Chile is home to an abundance of wildlife and a lot of travelers visit this corner of the world to spend some time trying to catch a glimpse of the whales, dolphins, penguins, birds and land animals that live here. If you’re thinking of joining them, make sure you know when and where to see them! And for your best chance of spotting something, be sure to go with a guide to make the most of their expert knowledge and to ensure the best respect and protection for the animals and local environment.
Due to Chile’s unique geography and long coastline, it’s a great place to go whale watching! Blue, gray, and humpback whales migrate along the Chilean coast to the warmer waters near the equator during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter to have their babies. But as they return south for the summer, they are commonly spotted even from the shoreline between December and March. There are often sightings of whales in Chile in the areas of La Serena, Chiloé, and Tierra del Fuego, but we think the fjords near Punta Arenas is the place to go to see these sea giants!
Whales aren’t the only magnificent creature you can find in the Chilean coastal waters. Keep an eye out for the Chilean dolphin too! They are often found closer to the land in the magnificent fjords, bays, and estuaries of the coast, but our favourite way to see them is by taking a boat trip on the Strait of Magellan and the channels of Tierra del Fuego.
Not many people know this, but you can actually see sea turtles on Easter Island! They have played an important role in local Rapa Nui culture and are frequently represented in their art, mythology, symbolism, popular traditions, and rituals. So if you’re taking a dip in the sea, don’t be surprised if you see a turtle sharing the beach with you!
One of the easiest birds to find in Chile is the penguin as it’s home to Humboldt, Magellanic, King and Gentoo penguins!
No matter when you come, King Penguins stay in Tierra del Fuego all year round. The Magdalena penguins, on the other hand, migrate seasonally. Male Magdalena penguins arrive in Magallanes in late September to early October to build nests, and the females come around a month or two later to lay their eggs. You can see them in their colonies until around March when they leave for the winter.
Humboldt penguins live along the Chilean coast and up to Peru. These penguins don’t fully migrate – some stay at the breeding colonies all year – but their numbers definitely reduce in the winter as they travel in search of food. The good news is that you can take a day trip to visit those breeding areas at the National Humboldt Reserve off the coast of La Serena, or find them in Chiloé or near Valparaíso where you can be sure to catch a sight!
If you’re very lucky, you may be able to see rockhopper or macaroni penguins too, especially in Chile’s southern archipelago. However, their breeding sites are much more difficult to reach. You can cruise out to the Falkland and South Georgia islands to improve your chances!
Beside penguins, there are a lot more birds to see in Chile! Some birds live here all year round and you can find them throughout the country including many birds of prey like the Chilean eagle (also known as the black-chested buzzard-eagle), the chimango caracara, and the American kestrel to name a few. For the keenest birdwatchers with the torrent duck on their list, you’ll need to head to the Andes mountains anywhere from the north of Chile to Tierra del Fuego, where you can watch these striking birds live amongst the fast-flowing rivers year-round. You can also find more colourful birds including ten species of hummingbirds found in various parts of Chile, various species of ibis, and the stunning red headed Magallanic woodpecker in the south.
Also in the south of Chile, keep your eyes peeled for some incredible seabirds, including the Southern Giant Petrel in Tierra del Fuego or head on a cruise to South Georgia to see albatrosses, including the gray-headed and endangered black-browed albatross. These beautiful sea birds nest between late October and early May, which is when you’ll have the best chance to see them.
Land mammals in Chile generally don’t hibernate, so you can find them all year round. That said, some like the puma, are more easily found in the wilderness of Patagonia in the winter as they avoid the summer sun and winds. Keep an eye out in Patagonia for guanacos, the Patagonian mara, the South Andean deer, South American gray fox, viscacha, and even a big hairy armadillo!
You may see a kodkod too in Patagonia, too. Known as a guiña to the locals, a kodkod is the smallest wild cat in the Americas found almost exclusively in southern Chile’s dense scrub habitats like the Torres del Paine national park as well as its luscious, dense native forests, where you can find the smallest deer on Earth, the pudu.