Day 6 – 7 | Say hello to the penguins, Punta Arenas
The transfer from Puerto Varas to Puerto Montt was very smooth. There are several ways of getting yourself to Puerto Montt airport however, but we took the easiest way – we went by taxi. Most tour agencies or hostels will offer the very standard price of 18,000 pesos. For some reason I completely forgot to order one and our host wasn’t always around (in fact I only saw her briefly during breakfast.) Since the taxi in Puerto Varas are safe to ride, we waved down one from the taxi stand off the main street. The taxi driver only asked for 15,000 pesos which is cheaper than what we expected so off we go, en route to Punta Arenas.
All flights which are operated from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas are by Sky Airlines and are a stopover in Puerto Montt. The original departure point is from Santiago, so when you board on the aircraft, most people are already sat on the plane and you wouldn’t have seen them at the boarding gate. The flight took around 2 hours.
As soon as I stepped out the aircraft I can feel a colder wind on my face, it was much chillier than Puerto Varas. In the arrivals hall there were people holding cardboard offering transfers to the centre of Punta Arenas. All bus shuttles charge 5000 pesos per person. Since there were 2 of us there was no point taking the shuttle service so it was better to pay a taxi fare. Taxis charges 10,000 pesos (I personally think the shuttle bus service should charge a little less as I don’t really see many solo travellers.)
A 15 minutes taxi ride to the centre of Punta Arenas, we lodged into this Hostal Doña Irma. A very unpleasant stay in this hostal. I will put what happened at the bottom of the post only if you are interested to know more about how rude the staff working there were!
We dumped our luggage and went for a walk. Central Punta Arenas is very small, you can easily walk everywhere in couple of hours. Since the weather was not so bad we walked to the beach to enjoy the most southern part of our journey so far. The beach in Punta Arenas looks very industrial, nothing much to see. We sat in a little cafe located right on the beach with glass floor to to ceiling window which give you a good view of the sea and the surrounding area. We ordered 2 cups of hot chocolate which was also the first time for us to try out the Patagonian way to make your own hot chocolate. We were given a cup of hot milk and a bar of chocolate, so you can melt the bar of chocolate in the hot milk. The flavour was better than the ordinary hot chocolate as it’s less sweet and no powdery residue .
Another important mission for our walk in downtown Punta Arenas is to find a tour agency that we can organise the trip to Magdalena Island where you can see and walk with a lot of penguins. The Magdalena Island Penguins tour by boat cost 65,000 pesos per person wherever you go. In fact there is only one tour operator which has the license to visit that island and other tour agencies in town are only selling the tour tickets. The activity is pretty much a monopoly.
The Magdalena Island Penguins tour by boat also includes a quick visit to Marta Island where you can see sea lions from a distance as the boat would only circling this little island to protect wildlife. However visitors are allowed to disembark the boat to visit the penguins on Magdalena Island. Tour duration is less than 4 hours in the early morning. After booking the tour we ended our day with a fusion dinner in a Peruvian and Japanese restaurant in central Punta Arenas.
In the early morning next day, we turned up at the tour operator’s office at 6.45am as the meeting time. I have to say, so far, all our tour departure time is pretty punctual unlike other Latin American countries where everything run at least half an hour later.
The bus and boat transfer took around 1 hour until we reached Magdalena Island, I was so amazed at the amount of penguins on the island. This protected area nests more than 150,000 Magellanic Penguins. The Magellanic Penguin is one of the 3 temperate zone penguins in the Southern Ocean, measuring 70cm long with an approximate weight of 5 kg. It’s identified by 2 black bands across its throat and chest. On Magdalena Island you don’t only see the penguins, but also you see other seabirds such as Imperial & Rock Cormorants, Kelp Gulls, Chilean Skua and South American Tern nest here.
Penguins are a very particular group of birds, walking along the path on the island, I could see the families stay together. Most penguins nesting here for breeding or finding their partners in life. It was really sweet to see the baby penguins nesting in the same nests with the parents.
There is a little museum about penguins on the island where we learnt all about these and other species. The penguins walked everywhere, you don’t need a camera with a big lense at all to take a good shot.
The clouds started to clear away when we finished the tour whilst the wind was still cold and harsh. We were given a cup of hot drink at the docking area to warm up then we left this beautiful island. After about 20 minutes from the Magdalena Island we arrived at Marta Island where you can see hundreds of sea lions sunbathing. We were at quite a distant location from the island so my iPhone was a little useless to take any good shots which was a bit of a shame. Pfff, I wish that our camera was not stolen in Santiago…
We only stopped near Marta Island for about 5 minutes. The waves became very rough and choppy so a number of the passengers including me became a bit sea sick so we sat at the back of the boat in the open air and hoping not to vomit on the boat.
We arrived back in Punta Arenas at around 12ish. We ate something and browsed the streets at leisure until our departure time at 15:10 to Puerto Natales.
To continue read: Patagonia series | To the end of the world and back | episode 10 — Day 8 | Full day tour to Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales
Finally, here is the situation we had when we stayed at Hostal Doña Irma. The staff was pretty busy when we arrived so we greeted briefly. When we returned to the hostel in the evening she was asking for the payment. There I found it very strange with the tax situation in Chile, if I pay USD I can just pay the agreed price on booking.com, but if I pay Chilean pesos I have to add 19% tax on top of the price agreed on booking.com. However, not a big issue. As we need to leave early in the early morning to do our Penguin tour all I wanted is to checkout at 6am and leave the suitcase in a safe place (especially after the robbery event in Santiago, I become super cautious to look after my stuff). This old Chilean lady refused to get up at 6am to move our suitcase to the storage room and instead she asked me to leave the suitcase in the common area where everyone can just walk passed the suitcase with maybe an interest to push it out of the hostel. I was very concerned with safety but all I got from that lady was: I am only staff here, I don’t have any responsibilities in regards to the safety.” Seriously?? I disagreed to just leave my stuff in the common area so then she suggested to leave it in their storage room, but the condition is to lock my suitcase away before she goes to bed… Seriously??
We had to discuss this issue for half an hour and we eventually agreed that I will leave the suitcase in my room and this lady will retrieve it when she gets up in the morning and re-locate it in the storage room until our return in the afternoon at 1pm.
When we finished our tour to Magdalena Island and returned to the hostel to pick up the luggage, this lady was very unhappy that I kept the room key with me even though we had a spare key. She then became really rude and as soon as we had our luggage in hand she actually opened the door and stood there to chase us out. Seriously??
There really was no need to do this, and it would have been better had she shown a bit more customer service, especially as her actions were witnessed by other guests who had just arrived.