Penguins on the coast of Chiloé

When I first got to Chiloé, the kind host at my hostel explained all of the places to see and activities to do in Chiloé, which was super helpful because I hadn’t done much research beforehand. To my delight, one of the top things to do inChiloé is to see penguins out on the north West Coast of the island. Yes please!

There are two options to go see the penguins: one is to book a tour beforehand, which includes transportation to the beach as well as a guided boat ride for a closer look at the penguins. The second is to take the public bus out to the beach and find a guided boat ride amongst the many companies there. The do-it-yourself approach runs to 11,000 pesos, or $17.70 (even less if you haggle for the tour and hitchhike back, like some of my more hardcore roommates at the hostel). Versus a minimum of 15,000 pesos ($24.15) minimum for the tour, and up to 20,000 pesos ($32.20) if you want it in English. I was tempted to book the tour and simply pay a convenience fee of 4,000 pesos, but couldn’t justify more than that… so I ended up taking the bus instead.

For something that is apparently so popular, getting to the penguins isn’t as easy as I expected. Thankfully the host of the hostel gave me the bus schedule and instructions, because I couldn’t find any specific information online. There was only one bus making one trip a day, leaving from Terminal Rurales at noon (1pm on weekends) and returning at around 5:30pm.

I made my way to Terminal Rural, which can only be described as a warehouse filled with buses to all of the smaller ares of the island (makes sense why the station is called Rural, I guess). The bus that I wanted went to Puñihuil and costed 2000 pesos ($3.22).

The warehouse bus terminal

A little less than an hour later, we arrived at the Puñihuil bus stop. More accurately, the bus drove off of the road and right onto the beach, where we got out and took in the beautiful sight of a sandy black beach dotted with small green islands.

As expected, there were many companies offering tours, but I had gotten a recommendation the previous day from fellow travelers at the hostel who had found a company with guides that spoke English. So along with two of the only fellow English speakers on the bus, we headed for Turismo Huaihuen.

For 7000 pesos, or $11.30, (I tried the haggling thing, and it didn’t work), we bought the half hour boat tour in English. We had just arrived at the same time as a bus-full of middle school aged children, though, so we were all put on a boat together.

Our English-speaking guide doubled as the Spanish guide as well, he just simply repeated what he said in English. Or forgot to, until I asked him about the couple of Spanish words I picked up from his most recent explanation.

To get on and off the boat, the companies use a very unconventional method: they load the passengers on what is basically an elevated cart, and workers push the cart out into the water to where the boat is waiting. I guess in the absence of a dock, this is not a bad option!

We zoomed out to the small islands, where the penguins were hanging out close to the shore. The boat floated about 5 meters away, in perfect range for my telephoto lens.

A couple of penguin facts:

  • We saw two types of penguins, the Humboldt and the Magellanic. They look very similar because they come from the same family and can even intermix, but you can tell them apart because the Humboldt has one stripe and is more grayish in color, whereas the Magellanic has two stripes and is more black.
  • The penguins start reproducing at about 4 years old, and can live for more than 20-25 years.
  • The penguins supposedly have one mate for life, but if that mate happens to not make it’s way back, the egg’s gotta be fertilized, man. So the penguin is not so choosy about its replacement mate at that point, and a lot of hybrid penguins might result.
  • From one study where they put a GPS on a Magellanic penguin, they found that it dove underwater for 3 minutes to a depth of 100 meters. 1.5 minutes to make its way down, 25 seconds to swim and catch a fish, and another minute to resurface.

Occasionally a penguin would jump in the water, but it would need to contemplate it first:

Along with the penguins, we also saw all kinds of other wildlife!

The Cormorans, who can both dive to a depth of 25 meters and fly.

The flightless steamer duck, which is the largest duck in South America. From a distance, it looked like it was at least 2-3 times the size of a normal duck.

Pelicans

And vultures!

This area is definitely teeming with wildlife. When we went to the souvenir shop afterward, the guide showed us wildlife pictures that he took himself, of whales and various birds and otters. Unfortunately, the otters all died out a couple of years ago because a local salmon factory dumped a lot of waste in the area, which raised the toxins in all of the shellfish and poisoned the otters, who rely on shellfish as their main food source. Hopefully the rest of the wildlife (especially the penguins) are safe and being protected somehow.

The boat tour ended much too quickly, and suddenly my new companions and I found ourselves back on the beach at 2pm, with no transport back until 5:30. I could see why some other people hitchhiked, because it was pretty chilly on the beach! We walked around a bit, and then went inside a restaurant to eat and wait for the bus.

At 5pm we went back out to the beach, since we didn’t want to miss our one and only chance to get back to Ancud. We weren’t so sure that this bus was going to come, but thankfully other people arrived to wait with us. There was also a man with a walky talky assuring us “5 minutes” every 5 minutes, so we were somewhat less worried.

The walky talky man pointed at the other end of the beach and said that the bus would come from that direction. But from where…? We had hiked out to the far end, where it just turned into rocks, and there were no roads going up inland from the beach except for the one we came on, which we were standing at. But lo and behold, a little past 5:30, the bus out of nowhere towards us on the beach. I wonder if it just parked here somewhere and waited? If that was the case, it could have left earlier. Just saying.

It was a long day with surprisingly few tourists, but a worthy one! The couple that I talked to had seen the penguins on Magdalena Island, but they also agreed that it was a worthy trip. Here, you can see the penguins in a completely different and unexpected environment, among a lot of other wild birds. The public transport options aren’t great (read: there are none), but I’m also just glad that there was public transport!

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