Visiting Parque Pingüino Rey with Kids: New For 2024

On our trip through Patagonia, our older daughter Georgia made it her mission to see as many types of penguins as possible, and we were more than happy to oblige! As we crossed the Magellan Straight from Punta Arenas and took our first steps on Tierra Del Fuego, our first job on this fabled land was to visit Reserva Natural Pingüino Rey to see the king penguins who have recently made their home there. If you visit Parque Pingüino Rey with kids, you are sure to have an engaging and educational experience to remember!

A family photo at Parque Pingüino Rey with a small colony of king penguins in the background
Make sure you wrap up warm!

A Brief History of Parque Pingüino Rey

The story behind this new refuge is nearly as interesting as the birds themselves.

Anthropologists have uncovered fascinating evidence suggesting that king penguins had once been inhabitants of the area around 600 years ago. This conclusion is based on discoveries of king penguin bones that had been skillfully crafted into musical instruments by the indigenous Kawésqar people.

In 2010, for reasons only known to these incredible birds, 90 of them decided to reestablish the colony on the Fuegian coast, much to the surprise and delight of the local people.

Word spread of their sudden arrival and visitors swarmed to the area, with people disrupting the penguins’ feeding and nests and even going as far as to try to take selfies with them. Unlike the Magellanic or rockhopper penguins, king penguins get stressed very easily, and soon, all but eight of the birds abandon the colony.

Four king penguins  at Parque Pingüino Rey standing on the river bank
It is easy to see why they enthralled people so much.

Luckily, one person made it their mission to protect the birds, the parks founder Cecilia Durán. Along with marine biologist Alejandro Kusch, they put the first conservation measures in place, and their efforts quickly attracted the attention of biologists, archaeologists, and veterinarians. Together, they laid the foundation of the park as it is today, which opened its doors in 2011.

With this careful stewardship, the colony’s population has begun to recover, and amazingly, the first chicks hatched there in 2013. Other wildlife, such as the local foxes, have also presented dangers to the penguin chicks, but their impact has been limited with careful management since 2020.

Now that these beautiful birds are protected, their home on the peninsula is secure as long as they wish to remain.

A colony of king penguins at Parque Pingüino Rey on the river bank with the sea in the background
The colony is well on its way to a full recovery.

Booking Tickets For Parque Pingüino Rey

We seem to say this a lot about Patagonia, but booking ahead to visit Parque Pingüino Rey with kids is essential! You can reserve tickets through their website here. Somewhat unusually, whilst you book your places online, you pay either cash or card upon arrival at the park.

Tickets are strictly limited to keep the tours small and not disturb the penguins. The later slots are booked up in advance, most likely due to the tours that visit from Punta Arenas. You’ll need to reserve your tickets well in advance or be ready to get there early. 

The prices are very reasonable for this incredible experience at CLP$ 15,000/£13/USD 17 per adult, with children under ten years free. It is evident that the proceeds go towards the conservation of the area and the protection of the colony rather than a money-making scheme from tourists.

If you turn up without booking and are lucky, you might be able to sneak on a tour if there are spaces. However, expect to wait an hour or more until there is some availability.

Getting to Parque Pingüino Rey with Kids

The king penguins certainly know how to pick a remote spot! The park is located on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego in Bahía Inútil (literal translation: Useless Bay!), on a rugged and wind-swept part of the coast.

Most people visit the park from Punta Arenas, either as part of a day trip or on their way south to Ushuaia.

A brown road sign showing Colonia Pinguinos Rey is 50km away
One of the coolest road signs in Patagonia!

If you have your own vehicle, from Punta Arenas the most direct route is to take the car ferry from Embarcadero Tres Puentes run by Transbordadora Austral Broom. The crossing takes approximately two hours and twenty minutes and costs CLP$ 43,500/£38/50 USD for the car and driver, with additional passengers costing CLP$ 6,800/£6/USD 8.

There is only one sailing per day, and the sailing time varies with the tide. We took this option and split the journey by basing ourselves in Porvenir for a couple of days.

The drive from Porvenir is a rather slow going one hour and thirty minutes.  A few kilometres out of the town, the tarmac surface turns into a gravel track, and it remains this way throughout the rest of the drive.  The coastal views are pleasant while they last, and we did spot some flamingos as we headed inland, so it wasn’t all bad.

If you are heading north from Ushuaia, then you can take a short detour off Route 257 towards Parque Pinguino Rey. At the point you leave the main road, the road turns to gravel. The whole journey takes around four hours and forty-five minutes, with all but the last 15 kilometres being on tarmac roads. The drive from Ushuaia does have some seriously spectacular scenery, but these deteriorate as you cross over the Chilean border and head inland.

Large flock of sheep blocking the road
Watch out for some unusual road blocks!

The other option to visit the colony is by tour.

Several tour companies offer full day tours which cross the Magellan Strait either by road or ferry. They incorporate a stop at the king penguin colony reserve whilst making a number of other stops, which vary depending on the tour company. They often include a trip to an estancia or Museo Provincial de Tierra del Fuego which goes into the history of the area (this was closed when we visited January 2024 for renovation). The tours cost around USD$155 and the trip is usually at least 12 hours. However, after speaking with some friends who did this tour (and loved it), we decided it was too long a day travelling for the girls with only an hour actually seeing the Penguins, so we made the trip in our hire car.

What To Bring When Visiting Parque Pingüino Rey with Kids

Reserva Natural Pingüino Rey islocated in a rather wild bit of coast, and the wind had a sharp edge even when we visited at the height of summer. Bring plenty of layers, hats and gloves if you visit with kids. You are in the wind for nearly an hour, and even the shelters don’t offer much protection.

Georgia and Eva wrapped up warm in the viewing shelter at Park Pinguino Rey with the colony of king penguins in the background
The girls were well wrapped up!

The paths are well maintained, and very flat. Walking shoes are more than sufficient to navigate them.

The park entrance has bathrooms and a small gift shop with an interesting selection of tat but, staggeringly, nowhere to buy a much-needed cup of coffee! Make sure you bring food and drink with you.

What To Expect When Visiting Parque Pingüino Rey with Kids

When you arrive at the park the gate the first thing that strikes you is how carefully they manage the human traffic to not disturb the birds. The entrance gate is kept shut, and you are only let in once the previous group has left.

Entry to the park is wholly guided, and tours last just short of an hour. Tours run on the hour between 10 am and 5 pm, Tuesday to Sunday.

As mentioned above, King Penguins are disturbed very easily and before you head down to see them you are given a short briefing on the importance of keeping quiet. They also discuss the history of the colony and how close it came to being destroyed.

The trail from the visitor centre down to the viewing shelter is an easy, flat walk which takes about five minutes. You get your first glimpse of the majestic creatures as soon as you turn onto the trail.

There is a large shelter where you view the penguins. It has been built about 50m away from where the penguins nest, although you may get lucky, and they can come as close as 20m. King Penguins are very short sighted so providing you are a reasonable distance away and quiet, they have no idea you are there.

Adrian and Eva on the wooden viewing platform watching some king penguins in the distance
There is a shelter and an elevated viewpoint.

There are binoculars on fixed poles available to use, and the guide has a monocular. However, we recommend bringing your own binoculars if you have them. If you want to photograph the penguins up close, you need a lens with some reach, at least 300mm on a full-frame camera, ideally more.

Eva taking in the penguins.

You can, with a certain amount of jiggery-pokery, use the fixed binoculars to take photos of the penguins. The guide will help with this if you are struggling!

A close up photograph of king penguins taken through binoculars
Getting up close with the king penguins.,

After seeing the penguins in the viewing shelter, you move further along the trail to another area which may offer a closer view, depending on where they are located at the time you visit. There is a tall viewing platform which gives you a great vantage point.

The guides were incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and spoke Spanish and English; they answered all the girl’s questions and were passionate about the area and the penguins.

Have We Missed Anything About Visiting Parque Pingüino Rey with Kids?

We hope you have an incredible visit to Reserva Natural Pingüino Rey. The opportunity to see these beautiful but shy birds is a rare one, and making the journey with your kids is sure to make it something special.

If you think we have missed anything or any information here is outdated, please let us know in the comments below.

The Spencer Family

This post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Thanks.

About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

We hate intrusive adverts as much as you do, so we keep our site ad-free. If you enjoy the blog or have found something helpful, you can say "thanks" by buying us a coffee! Just click the button below.

Leave a comment