Penguin Paradise in Punta Arenas, Chile
A 2.5-hour flight from Puerto Varas brought us to Punta Arenas a sleepy port town located on the Strait of Magellan. For us the flight was a better alternative to the 30+ hour bus ride down to southern Patagonia and provided us with some incredible views. Although the city itself leaves a lot to be desired we were able to find a few sweet spots around town. Best of all (and basically the most awesome reason to visit Punta Arenas) we were able to see penguins up close and personal! This experience made up for the ghost town vibe and is why Punta Arenas should be on your radar when visiting this area. More on the penguins later– first we eat!
We were pleased to find out that our friends Charlie and Romina were in town and they invited us to lunch for Charlie’s birthday celebration. We enjoyed some wine and typical Chilean food at Restaurant Club Chile. The fresh fish, the wine and the company were all fantastic.
After our big meal we all waddled down to Plaza de Armas Muñoz Gamero to visit the monument to Ferdinand Magellan. The statue is surrounded by sculptures of indigenous Patagonians who have their own legend. Locals say that kissing the foot of one of the statues will bring you good luck and calm seas when crossing the straits and will also assure that you will return to Patagonia. We gave the foot a good rub and hoped to return in the future. Later that night we bid farewell to our friends and headed back to our hostel (Hostal Ainil– 2 nights $90.00 USD). Although the sun was still out until about 10:30 pm we decided to head to bed early so that we could explore some more the next day.
We were up early and visited Café Montt a humble little place with the best hot chocolate I had ever tried (made on site from real chocolate bars!). They had some tasty breakfast sandwiches available too and the prices were reasonable. Next, we stumbled upon Dreams Casino. Of course on our backpackers budget we weren’t there to gamble but we did enjoy some freebies. They happened to have a terrific photography exhibit from local artists showcasing gorgeous scenes from all around Patagonia. For more free fun, we stopped behind the casino to enjoy lovely views of the water from their pier.
We then headed towards Mirador Cerro de la Cruz a lovely viewpoint atop the city. On the way up we stopped to take pictures of the cool trees that lined the avenues and some colorful container buildings we spotted. From the viewpoint we had wonderful panoramic views of Punta Arenas and could see all of the vibrant colors that decorated the city. We decided we would treat ourselves to dinner at Toques de la Patagonia. To try to stay on budget we shared a plate and an appetizer. The ceviche we ate was delectable and our meal was a mouth-watering baked salmon accompanied with sweet potato mash. The plates were creatively presented and the views from the restaurant were hard to beat.
A few tips:
- Make a reservation before you go as the place is very small.
- Be sure that google maps doesn’t direct you to their old location (the restaurant is now atop the hill).
- Bring cash because they do not accept credit cards
Other great restaurants we found in Punta Arenas were Mesita Grande a delicious pizzeria and Café Tapiz. This cozy coffee shop offered delicious (and huge) sandwiches, craft beers, tasty desserts and a great vibe.
We had cool experiences in Punta arenas too like our visit to Cemeterio Municipal Sara Braun. As you may already know I love a good cemetery and this was the most stunning one I had seen so far. Beautifully elaborated mausoleums were lined with interestingly shaped cypress trees. I couldn’t help but hug the Marge Simpson-esque trees and took what seemed like a hundred pictures of them.
Now the moment you’ve been waiting for— Penguins galore! Visit Isla Magdalena from November through February to see these amazing cuddly creatures up close. You can buy tour tickets on the Comapa website or visit their office in Punta Arenas (35.000 CLP per adult). The trip is approximately 5 hours long although you only really spend about 1 hour on the island. The other 4 hours are spent sailing the Magellan straits to get to and from the island. As you’re approaching the island be sure to line up at the front exit of the boat to get more time ashore.
Once you’re on Magdalena there is a marked path visitors have to follow so as to not disturb the nests and natural habitat of the penguins. Some of the penguins are not shy at all and will have no problem coming up to you and nipping at your clothes (something we witnessed first hand). Although you must give the animals their space and not touch them you are able to take some great photographs of them up close. As you walk among the thousands of penguins living on the island you can make your way up to the light house at the end of the path. Manu and I walked slowly though only visiting the light house for a brief moment since we wanted to spend more time gawking at these astonishing little creatures!
Punta Arenas is a good stop when venturing into southern Patagonia. Although the city is not very “happening” the penguin tour more than makes up for this. Many backpackers continue onto Ushuaia or Puerto Natales to visit Torres del Paine National Park from this point. I would definitely recommend a stop in Punta Arenas if you’re passing through. Be sure to check out more penguins below!
- A flight from Puerto Varas (Puerto Montt) to Punta Arenas will set you back about $150 USD.
- Use a collectivo (shared taxi) to get from Carlos Ibanez del Campo Airport to the city center cheaply.
- Walk everywhere else- Punta Arenas is compact and easily walkable.
- Head to Ushuaia next on an 11-hour bus ride for around 35-40 USD per person.
- Check out the bus schedule to Puerto Natales below.
- There are only a few buses companies with limited times/days heading out of the area. Be sure to schedule your tours accordingly so that you don’t get stuck.