What to do in Chile? Incredible landscapes, unique experiences, discover here the places not to be missed.
A 3-DAY SCIENTIFIC WHALE WATCHING CRUISE
In March, I had the chance to go on a humpback whale watching cruise, in collaboration with Whalesound. But why this company and not another? Because it’s actually a 3-day scientific excursion with guides who have very good knowledge of the Strait of Magellan as well as humpback whales. Do you want to know more about it? Embark with me on this extraordinary adventure!
WHALE WATCHING WITH WHALESOUND
But before embarking on the whale excursion, let’s talk about Whalesound. It isn’t just a multi-day excursion where you sleep in a camp in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t just a boat trip in the middle of a magnificent landscape either. And it isn’t just whale watching… It’s above all a scientific expedition in which you’re part of! Yes, for 3 days you help the crew identify humpback whales and write down the information in a book. How? Their tails are like fingerprints. Each whale sighted is identified, and the crew notes the location and date. This data is then shared around the world to study the behavior of humpback whales. So, are you coming on board with us to help the crew? Here’s the adventure! Depending on the weather conditions, expect this to change, the sea can be very rough in the Strait of Magellan.
DAY 1 - SAILING THE STRAIT OF MAGELLAN
Wake up at 4 a.m. for a 4:30 a.m. departure from our accommodation in Punta Arenas. We would normally leave later, but as I just explained, it depends on the weather conditions. We drive 1 hour to Bahía Carreras to board the boat. You’ll ask me why the boat doesn’t leave directly from Punta Arenas? Because that would add 4 hours on the boat… On board, we meet the crew, a total of 4 people for around ten tourists. The guide explains the rules to us and shows us on a map the route we’re going to take. A few minutes later we have a nice breakfast prepared by the crew.
We sail for approximately 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the Francisco Coloane Marine Park (Parque Marino Francisco Coloane), to the Carlos III eco camp. If you get seasick, plan accordingly as the boat ride can be quite rough. On the way we pass by incredible landscapes of the Strait of Magellan (Estrecho de Magallanes)! Seeing mountains with snow-capped peaks from a boat seems unrealistic. We also pass the famous San Isidro lighthouse (faro San Isidro). At Cape Froward (Cabo Froward), we see a cross on the summit, inaugurated by Pope John Paul II. This cross is at the southernmost point of the American continent. On the way, we quickly see Commerson’s dolphins and cute Magellanic penguins. Some birds fly near us such as great skuas, or even black-browed albatrosses.
Around 4 p.m., the crew gives us some information about humpback whales, and how we can help them. Humpback whales are around the camp between November and April, but especially from January to March for food. To reproduce, they return to the warm waters of the Caribbean. Around 85% of them return to the Strait of Magellan the following year, sometimes with their children. The camp’s at this location because it’s here that they were able to observe the greatest intensity of humpback whales in the strait.
Around 5 p.m., we arrived at the Carlos III camp, but we didn’t disembark. This is simply to give the food to the cooks. We immediately go back around the island to see if we can find a whale. It was after several minutes of hope that we saw the breath of a whale! The captain directs the boat towards the blow to identify it more easily, without getting too close to the whale of course. We see the whale coming out and blowing several times. It’s impressive ! Whale watching is such an extraordinary experience to live! When they decide to dive into the water, that’s when we can see their tail and identify them thanks to the huge binder the crew has. Once they dive, we know we won’t see them again for several minutes. We look everywhere to see any others. And another one coming out of the water! We approach in its direction to identify it. It’s possible that it’s the same. We saw different whales but often the same ones several times.
We watched whales for about 2 hours before returning to camp. The eco camp is made up of 5 domes with a transparent part so we can observe the landscape. Each dome is heated with a wood stove. Don’t worry, there are beds, and they lend sleeping bags. Because yes, it’s cold at night. Also during the day, plan accordingly! They divide us into domes of 2. If you travel in odd numbers, you may be with someone you don’t know. The toilets are in a separate space as well as the common room and the kitchen. After settling in, we meet in the common room for a small welcome cocktail with the whole team. They take several minutes to give us a more detailed presentation on the company, the objectives, and humpback whales in general. It’s super interesting and it really makes us want to support this type of project. After a good meal, we go to bed while listening to the sound of whales blowing. What we are experiencing seems unreal.
DAY 2 - WHALE WATCHING AND INES GLACIER
Waking up early with breakfast between 6 and 7 a.m. We leave early to enjoy the calm of the strait. We stay a few minutes near the camp for whale watching. We see some coming out several times near us. After having identified each of them, we head towards the Ines glacier. Before arriving, they serve us a good lunch in the boat. Once finished, we go back up, and there we see this wall of ice in front of us! I don’t even have the words! This glacier is huge! An incredible blue color, we can see crevasses in the glacier, it’s breathtaking! We see some pieces fall and float in the water. We stay for several minutes observing it closely.
Then we head back to the camp. The landscapes are still different than the day before, waterfalls, mountains by the sea, it’s super beautiful! On the way back, a few whales showed up, including one that came out really close to the boat! Wow! We are well aware of the immense size of these humpback whales… We saw some playing with their fins out of the water, one even jumped, which is generally quite rare here. A magnificent natural show! We saw a total of ten different whales during the entire whale watching cruise. But as they come out of the water several times, we were able to see them many times. The crew also takes us to see a colony of sea lions not far from the eco camp. I love watching them play in the water and bicker on the rocks. It’s adorable! We often see them near the coast and the whales.
After this long day of observation, we return to rest at camp around 7 p.m. Meet at 8 p.m. in the tent for a cocktail and then a meal. A good time spent together after this beautiful day.
DAY 3 - RETURN TO PUNTA ARENAS
Wake up even earlier than the day before, breakfast between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. We have to leave the domes at 6:45am so we can leave with the sunrise. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a great success due to the weather, but we stayed 2 hours near the camp to do some whale watching one last time. We saw a mother and her young child together, a beautiful sight!
We then leave towards Bahía Carreras, by the same route as on the outward journey, approximately 8 hours by boat awaits us. We still admire these magnificent landscapes, almost alone on the Strait of Magellan. Almost ? Yes, because we sometimes come across a few fishing boats. Arriving towards the bay, we encounter another humpback whale, quite rare to see one in this place. One last goodbye before heading back to the land.
Thanks to the collaboration with Whalesound, I was able to have this magnificent experience, and discover a company with incredible values. A whale excursion that has meaning and an interesting objective, and not just taking tourists to a place so that they see whales and leave. The landscapes are really beautiful. To see all these animals living in the wild is magnificent! And the highlight of this is to see these humpback whales so close to us! The team’s also great! Incredible knowledge about whales, they explain their objectives to us as well as what they know about these large marine animals. An experience that you don’t often have in your life and will remain engraved in my memory.
So, did that convince you? If you too would like to live this unforgettable experience, you can contact them directly on their website for the detailed program as well as availability.
Price of the 3-day excursion with guides, food, transport and accommodation at the eco camp: US$1,500*
WHERE TO EAT IN PUNTA ARENAS?
Pdte. Jose Manuel Balmaceda 723,
Punta Arenas, Magallanes and Antártica Chilena, Chile
Price: daily menu at CLP42,000*
Un très bon restaurant à faire dans le coin si vous avez un peu d’argent. Une ambiance cosy, comme si on mangeait à la maison. Un bon moment à partager dans une bonne atmosphère.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN PUNTA ARENAS? ACCOMMODATION IN PUNTA ARENAS
Av. Pdte. Salvador Allende Gossens 416,
6200000 Punta Arenas, Magallanes y la Antártica Chilena, Chile
Price: CLP11,500* / night / person in a mixed dormitory of 6 people
Click here to book a night in the hostel.
Accommodation in Punta Arenas is expensive. If you want cheap accommodation, this can help you for a few nights.
THE MAP FOR WHALE WATCHING CRUISE
HOW MANY DAYS IN PUNTA ARENAS?
The whale watching cruise lasts 3 days. Try to plan to arrive a day early and stay a day later in case something unexpected happens. There are also some things to do in and around the city. Find out beforehand to know how many days you want to plan. If you stay a week, this will allow you to rest, but also to do some sightseeing. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend more.
WHAT’S THE BEST WHALE WATCHING SEASON IN PUNTA ARENAS?
I was there the end of March and I was able to see a lot of humpback whales. The best season for a whale excursion is between December and March. There are also some in November and April, but less.
|JANUARY||Good time for whale watching.|
|FEBRUARY||Just like January, it’s a good month for a whale watching cruise.|
|MARCH||March is also good for seeing humpback whales.|
|APRIL||Autumn arrives with temperatures ranging from 3 to 15°C depending on the day.|
|MAY||The end of autumn with lower temperatures and shorter days.|
|JUNE||Winter begins with temperatures below 10°C, sometimes negative.|
|JULY||The days are very short. Depending on the year, the city can be covered in snow.|
|AUGUST||Like the month of July, it’s still the winter season with temperatures between 4°C and -1°C.|
|SEPTEMBER||The end of winter’s here with slightly warmer temperatures.|
|OCTOBER||The start of spring with slightly longer days.|
|NOVEMBER||The whale watching season may be starting, but it all depends on what the company tells you.|
|DECEMBER||The good time for whale watching begins again.|
HOW TO GET TO PUNTA ARENAS?
Punta Arenas has an international airport located 20-minute drive from the city center, called Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo International Airport. Click here to see the different flights available to you depending on your departure city. To get to downtown Punta Arenas, you can use the Uber app.
From or to Puerto Natales, the town next to Torres del Paine, there are several buses throughout the day with the Bus-Sur company. It will take between 2 and 3.5 hours for the journey. The central station is located in the city center. Click here to book the bus that suits you best.
WHAT BUDGET TO EXPECT FOR WHALE WATCHING?
The whale excursion represents a certain amount in the budget. But it’s so worth it! The budget that I’ll describe below corresponds to a budget for backpackers who pay attention to their expenses (excluding the excursion of course). Here’s the budget to plan for during your visit to Punta Arenas:
- Accommodation: it costs around CLP11,000* for a bed in a dormitory in a youth hostel, minimum.
- Food: I advise you to cook to save as much as possible on this type of expense. Allow between CLP5,000 and CLP9,500* per day depending on what you usually eat. For a good restaurant, plan on a minimum of CLP25,000*, or even CLP42,000* if you go to the restaurant recommended in this article.
- Transport: public transport is cheap, count between CLP900 and CLP2,000*. For car trips, I recommend using Uber. Depending on the distance and time of day, you can easily get between CLP4,000 and CLP9,500*.
- Activities: whale watching cruise cost around US$1,500*. There are also some activities you can do in and around the city. It all depends on what you do, but it may be worth budgeting CLP47,000* and depending on what you want to do.
- Others: always budget for unexpected expenses or souvenirs.
On average, without the whale excursion, plan around CLP50,000* per day. It’s possible to do with less, it all depends on your desires.
MY TRAVEL TIPS FOR WHALE WATCHING
- Look at the best seasons to make the excursion and put all the chances on your side to see whales.
- Contact the company as soon as possible to find out their availability, I’ll advise you about 3 months in advance if possible.
- Bring warm clothes, there can be a lot of cold winds.
- If you get seasick, plan accordingly.
*All prices mentioned in this article are as of March 2023.