After making our way from Northern Chile, spending some time in Santiago, Vina Del Mar, and Renaca we flew down to the Chilean Patagonia to Punta Arenas, Chile. Punta Arenas is one of the furthermost cities in Chile and the hub exploring the Magellan Straits, Magdalena Island, and Tierra Del Fuego. The first thing we noticed is how cold it was. We took a transfer from the Airport to a home where we rented a room. We found out about the room from a woman we had met on the bus from Iquique to Antofagasta, Chile who was kind enough to set it up for us. It was cold and wet outside and as we entered the house of a woman we affectionately called Grandma (Abuela), the space heaters throughout the house reminded us of how far south we really were.
The "City" of Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas is the largest city south of the 46th parallel, however you can hardly call it a city at around 100,000 people. It's more like a town, spread out among the desolate landscape of the Chilean Patagonia. The town itself is nice, clean and easy to walk around. We spent a day walking around looking for places to eat, visiting the central park, and getting coffee intown at \our favorite cafe called History Cafe. The wind is nearly constant in Punta Arenas. The location between the straits and oceans causes a pretty chilly wind to whip up. We have to say we weren't really enjoying it. In fact the wind can get so bad, that the locals told us that at times, they need to put ropes and chains attached to posts so people can walk around town without getting blown over.
It was nice to go to the central plaza where there is a large monument to Ferdinand Magellan with some indigenous statues scattered about his feet. It is said that if you kiss the foot of one of the indigenous, you will return to Punta Arenas one day. It was easy to find the foot, as it was devoid of any patina the rest of the statues had. Needless to say, in the spirit of not getting sick, we didn't kiss the foot. It was just as well, as we were getting bored with this city and couldn't imagine what we would if we returned. With little to do and boredom setting in, we turned to Grandma for answers. Grandma (who's real name was Oyala) was an accommodating host however a bit strange. She was obviously quite a troublemaker in her day and still has a fiery personality that can be a little off-putting sometimes. We asked her what there was to do in Punta Arenas to which her reply was; "...go see the penguins on Magdalena Island". "They smell like your mother's vagina, but it's interesting nonetheless". Shocked with jaws dropped, we chuckled at her candor and decided to check out how to get there.
Isla Magdalena - Penguin Island
About 32 km northeast of Punta Arenas lies Isla Magdalena and Los Pingüinos Natural Monument. The island is the largest breeding and nesting location for the Magellanic penguin. The penguin colony on the island holds over 100,000 breeding penguins among other birds, sea lions and nothing more... absolutely nothing more. This island is desolate and tree free. There is a really nice lighthouse and a makeshift dock where the Malinka Ferry docks drop off masses of birdwatchers and tourists every day. The island has a loop that runs around the island along a roped off path. You are not to cross the rope and if a penguin come to the path, you are supposed to give the right of way.
We went down to the Tres Puentes Ferry port where the Malinka Ferry takes the 2 hour journey over the Straits of Magellan to Magdalena Island. The cost was around $65 US per person of foreign origin. We thought it was really steep and there were less expensive options to see penguins, but not like Magdalena where there are 100,000 or more. The Malinka is a huge boat, you can sit inside and watch their informational video, or head out on the decks to get some briskly fresh air, whale watch (we didn't see any) or throw up over the side if you need to. The straits are windy and the seas are rough, however the size of the boat made it not as rocky as some ferries in Thailand, or Utila, Honduras.
We made it to the Island, disembarked and loved what we saw. Thousands upon thousands of penguins waddling about the island. They make holes in the ground where they lay their eggs and incubate. One penguin always stays behind while their mate searches for food and defends. Penguins mate for life and it was interesting seeing how they defended their nest from the many bird predators and other penguins on the island. We could have watched them scurry about all day and it was a lot of fun taking pictures, video and walking around. Unfortunately we only had 1.5 hour before they rushed us back to the ferry to get back to the mainland. We loved the whole experience and will never forget it.
Heading to Puerto Natales from Punta Arenas
The day after the penguins, we had to get out of Punta Arenas. Although beautiful in its own right, we were bored and did most of what there was to do. We could have seen the cemetery ("the most beautiful in Chile according to locals), gone to another penguin sanctuary, Tierra del Fuego to see the Emperor Penguins, however we were penguined out and decided to book tickets with Buses Fernández for Puerto Natales. There are two main bus companies, Fernandez and Bus Sur, Fernandez being the less expensive. We asked for the 1300 bus (1pm for those who don't know military time) and when we went to board we were told our tickets were for the 13th of December. Why the dude who sold us the ticket didn't realize by seeing us with our backpacks on our backs, that we wanted to leave in a few hours, not a couple of weeks, was beyond comprehension. Our tickets were changed to much later in the day and we had to wait in the terminal for hours for the next available bus.
Puerto Natales, Chile
Once we got the bus, we arrived in Puerto Natales and took a cab to the car rental agency to rent a car. Our plan was to drive the Torres Del Paine Park the following day. We ended up staying in an AirBNB which was in what used to be a backyard BBQ shack turned into a room. It was small but really nice, and our host Osmar and his wife were really great! Here's a link to the unit. Puerto Natales is much prettier and has more restaurants, hostels and amenities than Punta Arenas. The surrounding mountains, trees, fiords and layout of the city was beautiful. We really liked the town, and there were some great options for less expensive food. The food in the Chilean Patagonia is expensive. In fact, everything is expensive. One thing we did notice in both Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales was that it doesn't get twilight/ sunset until around 10 pm and doesn't really get dark, dark until around midnight. It was strange. The sun rises at this time of year around 4:30 am, meaning it seemed to be always light out. It was hard when you were in town looking for food and it was still light out and things were closing up for the evening. You had to plan you day well.
Torres Del Paine National Park
There isn't a bunch to say about Torres Del Paine. It's a huge wilderness area and protected national park. The roads to the park are decently paved and easy to navigate. However, once you get into the park, the roads get progressively worse, potholed and wild! We saw a ton of fauna including, foxes, Rheas (Ostrich like birds) Guanacos, Andean Condors, and lots of other animals here and there. The views however..... WERE SPECTACULAR!! We couldn't believe how green the water was at the base of the mountains. The glacier water melts and makes a cloudy bluish-green color that is almost surreal. We rode all day in our rental car to everywhere we could go, and loved the freedom we had to stop where we wanted, get out, and enjoy! We recommend doing this. It was a regular old Chevy sedan, but we were able to go everywhere in the park. However, we can imagine if it were raining all day, or weeks of rain, we would have needed a 4x4. The day started off cloudy and rainy, however it cleared up and we actually go a "rare" view of the Towers (Torres) which are granite monoliths. The cost to get into the park per person was around $35 USD to get in. We couldn't help but wonder what they do with all the money they collect as the roads were terrible and infrastructure was nil. We loved it however, and have seen few places with such stunning beauty as Torres Del Paine National Park in the Chilean Patagonia.
Change In Perspective
The Patagonia was expensive... very expensive. Expensive for everything including our $25 USD coffees before leaving for Torres Del Paine, $70 USD ferry ride, $35 USD tickets, food that rarely was below 15 dollars per plate, and everything in between. Was it worth it? Undoubtedly, without a question, unequivocally... YES! We weren't going to go to the Patagonia. It was just too expensive for us. We were changed our plans in Puno and went to Chile. Once in Chile we realized how expensive it was and that the Patagonia was even more so. As hard it was for us to believe anything could be more expensive, it was. We booked tickets, rented cars and did what we wanted to do. We checked things off our bucket list including seeing the Patagonia and penguins in the wild. We spent, spent, and spent some more.
So do we regret it? No! Not even a little bit. We always say; " we will never regret doing something, not doing something we might." Will we look back 10 years from now and think to ourselves.... "we should have never spent that money to see penguins, glaciers, The Chilean Patagonia, and rented that car." No. Would we regret it if we had the chance to go and didn't? Now that we have done it, we can say we definitely would.
This is the point. Go out and do the things you want to do. Don't throw money down the drain, but if you have the money and feel that the experience will be a great one.... SPEND THE MONEY! You can't leave this world with it, and you will never regret the experiences. You can't put a cost on that.