We took a very expensive, 24 hour, bus from Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos. Then, we made the choice to go to Punta Arenas in Chile and not Ushuaia where Jenny had already been a few years back. We decided to take a direct bus to the south of Patagonia and skip the east coast as there were not many places on the map where we could stay, and without a tent, we thought it would make our life more complicated than it needed to be.
Also, we were at the end of February and autumn was about to start in this side of the world. We didn’t have much time to loose as cold, rain and snow could hit us while ascending on the west side of the continent. So we arrived in Punta Arenas on the 1st of March after more than 30h of travel. Exhausted and excited to find the King Penguins of Tierra Del Fuego.
Crossing the Magellan Strait
After a night of beer pong and rum with a Russian guy, we woke up fresh and ready to organise our trip. First of all, we had to find a car and some other travellers to share a car with. There are two options to see penguins from Punta Arenas. The first and most popular is to see Magellanic Penguins on Isla Magdalena. The second is the lesser known option of seeing King Penguins. We choose the King Penguins as we had already seen 1,000,000 Magellanic Penguins in Punto Tumbo .
Jenny had done some research and found out a colony of King Penguins have settled all year long in Tierra del Fuego, in a Bay called “Inutile” (Useless). However to get to this natural reserve, we had to rent a 4WD. Then cross the famous Strait of Magellan to the little remote town of Porvenir and finally drive 2 hours on dirt road.
Koen, a Dutch guy travelling South America for a few months joined the crew with Anais, a newly arrived French girl. The four of us set up a plan to leave the next morning early enough to catch the ferry. Jenny drove. At first, she was not confident but once on the trails of Tierra del Fuego, she really enjoyed driving the 4×4 into holes full of muddy water.
Tours to visit the King Penguins
There are 1 day tours that visit the King Penguins, so it is not necessary to rent a car. However, the price of the 1 day tour was working out to be similar to what we could arrange for two days. Also, the tour only stays one hour with the King Penguins, with 10 hours of travel. We didn’t think it was worth it.
Finding The King Penguins
We arrived at the natural reserve, Parque Pingüino Rey, around lunch time. The weather was not the best, but what can we expect in such a place? There are no palm or coconut trees here! The landscape is rough. The land is used to aggressive wind, rain, snow and trashing seas. Whatever, we would brave anything to be able to see King Penguins and especially when it may be our only chance to see the species.
In fact, King Penguins are usually only found in the sub-antarctic islands. This usually means to see King Penguins a very long and expensive trip to the South Georgia islands is usually the norm…
Note: There are other islands where they can be seen. The largest colony is actually found on Crozet island. King Penguins also inhabit Kerguelen, Macquarie and Prince Edward islands (New-Zealand).
But lucky us, a colony of about 40 has set up camp in Inutile Bay. Researches have demonstrated the King Penguin had been visiting the islands of Tierra del Fuego for hundreds of years. It’s only in 2010 that a first group of 8 arrived and stayed for the breeding season. Since the opening of the national park and their protection, their number has increased. This group breed and give birth at the same place.
We only stayed a couple of hours but that was enough to get an idea of the place and learn about the penguins. The park had placed limitations to visitors and set up observation points about 40 m away from were the colony was gathered that day. A chance for us to see but the pictures don’t give the place or the birds justice. At this period of the year, the chicks have already well grown up but are still wearing their hairy brown fur. The brown contrastes with their parents suit like feathers. We noticed a few were monitored by scientists as they had small trackers on their back.
After our time with the penguins it was time to get back into the car. We headed back to Porvenir where we decided to spend the night as the daily ferry had already set sail. The other option would have been to drive back all the way around the Strait of Magellan. A drive of about 5 hours. Nobody was feeling like it so we looked for a place to stay and to eat. Same story as Punta Arenas, the only places with an online presence were closed or were fully booked by the nearby mines for their employees.
We finally found a cozy place to spend the night. Regarding food, we ended up sharing a Pichanga at the corner fast food shop. A Pichanga consists of a massive plate of fries, eggs, pickled onions and carrots, sausages, chicken and lamb. This is a very traditional hearty specialty of Chile that would feed an army!
With our full bellies we went back to our room, slept like babies and woke the next day fresh and ready for a new day of adventure. We drove around Porvenir and hopped on the 2 hour ferry back to Punta Arenas.
Once again, Jenny had done some research and knew that we might have a chance to see Orcas, Dolphins and Whales while on the ferry. On deck, looking around like a Meercat, Jenny and Anais heard a scream, “Ballenas”. They ran off and immediately shot photos of 2 Sei Whales passing by. Steven and Koen joined after Anais quickly ran down to alert them. Shortly after we got the chance to witness several blows that seemed to be Minke Whales. Jenny is not entirely sure so if there are professional out here, please let us know.
With that we finished a great road trip into the Chilean Tierra del Fuego. It would be the southern most point we would reach on this trip. We drove the car back and started to book our next adventure : a 7-day hike in the national park of Torres del Paine. From now on we are going north!
Arriving In Punta Arenas
When we arrived in the southern town of Punta Arenas we searched for accommodation everywhere. Carrying our bags, we walked up, down and around. But it seemed that all the places we had researched online and through our apps were either closed, incredibly expensive, or full of workers. Not exactly the chilled and relaxed backpacker place we were expecting.
It was a very strange place for our first day in Chile. Everything seemed new and different from Argentina. Some hostels were open, but literally nobody was around to check us in. We ended up going to the last place we had on our list, a dingy party hostel… We barely had the choice so when the manager warned us that people were partying until late at night we faked a big smile saying that was no issue. However, we were strongly thinking how glad we were to have earplugs in our bags.
Costs and useful information
Currency (average): €1 = 16.38 ARS / 713.45 CLP
Bus Puerto Madryn – Rio Gallegos: 1,654 ARS (€100 pp)
Bus Rio Gallegos – Punta Arenas: 350 ARS (€21.5 pp)
Hostel Backpacker Paradise – dorm: 10,000 CLP (€14 pp)
Hostel Porvenir – dorm: 12,000 CLP (€17 pp)
Rental 4WD – 2 days – Recasur: 128,000 CLP (€180)
Ferry (car w/driver included + 3 passengers – Return): 116,800 CLP (€164 /€41 pp)
Entrance King Penguins park: 12,000 CLP (€17 pp)
Fuel approx. 400 km: 16,000 CLP (€22)
=> Total per person for 2 days / 1 night: 89,200 CLP (€125)
** note that all the links we add are FYI. We are not remunerated by either the companies/organisations nor per click.
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