One of my main reasons for visiting Punta Arenas was to see penguins! And I was not disappointed!
This guide will detail how to see the Magdalena penguins from Punta Arenas, including which Magdalena Island penguin tour I took and my thoughts on whether or not I think the day was worth it.
I am going to be extremely truthful in this review, as I honestly don’t think this tour may be for everyone, so please read through to ensure that taking a Punta Arenas penguin tour is for you!
At the bottom of this post, you can see where I tried to answer a few frequently asked questions about the Isla Magdalena penguins.
But if there is anything else you’d like to know, please send me a message or leave a comment below!
In this post...
About the Penguins on Magdalena Island
The penguins on Magdalena Island are fairly easy to see during the right season, and checking them out is one of the best things to do in Punta Arenas!
They can be found across the Strait of Magellan from Punta Arenas, and since 1982, the island (along with nearby Marta Island) has been transformed into the Los Pinguinos Natural Monument.
This is the largest colony of Magellanic penguins in Chile, and there were last estimated to be around 43,000 pairs pre-pandemic (which was a decline from the early 2000s as many pairs were thought to have moved to Cabo Virgenes in Argentina).
The skua is their primary predator on the island, but because they are rather shy birds, they try to avoid the tourist-heavy areas of the island.
When should I visit Magdalena Island?
I am going to preface this entire post by saying that these penguins only hang out on Magdalena Island for part of the year! They are not full-time residents.
You can find the penguins on Isla Magdalena from October or November until March.
I visited Magdalena Island at the end of December, and they were most definitely there in abundance.
How to Get to Magdalena Island from Punta Arenas
You more or less have two options for getting to Magdalena Island from Punta Arenas: an organized tour (what I did!) or a ferry.
Unfortunately, it appears the ferry is not currently running, so a tour is the only reliable option at the moment. I will still include a short piece about the ferry option below, just in case it does operate again this season.
Option 1: Magdalena Island Penguin Tour from Punta Arenas
Duration: 5 hours
Meeting Point: José Nogueira 1255 (Punta Arenas)
Language: English, Spanish
🐧 CLICK HERE TO BOOK
This is a short review of the exact tour that I took to Magdalena Island from Punta Arenas. I will share my thoughts about the day and a few insights (along with information about how to book).
I booked this tour well in advance of my trip because I knew this was the top thing I wanted to do when visiting Punta Arenas. I also know that it can sell out pretty quickly during the high season.
On the day of the tour, we had to meet super early (around 6:30am) at the Solo Expediciones office at José Nogueira 1255 in Punta Arenas.
From there, we checked in, were loaded onto a bus, and were taken to the port at Laredo Bay for our transfer to Magdalena.
Once at the port, our group (which seemed to be around 40 people or so) went aboard the boat and headed off to the island.
We were immediately notified that the trip there would be somewhat bumpy, but we were looking at a rougher return trip and that Isla Marta (the other place we were meant to visit on the tour to see the sea lions) would likely be canceled.
No one seemed too fussed about it, and we headed on our way.
Coffee and tea were offered on our 45-minute journey to Magdalena Island, and the guide was friendly and informative with any questions we had. Everyone seemed relatively comfortable, despite the journey being a bit rough.
We arrived at the island and were able to walk freely on our own along the designated path for the next hour or so. There were penguins everywhere!
They were not shy, but we all respectfully kept our distance and enjoyed their clownish antics while snapping as many photographs as possible.
At the top of the hill on the island, there is a beautiful lighthouse that dates back to 1901. You will also see other wildlife on the island, such as cormorants, skuas, gulls, sea lions (we didn’t see any though), and more.
Honestly, the time on the island was magical and made this trip 100% worth it, despite the horrific journey ahead that I did not know was in store for us!
After we had made our way around the island, we all gathered back on the boat to be informed that the boat trip back would be very rough.
I don’t get seasick (minus one random time on Procida Island in Italy), but I am deathly terrified of people vomiting—a fear that I have had since I was a child and found out that others also have ‘emetophobia’.
We took our seats on the boat, and the guide started getting vomit bags ready to pass out.
I put my headphones in and stared out the window at the rough seas as we went through an hour and a half (it was a longer journey due to the seas) of torture.
The entire boat vomited except for my partner, me, and two men across the way. And, of course, the guide. It was insane.
The door to the boat flew open, and seawater came rushing into the boat and got a bunch of us wet, which gave me a little entertainment outside of watching people hold blue bags to their faces for the entire duration of the trip. It was an adventure, to say the least.
I had placed my backpack on top of a ledge and it fell during the trip and I later found my camera’s zoom lens to be broken, so I learned a harsh lesson that way while the rest of the tourists learned their lesson about not taking Dramamine before the trip.
We finally reached the harbor, and I felt fine while the rest of the boat miserably made their way back to the bus. I felt so horrible for everyone and wondered if they would have still joined the trip knowing how rough it would be.
So, the reason I am telling you this is that the rough seas are not a one-off. This is typical of the Strait of Magellan. But… I think the tour was 100% worth it.
And, even as an emetophobic, I would book this trip all over again and have no regrets. And I don’t believe I would ever say that about an experience where there were so many seasick people around me!
The entire trip is projected to take 5 hours. Our time on the island was slightly shorter due to the rough seas that we were expecting on the way back.
You will also get to see Isla Marta if conditions permit! We did not get to go to Marta, as I wrote above, which was fine given the situation.
When I took this trip last season, they also offered afternoon tours because, as I remember, they canceled the afternoon tour after ours.
However, when I look today, I see no afternoon tours offered this season, so I suspect that too many were canceled last season.
Option 2: Taking the Isla Magdalena Ferry from Punta Arenas
So, there is usually an option to take the ferry to Isla Magdalena from Punta Arenas with TABSA.
However, it shows that it was not offered during the 2022-2023 season (when I went), and it is still not updated or offered at the time of writing this. I will continue to check things out and update accordingly.
You can check the TABSA transportation website here.
Isla Magdalena Penguins + Tours FAQ
Is Magdalena Island worth it?
Definitely! I think this is easily one of the best day trips from Punta Arenas and is a must for any itinerary!
When should I visit Magdalena Island?
The penguins made Magdalena their home from around October or November until March.
However, many reports have said that there are merely a few hanging out in March. So I would aim for earlier if you are planning a tour trip around seeing them.
What should you bring with you for the day?
So, as noted a few times throughout the post, it is windy! The high season receives winds off of Antarctica that are pretty much constant, and the wild Patagonian terrain does very little to stop it.
With that being said, it can be a bit cold on the trip. Dress in layers, but I think a wool sweater or a semi-heavy jacket will suffice.
Also, wear a pair of hiking boots or shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty, as the path on Magdalena is not paved.
A few other things I would recommend taking with you are:
- Dramamine (people who said they never get seasick got sick on my trip)
- Zoom lens (just be sure to protect it on that boat ride!)
- A hat or ear muffs that cover your ears (the wind can really through off your senses)
- Water (they provide drinks but moving around the boat can be tough if the seas are rough)
Should you tip your tour guide?
I think if you feel they provided good service, a small tip is a kind gesture. My tour guide was incredible at helping people who were sick and showing enthusiasm about penguins on the way to the island.
Should You Take a Punta Arenas Penguin Tour?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Or I would not have written this guide to show my experience—even the ‘not-so-good’ parts of the adventure!
If you have any questions about seeing the Magdalena penguins from Punta Arenas, let me know in the comments.
More Chile Travel Guides
- Things to do in Punta Arenas
- King Penguin tour from Punta Arenas
- Things to do in Puerto Natales
- How to hike to the Base of Torres del Paine
Pin this Guide about Visiting Magdalena Island
Megan is a travel blogger and writer with a background in digital marketing. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now splits her time between Frankfurt, Germany and Arctic Finland after also living in Norway, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. She has a passion for winter travel, as well as the Nordic countries, but you can also find her eating her way through Italy, perusing perfume stores in Paris, or taking road trips through the USA. Megan has written for or been featured by National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, the New York Times, and more. She co-authored Fodor’s Travel ‘Essential Norway’ and has visited 45 US states and 100+ countries.