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I knew I was starting my journey through Patagonia in Ushuaia at “the end of the world”, but really had no plan from there other then I wanted to travel North. Patagonia is a bit confusing to travel within since the land is so closely shared between Argentina and Chile, you have to hop between the two countries often just to move around. If you want to stay on the Argentina side after leaving Ushuaia most people head to El Calafete which is over 24 hours on a bus (or a short flight, but I’m only travelling overland). I heard about this other colony of king penguins in Punto Arenas which is about 8 hours north of Ushuaia, so I hopped on a bus going there instead. Getting into Chile was relatively straight forward, other then they won’t let you bring any nuts and fruits into the country, so I had to eat my entire bag of trail mix on the spot 🙁
I expected the entirety of Patagonia to be a magical land of mountains and lakes but this was a very false assumption; while some parts are quite magical the majority of the drive after leaving Ushuaia was flat land. It actually looked like Saskatchewan! I was feeling disappointed when I arrived in Punta Arenas. It’s hard to explain, but as soon as I got off the bus there I had this feeling that I wanted to leave. I tried to change my reservation at the hostel from three nights to two upon arriving but because I booked through a 3rd party website I couldn’t get a refund (a mistake I seem to keep repeatedly make), so I decided to stay the three nights assuming surely there must be a reason people come here?! (spoiler alert: there’s not, aside from the penguins).
I booked with Full Patagonia for full-day tour to see the king penguins the next day. This tour was… kind of strange. After picking everyone up you take a two-hour ferry to the main land, Tierra Del Fuego (it was named ‘land of fires’ because when it was discovered by a European sailor he saw from afar the fires the aboriginal people were making on the land). The ferry goes along the straight of Magellan which is a somewhat scenic ride and if you’re lucky you may see whales and dolphins! After the ferry, the tour continues back on land where they bring to a really small museum which was sort of a general museum of everything in the Tierra Del Fuego region from stuffed wild animals to the old tools that the aboriginals used. Afterwards you stop for lunch and then finally arrive at ‘King Rey Pinguino Park’ (coolest park ever).
This is the largest colony of King Penguins outside of Antartica/Falkland islands and it’s really neat to watch them all huddling around and making sounds at each other. Their was even little chicks there and you could see the mama’s feeding them! Unfortunately this tour doesn’t allow you to get very close to the penguins as there’s a wall that keeps you about 15m back, so it’s not the best for an up close experience with the penguins as opposed to the tour I did in Ushuaia. They do have some telescopes at the viewing area you can look through to get a better view of the penguins. You also only spend about an hour at the park which goes by super quickly. I had read online before that people were disappointed with this tour so I didn’t have my expectations very high, but I was still really excited to see all the penguins frolicking around in the wild.
Right after leaving the penguin colony we saw two foxes on the road which was probably my second highlight of the tour, although not intended to be part of it haha.
We also saw a ton of Guanacos on the road while driving. Guanocos are related to Alpacas/Llamas but unlike them they really don’t like people (understandably so because we hunt them). They live wild throughout Chile/Argentina and will run away if they see you (so they are really hard to get a picture of)!
After the penguin tour they take you a really small town where there is absolutely nothing. Apparently it was the first oil site discovered on the land, but there is no longer oil there because they extracted it all. The only thing there is a food stand where you can buy some fried bread. I know what I’m telling you seems very strange, and trust me at this point we were all just laughing because it made no sense why we were there. Afterwards, you drive to another ferry to get back to the other side which is just a 20 minute ride. Once there, you visit a really old farm that is no longer in use but is historically significant, but sadly is in terrible condition now. Across from the farm is an old shipwreck that is pretty neat to see.
And that concludes the end of the tour which I thought was a penguin tour. I can only assume they add in all these other strange stops so you aren’t just driving the entire day, but the significance seemed lost on most of the group. It was really just an odd day all in all.
On my second free day in Punto Arenas I was determined to find something interesting to do. There is another colony of Magellanic penguins which you can visit from there, but I just couldn’t justify it in my budget after doing the other two penguin tours. Instead I decided to do a self-guided tour through the town which did not help my impression, I really don’t know why people come here. If you are travelling through Patagonia I think Puerto Arenas can be easily skipped. Unless you are a die-hard penguin chaser like myself, there’s really not a lot here. Have you been to Puerto Arenas? Am I missing something?