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February 28, 2012
Day 11: Punta Arenas, Chile


At the Monumento Natural Los Pengüinos on Isla Magdelena

We mentioned previously that we didn’t go to see the penguins in the Falkland Islands. One reason was that the excursions were expensive and out-of-the-way for what you got. The second reason was that we knew we would get another chance three days later, on February 28th.


Our day today began with this gorgeous sunrise over the ocean

Punta Arenas, Chile, is the southernmost mainland city in South America. (Our cancelled port of Ushuaia is the actual southernmost city, but it is on an island.) There was a Princess Cruises excursion over land to Otway Island to view penguins, but we did not book that. Instead, our Cruise Critic friend Vickie found a private tour that we signed on for.

(As a side note, the Otway Island folks were informed at the last minute last night that their entire tour was cancelled. Apparently, the penguins have just departed for the season, so there is nothing to see. We can only imagine the frustration of cruisers who had booked Princess excursions for both Ushuaia and Otway Island, only to end up with nothing.)

On Tuesday morning, February 28th, we met seven other Cruise Critic folks and took a tender to the dock at Punta Arenas. Our tour would include Gail and Russell, Vickie and Bernie, Rose and Jerry, and Alice. (There was no wait for the tenders this time, as the ship was docked less than five minutes from the port.)


The approach to Punta Arenas, Chile

Princess Patter: Overlooking the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas is your gateway to Chilean Patagonia, a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts and photographers alike. Unusual snowcapped mountain peaks and crystal-clear fjords pave the way for exciting trekking adventures ashore. Punta Arenas is the capital of the Region de Magallanes y Antartida Chilena and is the industrial and commercial centre of Chilean Patagonia.

From the terminal, we walked two blocks north and two blocks east to arrive at the tiny office of Canales Solo Expediciones, a non-descript little office. We joined several other tourists from various other countries, and 22 of us in total were loaded into a couple of minivans. We were driven 20 minutes to a small private dock at the edge of the water. There, we were loaded into a small covered boat.

    
The office of Solo Expediciones.
We had to walk a fairly long and rickety-looking dock (it was actually quite sturdy) to get to the boat.

The sky was blue, the sea was calm, and the water was like glass. We had started out bundled up in long-johns; we were now taking off our jackets.

Our first stop was Isla Magdalena, home of the Monumento Natural Los Pengüinos natural preserve. We disembarked to find more than a hundred thousand Magellanic Penguins wandering about. (Actually, it was more like they were standing about. Penguins often stand perfectly still, staring off in random directions.) We had one hour to walk around and take photos.


Isla Magdalena


El Monumento Natural Los Pengüinos, home of 100,000 Magellanic Penguins

         
Gail and her new friends

From there, we took another boat ride to Isla Marta, where there is a colony of sea lions in addition to cormorants and more penguins. We were not allowed to land here, so we all sat out on the deck of the boat and watched the wildlife from offshore.


Isla Marta (the sea lion colony is on the lower left shore)

         
We weren’t allowed to land on Isla Marta, but we took pictures from the deck of the boat.
It was probably just as well, because the sea lions were huge.
Some of them swam up to the boat to check us out.

Finally, it was a 40-minute boat ride back to the dock. This turned out to be the most exciting part of the adventure. A pod of dolphins started swimming with the boat. We were invited out on deck again, and Gail sat at the bow. She was thrilled to be splashed by the dolphins; it was the closest she had even been to dolphins.

    
The highlight of Gail’s day: getting splashed by dolphins

The weather all day was sunny and gorgeous. As we had experienced previously in Stanley and the Chilean Fjords, the natives kept telling us it was the best weather they had ever seen.


Our guide, Cesar, spoke English well and had a terrific personality. He admired Gail’s “Chilean Fjords” baseball cap so much that she gave it to him.

    
Cesar points out our location in the Straits of Magellan. Note that everything south of us is island, not mainland.
Our adventure for the day. Punta Arenas is in the lower center; Isla Magdelana and Isla Marta are in the upper center.

Once back in town, we had time to walk through Plaza de Armas to see the statue of Hernando de Magallanes (Ferdinand Magellan) and the street market. (Prices on hand-knitted alpaca are fantastic.) We also used Internet at the tourist center, where we got unlimited wi-fi for only $1 US.

We are convinced that the nine of us had a better adventure today than any of the 2,600 others on our cruise. We must be on some kind of a roll, because lately every day seems to be better and more perfect than the last. Today has been the best of all so far.

The last three days have all been highlights for Gail. Tomorrow begins three consecutive days at sea, which will be a highlight for Russell.


Russell, Gail and Hernando de Magallanes. Legend says that if you touch the foot of the Ona (Magellan native), you will return to Punta Arenas.

 

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