There are few guarantees while traveling. Your flight could be delayed. Your hotel might not look as modern and luxurious as it did in photos. Or the weather could derail any outdoor plans. But one thing is certain on your trip to Chile. You will definitely see penguins in Los Pingüinos Natural Monument.
Los Pingüinos Natural Monument is home to about 60,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins. It’s, unsurprisingly, Chile’s largest penguin colony. Magellanic penguins, named after the famous explorer after he spotted the black-and-white flightless birds in 1520, are only found along the southern coast of South America. From October to March (that’s spring and summer below the equator), the penguins find land on which to breed. Two islands, Magdalena and Marta, are among their favorite spots.
The two islands were once home to three pre-Hispanic cultures. They left when the Spanish introduced sheep and colonization here. The farms, probably due to the harsh conditions, didn’t last. So the penguins moved in. In 1966, the islands were declared a natural monument to protect the penguins and their fishing grounds in the surrounding waters. As conservation efforts increased, so did the penguin population. The birds now rule the islands.
A visit to Los Pingüinos Natural Monument is now one of the most popular day trips from Punta Arenas. From the capital of Chile’s southernmost region, it’s a 50-minute ferry ride through the Strait of Magellan to reach the islands. You might see gray-and-white Commerson’s dolphins along the way. As you approach Magdalena Island, you will definitely hear the penguins before you can see them. Once you’re close enough though, the two-foot birds look like they cover the entire island.
After disembarking the boat—yes, you’ll now be even closer to the penguins—a guide leads you along the well-marked trail that runs from the beach up to the lighthouse on the island’s highest point. Penguin exhibits, island history, and warm coffee are waiting for you in the red-and-white building. But you’re in no rush. Many of the penguins are hanging out near their burrows. A few have started strutting toward you. While one is now blocking the path and seems to be posing for pictures. You take a few, but then snap the lid back on the camera. The penguin is moving even closer, and, though you don’t want to touch it, you want to remember everything about this once-in-a-lifetime moment. It’s a guarantee.