One of the largest penguin colonies in southern Chile, MONUMENTO NATURAL ISLA MAGDALENA is home to more than 120,000 Magellanic penguins. The small island, just one square kilometre in size and topped by a pretty red lighthouse, lies 35km northeast of Arenas, two hours away by boat. The penguins dig their burrows under the tufts of grass covering the 15m-high cliffs.
In October each year, the birds migrate back here and find their mate – they’re monogamous and remain faithful to one partner all their lives. The female lays two eggs in the nest and when the chicks hatch, in November, both parents nurture the young, one adult remaining with the chick, the other going fishing. In late January, the chicks shed their baby feathers and get ready for their first trips into the ocean. By the end of March the penguins have returned to sea again.
You can get very close to the birds as they half hide in the waving grass, and lounge by the sea. If they start to cock their heads from side to side, it’s a sign that you’re disturbing them. The five-hour round-trip, which includes one hour on the island, is worth it for the scenic ride alone, as you may well spot black-and-white Commerson’s dolphins and other marine mammals.