Penguins are one of the most wonderful creatures on earth. Seeing them up close in their natural habitat is an unforgettable experience. This is why adventurers from around the world come to Puñihuil. It does take a bit of effort to get there, but this keeps the area non-touristy. Besides, the undeniable beauty of Patagonia should be enough to convince you to visit. In this article, I will share all the information you need to start planning your visit to Puñihuil, Chiloe, Chile!
Every year during summer, penguins migrate from Antarctica to small islets offshore Puñihuil. This area, which has been designated as a national park, is located west of Ancud on the northern part of Chiloe Island. It’s the biggest island in the southern part of Chile, separate from the mainland. To get to this part of Chile, you can fly into Mocopulli Airport in Dalcahue, Chiloe. Flights are available from most airports in Chile, including from Arturo Merino Benítez Airport in Santiago. From Mocopulli Airport, it takes about one hour to get to Ancud, the closest town to Puñihuil. And from Ancud, it takes less than 40 minutes to get to the national park itself. However, I suggest you spend the night at Castro (closer to the airport) and visit the national park the next day.. And since it’s the biggest town on the island, you will have more accommodation and dining options. Here’s a recommendation of an Airbnb vacation rental in Castro I spent the night at: <em>Cabaña nueva con excelente ubicación en Castro</em>.
Going to Puñihuil
If you decide to spend the night in Castro, you need to go to Ancud first before heading to Puñihuil. The easiest and cheapest way is to take a bus. I took the bus from another island, Quinchao, and it cost me 4.000 CLP (around 4.6 USD). So, the fare from Dalcahue should be cheaper, around 1.500 to 2.300 CLP (around 1.75 to 2.7 USD), depending on the bus. No reservations are needed for the bus. You can either go to the bus stop or the bus station in town. Just hop on any bus with the “Ancud” sign and take a seat, pay the driver as you’re getting off the bus. Please keep in mind that most people here only speak Spanish, so use this as an opportunity to practice!
The easiest way to reach the national park from Ancud is by taxi. If you speak Spanish fluently, there’s another option available: hitchhiking! It’s common for people to hitchhike around in Chile, especially in places where buses are not available. However, if both options are not your cups of tea, you can try what I did: renting a car and driving up to Puñihuil from Castro.
Renting a car in Castro, Chiloe
Like in any other country, you need to have an international driving license to rent a car in Chile. Even a family-run company will ask for it, among other information such as your passport number and your local address. Another thing you need is a credit card. All renting companies require you to pay a deposit to rent the car. In Castro, I rented a car through GO Rent a Car. See the external link below for their website.
You might be interested in these Airbnbs!
Arriving at Puñihuil National Park
The Puñihuil National Park is easy to find on Google Maps. Just type in “Puñihuil” from Ancud and follow the directions. Besides, you can also follow the road signs along the way. If you’re driving from Castro, there’s another way to get to Puñihuil without having to go all the way north to Ancud. However, some parts of this alternative road are not paved,so unless you’re driving an SUV, I suggest you take the main road to Ancud instead.
Once you get to the national park, you may find people waiting at the entrance. They will offer arranged tours to see the penguins. Don’t be alarmed. Just pick one provider and follow their lead. This way, you don’t have to pay for a parking fee, which is 500 CLP (around 0.6 USD) per hour.
There are several tour providers along the coast. Each of them has a boat that will take you around the small islets where the penguins are. I chose Putemun III. First, you sign up at the office and pay the fee which is 7.500 CLP (around 8.7 USD) per person. Please note that they can only accept cash payments! Then, they will give you a locker key for you to put your belongings away safely and gear you up with a life jacket. Along with other tourists, you will be guided to get on a rolling deck that will take you to the boat, anchored by the shore. From there, your adventure begins!
Meet the penguins of Puñihuil
Once the boat takes off, it only takes about five minutes to finally see the penguins. What makes Puñihuil so special is that you get to see two species of penguin in one place. Both species come to Puñihuil islets to breed. They are Magellanic and Humboldt, one of the rarest species. You will see them sitting on the rocky islets in groups. The boat will get you as close as possible to these islets and give you a chance to take photos. And a Spanish-speaking guide will tell you everything you need to know about the penguins.
Besides the penguins, you get to see some amazing rock formations in this area. These rocks and islets were once parts of the big island but the Valdivia earthquake in 1960 shook and reformed most parts of the island, including Puñihuil.
After the tour, you are free to explore the shore. You can play around in the wet sand, take photos, or simply enjoy the breathtaking view. Keep in mind that this is a fishermen’s shore, so don’t expect sunbeds and parasols. In fact, the tour providers are mostly local fishermen. Since they cannot fish as much during summer, they offer tour services to make a living.
There are clean toilets available and they are free of charge for tour customers. You can also find a few restaurants and food vendors around. But keep in mind that most places, including the tour providers, are closed after 5 pm. Some stay open until 8 pm, but you may need to book in advance.
Once in a lifetime opportunity
These penguins visit Puñihuil only during the summer. So, make sure you time your visit to Chiloe perfectly. Don’t just come here for the penguins, because Chiloe, like other areas of Patagonia, offers natural beauty like no others. From the turquoise water, big lakes, snow-capped mountains, to rocky hills, be prepared for nonstop amazement!
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