Isla Magdalena: Home to 120,000 Magellanic penguins

I wanted to be wowed, and Isla Magdalena delivered with its breeding colony of more than 120,000 Magellanic penguins.  This small, uninhabited island lies inside the infamous and important Magellan Strait at the southern end of South America, at the tail end of Patagonia and just north of Antarctica. Not only was I impressed by the sight and sounds of this magnificent penguin colony, I felt humbled by the rugged beauty surrounding me and very privileged to be a spectator to mother nature’s wonders. The rawness of the landscape, the sweep of the sea, the softly undulating hills, and the thousands of penguins made it a wonderous sight.

The Magellanic penguin is named after the 16th-century Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan who circumnavigated the world.  These penguins are found only in southern South America and the Falkland Islands. It’s a medium-size penguin with a black back, a white stomach, and two distinctive black bands between the head and chest.  Click here to learn more about this amazing bird.

In 1983, Isla Magdalena was declared a protected national monument, Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, and its only occupants are park rangers there to protect and monitor the penguin population, as well as educate the human visitors who drop in.

As we reached the island late in the afternoon, after 2 hours at sea, we were astonished by the sheer number of penguins on this island. Everywhere you looked, there were penguins. At this time of year, the eggs have all hatched and the chicks are about 6 weeks old – cute, cuddly fur balls that you just wanted to pet and take home with you.  Each adult pair had two chicks.  Nests were dug into the side of the sandy hills and offered safe refuge and shelter for these little families. Penguins are quite territorial and possessive about their nest, shooing away any non-family member who dared to venture too close, including us humans. I even had my ankles pecked as I inadvertently got too close to a nest taking a picture of another family close by.

The cacophony on the hills was deafening but we learned that all this noisy barking served a purpose: penguins identified each other audibly which makes sense when you think about it since they all look alike. How else are they going to find their family when they come home after a day of fishing if not to yell out, Mary, where are you?  Turns out, they recognize each other by their bark!

Lots of penguins (slide show)

As we walked along the marked pathway, penguins were everywhere.  They waddled in front of us, behind us, beside us, quite indifferent to our human presence.  We were enthralled by their antics including hillside brawls, personal grooming, and open displays of affection.  Now this is an island worthy of a top ten rating for places to see before you die…at least in my humble opinion.

Come for a walk through the penguin colony (video)




Category: Chile, South America
Please leave a comment below. We'd love to hear from you! Both comments and pings are currently closed.
4 Responses
  1. Angus says:

    Ok we get it. You guys love penguins 🙂

    Actually the video was awesome and really appreciated watching it.

    I’m still trying to figure out how you and Chris fit all the clothes for such a wide range of climates plus cameras, computers etc into a couple of backpacks when a certain wife I know can’t go away for a weekend without renting a UHaul.



    • christina says:

      Hey Angus
      Stay tuned for even more penguins – tomorrow we’re off to Antarctica on a cruise which will also visit the Falkland Islands and Georgia Islands. Apparently there’s a huge colony of King Penguins (they’re the big guys) on the Georgia Islands – we’re talking something like 300,000 penguins! I can hardly wait to see them. We could make our own “March of the Penguins” video 🙂

      Interesting you should mention luggage. Chris and I each have a 60L backpack and a day pack and that’s it. Our back packs are crammed to absolute maximum capacity – something that has elicited comments from other travellers as to what the heck we have in them which makes us always feel a little defensive as we try to justify our stuff. Our big packs are heavy – combined they weigh just under 40 kg and are probably pretty evenly split. We know this because the maximum weight allowed on the SA flights we’ve been taking has been 20 kg per person and we always make it just under the wire.

      Every time we have to pack up our gear, Chris curses all the stuff he has, but isn’t prepared to get rid of anything, at least not yet. I, on the other hand, think I have just the right amount of stuff to cover off every situation and climate we have encountered so far. When you pare down like this, you realize how little you can get by on. I feel I have enough variety that I’m not even sick of my clothes yet. Mind you, there’s no room for anything that isn’t functional – no purses, fancy shoes, hair dryers or any such items.

      I think we’re doing pretty good with the amount of stuff we’ve got, yet there are people out there travelling like us with nothing more than a day pack. I have no idea how they manage that. Chris’ camera gear including multiple lenses and laptop take up his entire day pack alone. Because we’re travelling so lean, we don’t buy anything we don’t absolutely need. Even buying a bottle of shampoo means figuring out first if we have space to carry it. We’re getting brand new parkas with fleece liners on our Cruise and we’re stumped as to what to do with them afterwards. We’ll have to get creative.

      Thanks for staying in touch, always nice to read your comments. Christina

  2. Aline Abi-Khalil says:

    Hi Chris,

    The video is sooo cool! I love the penguin pictures, I love the waddle. I have really enjoyed reading the blog so thank you for taking the time to share your experiences, keep it coming.

    Safe travels.
    Aline (from the Bank of Canada)

  3. Kim McNab says:

    I love those penguins!!! Adorable! I hope you are having a good time on your cruise!!! Looking forward to seeing the pix! :)K