The only thing that I really wanted to do when we were in Punta Arenas was visit the penguins. There were several different tour options, but I settled on a trip to Isla Magdalena since that was the location that had the most penguins.
Booking Our Tour and Getting to the Boat
We booked our tour through a travel agency (whose name I can’t remember) as we were unsure of where else we would be able to book a tour. Even though we booked with an agency, we had to pay Comapa, the agency that runs these tours. We were given directions to their office and paid our fee via credit card at their office.
We were told to be at the dock 30 minutes before the boat left and were given directions on how to take a collectivo or shared taxi there should we want to go the cheapest route possible. When we waited for the shared taxi, they were all full. Eventually we asked 2 guys that were trying to get the same shared taxi as us if they wanted to share a standard taxi. They did and we paid minimally more than we would have to take a shared taxi.
When we arrived at the dock I eavesdropped on people purchasing their tickets there. I was relieved to hear that we paid the same amount as those who bought tickets at the dock. We sat and waited until we could board the boat, then we hurried over so we could get a window seat before they were all taken.
The boat was massive and had room to take cars. It seemed excessive for the number of people that it was transporting to the island, coupled with the fact that there was no cargo being brought with us. My only thought was that someone sold the travel agency the boat for a great price and they accepted. Once we started moving, I realized that the 2 hour estimate of getting to the island would be accurate. It had to have been the slowest boat that I have ever been on in my life.
Since the boat was large and held a number of people there were not only bathrooms but also a snack bar. Even though there were decent waves that you could feel on the boat, I did not get seasick at all, a relief to me since I did not have any Dramamine with me.
As we got close to the island, the crew told everyone to get to the deck to more quickly get everyone off the boat. We headed down and when we were waiting, realized just how cold the excursion was about to get.
Time On the Island
As we got off the boat we noticed one of the crew members had a clicker. They were counting the number of people that came off the boat to ensure that nobody was behind. After a number of shady buses that we have ridden that would probably leave us at a stop if we weren’t ready, this was nice. Plus, if we got left there, there is a good chance that we would have gotten hypothermia before the boat the next day arrived.
To say that the island was cold would be a massive understatement. It had some of the most intense winds that I have experienced in my life coupled with cold temperatures which I was not accustomed to since the majority of our trip has been in warm climates. It wasn’t the cold temperatures themselves, it was the extremely high winds coupled with the cold temperatures that made the island feel unbelievably cold.
Since visiting the island was one of the things that we wanted to do, we made the best of the cold temperatures and walked around. It was a little annoying that everything had to be roped off since it made getting great pictures without the ropes in it challenging. We soon learned that everything had to be roped off because there were a few people that couldn’t follow the rules. In fact, we saw a group of younger travelers get close to a penguin nest – so close in fact that the penguin felt threatened and projectile pooped on them. I thought it was hilarious but they did not feel the same. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that parents are going to be protective of their young and to keep your distance.
There were tons of penguins everywhere and while there were babies, they were in the nests since they weren’t old enough to go outside yet. I would have loved to see the babies walking around, but our timing was a little bit off. Watching the penguins walk had to be one of my favorite things on the tour. It was hilarious to watch them walk, just because of the natural wobble that a penguin has.
When we booked the tour and I found out that we would only be on the island for an hour, I thought it was not nearly enough time. Once we felt how cold it would be and saw the size of the island, the hour estimate seemed about right. We laughed because we were on the shores waiting for the boat to return, so we could warm up, before the hour was up.
Returning to Town
Part way through our 2 hour ride back to the dock, we saw everyone freaking out and looking out the side of the boat. We then realized that everyone was looking at dolphins which were following the boat and jumping out of the water. It was a cool sight to see but by the time Andy made it out to the dock, which was filled with people, the dolphins were gone. Sadly we didn’t get to get a picture of the dolphins but we were happy that we were able to see them.
When we returned to the dock there were standard taxis as well as a shared van taxi. We opted to take the shared van taxi for 1000 pesos or $1.40 each instead of paying nearly 2x that to take a private taxi. As is standard in South America, we didn’t leave until the entire van was filled up. This didn’t take long as there were many backpacker types that were interested in saving money as much as we were.
As we left, Andy and I discussed that while the trip was fun, there had to be a way to make it shorter. The island was directly across from the airport but the boat left from town. Also, the boat was the slowest boat that I have ever been on, there surely had to be a way to go from point A to point B more quickly.
I’m glad that we did the tour as it was a lot of fun and we got a lot of great pictures. While I knew it would be cold, I had no clue just how cold it would feel when we were there.