When Magellan passed through his eponymous strait bound for Chile for the first time, he cruised past the tiny Magdalena Island. Today, travelers make it a point to stop at this scenic island just northeast of Punta Arenas to explore the rocky shores and observe the huge colony of Magellanic penguins at their critical breeding site.
Magdalena Island is a designated national nature reserve and one of the most popular natural attractions near Punta Arenas. Most visitors choose to visit on a day trip from the Patagonian city; a typical tour includes boat transportation to the island and time onshore to observe the colony of some 120,000 penguins. Tours often include a circumnavigation of nearby Marta Island, where visitors can spot sea lions, elephant seals, cormorants, gulls, and Chilean dolphins.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Magdalena Island is a must-visit for animal lovers, photographers, and families traveling with kids.
- Wear comfortable shoes suitable for walking over uneven surfaces.
- Dress in warm layers, as it can get chilly on the island even in the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.
- Camera tripods, monopods, and selfie sticks are not permitted on the island.
- Boat trips to the island usually depart from the Punta Arenas pier, though some tours include hotel pickup and drop-off.
How to Get There
Magdalena Island is accessible by boat, with tours departing regularly from the main pier in Punta Arenas. If you’re not taking a guided tour, there’s also a public ferry to the island that leaves from the Tres Puentes ferry dock, about 4 miles (6 kilometers) from Plaza del Armas.
When to Get There
Due to the extreme Antarctic climate, the island is only accessible to visitors between December and March.
Magdalena Island Lighthouse
Many travelers miss the park’s interpretive center, housed within a historic lighthouse built in 1902, after making a beeline straight for the penguins. But, the historic structure is well worth a few minutes, thanks to its exhibits about the island and its waddling residents.