there is an hour drive to the terminal in Tres Puentes where you take the 2 hours 15-minute ferry ride to Tierra Del Fuego island. The arrival point is Chilota Bay and from there they drive you to Porvenir, where there is lunch at a restaurant and a visit to the Fernando Cordero Ruesque Museum.
Porvenir is a sleepy cute little seaside town. Here you learn about the indigenous people, the Tehuelche, who once lived in Patagonia. They were here long before the Portuguese explorer Magellan who “discovered” these lands.
Fun Fact: Tierra del Fuego translates to “Land of Fire”. When Magellan arrived by ship, he noted the native people burning fires around the coast of the island. This is where the odd name comes from. I would have named it Tierra del Frio (Land of Cold)
We took a walk around the town and enjoyed some random street art.
After lunch, there is a 110 km drive to get to the Pinguino Rey Park. (If you haven’t learned how to say “King Penguin” by now in Spanish…please learn!) This is obviously the highlight of the day and you stay here 1 hour. It is the perfect amount of time to see them because longer than that and you may turn into an icicle!
When you arrive you have to sign in at the office and pay. They do take credit cards here if you don’t have cash. A park ranger gives you a brief introduction about the park and the penguins. This is a privately owned facility dedicated to conservation and research of the king penguins.
It is important to note that you must remain 15 meters (45 feet) away from the penguins. I highly recommend bringing binoculars and a good zoom lens. There are magnifying viewer devices (anyone know what to call those?) to look more closely. They are so sharp that you can actually see the fine fur of the penguins.
This shot was taken with 100 mm zoom (and then cropped a bit)
This one with 200 mm of zoom and then cropped a lot. I think a 300 mm zoom minimum would be ideal here.
This sort of gives you a perspective of the distance. I heard some people grumbling about this but I’m ok with it if that’s what will protect the penguins.
The penguins are really fun to watch. They are curious and basically stare at the humans. I was surprised by how loud they were. Their adorable sounds were audible even at a distance. You have to see a video just to appreciate their funny little walks. I thought they had swag, like tiny gangsters.
Fun Fact: King Penguins are the second largest species of penguin, the emperor penguin being the largest. They are around 90 cms(35 inches) in height and they weigh between 11 and 16 kgs (24 – 35 lbs)
This grouping was having some beach time.
Are you as in love with them as I am?
After that, we drove north to visit the Cerro Sombrero camp, where oil was discovered in the area and now the project is run by the United States government, of course. We then had another ferry ride, a short one where we stayed in the van. Driving back to Punta Arenas took us by the Estancia San Gregorio.
This is kind of a ghost town (that’s what I call it…it is officially a “monument”). San Gregorio was settled in the late 1800’s by European immigrants from Spain, England and Croatia. The community was mainly industrial but self-sufficient with its own dock and railroad. The sheep production of wool, tallow, meat and leather, was for almost a century the main economic resource of the region.
There is a wreck of a 19th-century cargo ship to check out.
By the time we got here it was already close to 2100. The sun was just setting and the lighting was beautiful.
Bring WARM clothes. Even in “summer” it is really COLD! Summer is December, January and February. I went in November which was right before the height of the season. It rained part of the day and when the sun came out it was windy as hell! I basically dressed as if I was going skiing. Here are the items that I wore. Ironically most of them were Patagonia brand (not planned I swear!).
Waterproof insulated jacket with hood
Water resistant trekking pants
I cannot find a photo other than me in them above. You can purchase them here: Patagonia Women’s Trekking Pants
Also you need gloves, a scarf or gator and consider thermal leggings. I did not have thermal leggings but I wished that I did!
If you want to see another species of penguins here in Patagonia you can do a half-day tour with the same company to see the Magellanic Penguins on Magdalena Island. I had this booked for the following day but it was canceled because of weather. I literally almost cried because I had flown all the way from Santiago to Patagonia for only 3 days to see lots of penguins and really didn’t have time to do anything else such as visit Torres Del Paine national park. Lesson learned to plan better in the future and have extra days to allow for this nonsense. Seriously, the weather looked perfect to me! Can you tell I’m still peeved? Oh well…I’ll definitely be back because I also want to hike in Torres del Paine! So much to do in Chile.
Stay tuned for more posts from my trip to Chile!
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Have you ever seen penguins anywhere in the world? Tell me in the comments!