America,  Chile,  TDM,  Travel Journal

Punta Arenas (Chile): islands of penguins, dolphins and sea lions

After these first mixed impressions of Chile, we decide to flee to Argentina to see if we can understand their Spanish better. If we have to leave, we might as well go to Ushuaia. However, to go to Ushuaia, we first have to go to Punta Arenas, which is on the Chilean side.

Part 1: Travel Diaries
Part 2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diaries

As we are in mode “Let’s run away, quickly!”, we booked the flight the day before to Punta Arenas and the bus to Ushuaia 2 days in advance. For the plane, there were only 9 seats left I think and we did very well by booking online with a flight comparator. We would have liked to book on the site of the Skyairline company, but this site is a disaster.

With Uber, you can reserve a car in advance for 5:30 am. Booking is a big word, since the application simply sends a few minutes in advance and calculates as accurately as possible so that a car arrives at the requested time. So it’s probably not a reservation. Moreover, at 5:30 am, the rate is x2.2. We think that we should have asked the hotel to reserve a cab. But good, I said to you, we are in mode “let’s speak Spanish as little as possible”, we thought that Uber would be cheaper. To make things worse, the guy drops us at the airport and continues to drive until I-don’t-know-where. It is only when we realize that JB sends him a SMS and that he stops the race (editor’s note: Uber is very regular, we complained and the race was refunded to us completely).

Well, now I’ll explain you the queue at the airport, it will help more than one. Chileans don’t laugh with cheaters, at least not at the airport. There is only one queue for all Sky airline flights. And since their check-in machines don’t work, it doesn’t go fast. A second express queue may form when a disastrous stewardess calls for passengers who are in danger of missing their flight. Only then can one be in the express line. Some people try to play it smart by getting into the express line and have been turned away by the stewardesses at the ticket office. The crying does not work in this case, we have witnessed it.

A few hours of flight later, we arrived in Punta Arenas. It’s Sunday, only one car rental company is present. Only one transfer company is present. Sunday is the day of the Lord, many don’t work.

We miss the first transfer and are too lazy to wait for the second. Anyway, considering the announced rates: 5000 pesos/person, taking a cab at 10 000 pesos is the same. Except that the driver had the good idea to put the meter on, which displays 16 000 pesos. Not having the strength to negotiate, one pays. We understood, our vigilance is relaxed since India and Nepal but it is the last time!

The owner of the hotel reinforces our idea of “running away” when she blames us for not understanding her Spanish. However, to say “money” in English, she had no problem lol 🙂 With difficulty, we manage to ask her for an early breakfast. Hallelujah! A few more days and we will be bilingual ahahha

We make the tour of this deserted city on a Sunday noon. JB is a philosopher and tries to cheer me up but I think he is also thinking “what are we doing here?”. Walking towards the city center, we finally come across an open restaurant: Lomitos, where we can eat delicious churrascos and where the waitress doesn’t judge us on our rotten Spanish. We leave her a generous tip (well, the standard 10%) but she seemed very happy.

We also pass by the office of the bus that we are going to take tomorrow: Bus Sur, hoping that they have tours to propose us. Just beside the ticket office of Bus Sur, we find indeed a guy speaking English. He tells us that he contacted 3 agencies proposing tours to go to see the penguins but none answered him.

Very disappointed, we wander around the city like ghosts (everything is closed or almost closed, huge contrast with Asia where everything is always open), we just wanted to exchange our dollars for Argentinean pesos, it’s our craziest dream of the moment. I swear, we’re in SURVIVAL mode, it’s very loser, I’m laughing about it now, but at that moment, the prospect of arriving in Ushuaia at 8pm, at the end of the world, without an Argentinean peso scares me particularly. I absolutely needed a lot of money!

The strokes of luck follow one another because not only we find the only exchange office open on a Sunday (thank you!), but we also fall on the only agency open on a Sunday which sells us two tickets to go and see the penguins at 3:30 pm (thank you!)

Meeting at 15:30 in front of Solo Expediciones, 1255 José Nogueira for an unforgettable excursion.

Pinguinos in Isla Magdalena

In fact, it is quite possible to go directly to the ferry terminal 8km from downtown and take a ferry for 45,000 pesos/person at 4pm, but we are fed up with Chilean cabs and drivers, no way to go to the terminal by cab. In addition, this tour that we bought at Solo Expediciones (at 65 000 pesos/person) includes one more stop, at the island of the sea lions. You’ll see why we don’t regret it.

We are 35 to leave with this agency, distributed in 3 vans. 30 minutes later, we arrive at a terminal not too far from the airport, where a boat type “sea rescue” awaits us. The interest of this boat vs. the ferry is that it goes super fast. So fast that it takes us only 1h to reach the Magdalena island where 60 000 couples of penguins come every year to mate and make babies.

For having seen penguins in South Africa, this visit at first glance is of little interest. These are exactly the same penguins we saw in South Africa. The + is that we can see a little better the holes dug by the penguins to hide their eggs, they are closer to us and there is a kind of pier where we can observe the penguins when they swim. JB and I spend a long time watching the penguins walking towards the beach. They often fall, the poor ones, and the slightest wave makes them slide. We laugh and laugh, but we wonder how these fragile creatures manage to survive. The answer comes a few minutes later when we observe the penguins from the pier. After breaking their mouths walking on pebbles, two penguins plunge into the water… and swim like arrows! Next to that, Florent Manaudou and Michael Phelps are perfect losers. They won’t have any problem to eat, them! Wooow ! Respect !


A ferry berths the island, it is the 45,000 pesos ferry that we did not take. So much the better because there is a crazy world, everyone is standing, and suffers from the wind.

We then leave to observe the sea lions tanning on another island. We are served hot chocolate and cookies. We cannot accost the island and the observation is done from very far. We can’t help but compare it to the scene where JB sees a sea lion very close to come out of the water on a deserted beach in New Zealand at Waipapa. But hey, it’s the first time we see so many sea lions at the same time.


Click on the picture to zoom in, and eventually see the lions near the water.

And there, a big surprise awaits us: on the way back, we are followed by dolphins! The dolphins here are very different, they are white with a black head. They are a little far from the boat but it is enough to recognize them, especially when a dolphin decides to please us by jumping super high. I put here a picture of illustration because I didn’t manage to take the picture myself


Arrived at the ferry terminal, the captain tells us (fortunately in English) that the tide is too low and that we will be obliged to go down 5 by 5 in a zodiac. JB used to have a bad sense of humor when he said that we looked like refugees with our life jackets on, he couldn’t believe he was saying it so well… We find it funny at first but after 30 minutes of waiting, at 8pm, we start to get hungry.


In the end, it’s not so bad because we were treated to a beautiful sunset to reward us for our efforts


Part 2: Practical Tips


  • Double room with shared bathroom: US$51 or 34,000 pesos
  • Half-day tour with Solo Expediciones: 65,000 pesos/person www. at 3:30 pm, return at 8 pm). If you also go to Ushuaia, it would be better to go to see the penguins from Ushuaia (more expensive but the tour stops at other nice places too)
  • Lunch at Lomitos: 13,000 pesos, drinks included
  • Prepaid Taxi: 10 000 pesos for 4 people max, otherwise the transfer costs 5000 pesos/person


  • Do not arrive on a Sunday, the city is deserted
  • Bus Sur’s offices are open all the time while those of other buses are constantly closed. Therefore, you should prefer Bus Sur for your departures, at least from Punta Arenas.
  • The ferry at 45 000 pesos/person to Magdalena Island: apparently you can take a collective cab to go there for 1000 pesos/person but I didn’t want to try this option on a Sunday, for fear of not being able to get back at 8pm
  • There are a few banks in the center of the city
  • The seaside is very pleasant for a short walk
  • Two large groups of Dutch and Italians visited the penguin island with us, accompanied by their guides. We will cross them the next day, taking the same bus to Ushuaia. I have the impression that the long guided tours here could take the same transport and the same excursions as us backpackers. Take this into account if you want to go through a travel agency for a long guided tour in Patagonia.


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