A Journey Through The Strait of Magellan


I always knew that I was the type of person who, if given the opportunity to meet a real-life penguin, would take it. We have a lot of great birds here in California, but they’re pretty casual and would never even consider wearing a tuxedo. Sometimes I think we’re too laid back here.

I knew that I’d be within range of a penguin colony when I was in Chile, so as Brian and I were booking our trip, I made sure to ask our travel agent to arrange a penguin tour. On our way to and from Patagonia, we passed through Punta Arenas, a charming fishing town at the very southern tip of Chile. It’s just about as close to Antarctica as you can get. Hence, penguins.


After an incredible five days in Patagonia, we returned to Punta Arenas, tired, sore, and on a high that only comes from experiencing something amazing. We were incredibly sad to leave Patagonia behind but were looking forward to one final adventure before heading home. We had a delicious dinner at La Marmita (so yummy!), got a good night’s sleep at the lovely Hotel Cabo Los Hornos, and awoke before the crack of dawn, still tired, but eager to start the day.

Our tour group, Solo Expediciones, was nice enough to pick us up from our hotel. We were driven a few blocks to their office, checked in, and loaded onto several large vans with the rest of our group. The ride to the dock was about 45 minutes long and full of stunning scenery. The Chilean coast is gorgeous; wide open and largely untouched.

We pulled up to a small industrial dock with vivid blue water stretching beyond the stout orange ship that would carry us through the Strait of Magellan to Magdalena Island. It was COLD. The wind cut right through the multiple sweaters and jackets I’d layered on. But, wow. It was gorgeous.

On the way to the island, the seas were blissfully calm. But, we were warned to expect a rougher trip home. The weather in the Strait of Magellan is notoriously unpredictable, and there are only certain times of year when boats are willing to take tourists through. We were there at the beginning of November, which is the very start of spring.

The journey took about an hour, and as we pulled into shore, we could see tiny waddling figures traversing the rocky beach. I tried to contain myself as we were given explicit instructions about proper penguin etiquette. Basically, we’re not supposed to touch them or interfere with their movements in any way. If a penguin wants to cross your path, you stop and let her cross, dammit!

The island was stunning. Windy and freezing, but truly beautiful. There’s a clearly marked path that winds around the coastline and up to the top before circling back to the dock where our boat would be waiting. We had one hour.

There were penguins everywhere. Hanging out on the beach, walking down the path, and snuggling up in their nests. And they couldn’t have been less interested in us humans. I have to admit that I did hope one would waddle up to me and extend his flipper in greeting. I would shake his tiny little non-wing, and he would understand that I’d arrived at his home with nothing but love and peace in my heart. But, it quickly became apparent that this fantasy was not going to come to fruition.

Brian and I wandered slowly up the path, stopping to peek into the occasional nest (they burrow underground) or to greet a passing waddler. We stopped for a few photos at the top of the island and slowly made our way back to the boat. I was absolutely freezing but did my best to soak up every moment.

On our way back to the dock, we chatted with a tour guide who explained that there used to be even more penguins on this island, but the colony had relocated after a flock of seagulls had arrived and begun wreaking havoc. Apparently, seagulls like to eat penguin eggs. Not cool, guys.

We bid a sad farewell to the island and its adorable little inhabitants and boarded our ship. Mercifully, hot chocolate was waiting for us. After a quick stop at another island that’s home to a large colony of seals, we began the journey back to Punta Arenas.

And wow, the seas were rough. People were definitely on the verge of getting sick, and the poor crew was circulating the boat with seasickness bags in hand. Ugh.

I have a theory that you have to get really, really seasick once in your life and after you get it out of your system, you won’t get too seasick ever again. I only have my own experience as evidence, but all I know is, I felt fine. And I was once very seasick on a catamaran in Hawaii.

Getting to meet penguins in the wild was a big check off the old bucket list. And it was totally worth it. If you ever decide to take a similar trip, I’d recommend wearing tons of layers, and having some Dramamine on hand – just in case. Oh, and of course, you should properly prepare yourself for the cuteness overload that will surely ensue.