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Isla Magdalena Tour: Play with Penguins

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Can you imagine anything more adorable than an island filled with penguins? Isla Magdalena makes this heart-warming image a reality. Located in the Strait of Magellan, Isla Magdalena (or Magdalena Island in English) is the main part of the Penguins Natural Monument and sits on the Chilean side of Patagonia, on the boundaries of the Tierra del Fuego National Park.

The penguins that live on this island have been luring in tourists for some time now. Hundreds of them are scattered in all directions and they have no fear of the humans that walk among them. The effect of this is that visitors can walk across the island whilst simultaneously taking in the views and getting up close and personal with some of the cutest creatures on earth.

What to Expect

Penguins in Magdalena Island
The penguins are as curious about the visitors as they are about the penguins

Isla Magdalena has an unconventional beauty to it. Comprising barren landscapes that look like they’ve been completely untouched by humans, you could consider this island to be one of the last vestiges of pure wilderness. On the island, the penguins roam free, across the land and in the water, uninhibited by cages or boundaries.

Highlights

  • Being able to see around 120,000 penguins in their natural habitat
  • Taking selfies with the penguins!
  • The stunning views from the island of the Strait of Magellan
  • The historic Isla Magdalena Lighthouse and its informative exhibition about the island
  • The chance to see other beautiful birds such as cormorants and albatrosses
  • Watching the dolphins in the water on the boat ride out to the island

Lowlights

  • The journey to Magdalena Island is only possible by boat
  • You only get an hour on the island once you disembark the boat
  • A lot of birds means a lot of poo — be careful where you step!

How to Get to Isla Magdalena

There is only one way to see Isla Magdalena and that is by taking a 5-hour boat tour. Most people will travel to the island on the Melinka, a public boat with a capacity of around 220 people. The other option is to take a private tour and travel in one of the smaller zodiac boats. If you choose to do a private tour you may find that transfers and snacks on board the boat are included. All of the boats depart from the Tres Puentes Terminal in Punta Arenas.

The journey to Isla Magdalena takes two hours each way and the time that visitors are allowed on the island is strictly limited to one hour. During this time visitors will be able to traverse the 800m path that stretches across part of the island and see the penguins as they go. They can also pop into the old lighthouse to observe the exhibition.

It is important to note that generally boats only travel to the island between November and March. Even during this period, journeys only happen if the weather permits it.

Other nearby attractions

Punta Arenas in Tierra del Fuego
The colorful town of Punta Arena is the base for a trip to Isla Magdalena

If you’re looking for some more adventure after you’ve finished on Isla Magdalena then you might want to check out some of its nearby attractions. The first place you should check out is Punta Arenas. A curious combination of modernity and antiquity, the city offers a glimpse into traditional Patagonian culture.

From Punta Arenas, you can access the world-famous Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago that spans across Chile and Argentina. The very definition of rugged wilderness, Tierra del Fuego will astound you. There are some superb hiking routes available in this area as well as some more challenging multi-day treks such as Dientes de Navarino trek. Visitors can also go on fishing excursions and mountain biking tours during their time there.

Dientes de Navarino Trek in Chile
A trekker enjoys the stunning vista Dientes de Navarino has to offer

Just across the Strait of Magellan from Punta Arenas is the Natural Monument known as the Lagoon of Swans (El Monumento Natural Laguna de los Cisnes). This gorgeous lake is a vivid turquoise in colour and is peppered with swans, floating leisurely across its surface. The Swan Lagoon is a beautiful place to take a walk and soak up the magnificent landscapes of Patagonia.

A little further away but still easily accessible is Isla Dawson, a large island to the South of Isla Magdalena. This island encompasses a peaceful town and several tranquil walking trails with spectacular vistas out over the Strait of Magellan. Visiting this island is akin to travelling back through time and it is well worth dedicating some time to.

Best time to visit

Boat tours to Isla Magdalena are only available between November and March. But because the weather in Patagonia is unpredictable and can get pretty extreme, sometimes these tours aren’t guaranteed either. For more information on weather in Patagonia, visit our guide to the best time to visit Patagonia.

Good to know

  • During high season the public boat can often sell out so it is worth reserving tickets in advance.
  • The island can get crowded during high season so if you can travel in the shoulder months this is preferable if you want the island to be less busy.
  • The weather in Patagonia is unpredictable and changeable so pack for rain, wind, sunshine and even snow.
  • You do not need a special permit to get on to Isla Magdalena.
  • You are not allowed to touch or feed the penguins, or to take photos of them using flash.
  • Sometimes the water in the Strait of Magellan can get rough so be sure to take medication beforehand if you are prone to sea sickness.

It is a treat and a privilege to be able to observe wildlife living out of captivity. The penguins on Isla Magdalena are free to wander and swim at their leisure and their fantastic quality of life makes the whole experience that much better. An Isla Magdalena tour is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

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