Isla Damas is part of Chile’s Humboldt Penguin National Reserve and is the only one of the reserve’s three islands allowing visitors. However, visitors can sail close to Isla Choros and Isla Chañaral, enjoying their wildlife from a short distance.
Getting out to the islands is well worth the effort. The reserve is home to approximately 80% of the world’s population of Humboldt penguins. When we visited, there were 31 Humboldt penguins on Isla Damas, over 4000 on Isla Choros, and even more on Isla Chañaral.
The small boats that take visitors out to Isla Damas hug the coast of Isla Choros on the way. The onboard guide spots penguins, sea lions, and other wildlife slowing down as we pass.
First, fall in love with Chile …
Boat to Isla Choros and Isla Damas
Chile’s Humboldt Penguin National Reserve boats to Isla Damas run daily in the high season (December through March) and Wednesday to Sunday in the low season (April through November) from 8.30 am to 2.30 pm. A maximum of 750 people are permitted on the island daily, each for only one hour. The starting port is Punta de Choros, a charming fishing village about two hours north of La Serena.
More than just the wildlife, we enjoyed craggy rugged outcroppings in the rocks of Isla Choros and the vast variety of flora on Isla Damas.
As visitors are not permitted on Isla Choros, the tour is from the boat at a distance of 30 to 80 metres depending on sea conditions. The guide we had was fantastic, frequently stopping to point out Humboldt penguins, as well as other amazing wildlife like sea lions, dolphins, boobies, vultures, and the less frequently spotted Magellanic penguins.
For me, this was the highlight of the day. There were so many penguins in their natural environment without human interaction. The language barrier wouldn’t have been an issue even without our Spanish-speaking daughter, as we simply had to follow his fingers to see where he pointed.
After sailing around Isla Choros, we headed over to Isla Damas, where our park pass permitted us to spend one hour. With a white sand beach, crystal clear waters, and plenty of walking tracks, we enjoyed every minute of our time. wimming is not permitted.
We were not lucky enough to see the few penguins on the island, but we were surrounded by stunning flora and fascinating wildlife. It didn’t take us long to know why some people call it a small Galapagos.
Getting Boat Tickets and Island Passes for Isla Damas
Once you know what to do, the process is easier than one would imagine. The main thing to remember is that you need both a boat ticket and a park pass. And you want to purchase your boat ticket before you purchase the pass to the island.
Here’s all you need to do:
- Purchase your boat ticket at the booth that reads “Boleteria”. Here you will fill out paperwork (in Spanish or English) asking for your name and passport number as well as a series of health questions.
- Get your park entrance pass at CONAF. There is a person providing directions, but it’s easy to find. From the boleteria, walk across the area and down a small path.
- Head to the pier once you have both a boat ticket and a park pass in hand. Walk to the entrance of the pier where the yellow gate begins, pick up a life jacket, and wait for your boat. Note that the boat will wait only 10 minutes.
Explore Punta de Choros (the port’s fishing community)
A charming town; there are several restaurants and tons of street art. It’s worth a quick visit and a delicious seafood meal before you leave.
Or … spend the night in a dome
Had I known about Punta de Domos, we would have stayed here. We got inside one of the domes, and they are warm and comfortable, even on the cool day when we visited. The walls roll up, offering spectacular ocean views through a layer of protective plastic. The property is 500 m from Punta Choros Beach.
The dome also has a kitchen, a bathroom, and a loft bed under a large ‘window’, which can be covered for darkness or uncovered, allowing you to sleep under the stars without having to deal with the weather. Check pricing and availability at Punta de Domos.
Driving to Punta de Choros from La Serena
If you want to visit Isla Damas, you will need to board a boat in the fishing village of Punta de Choros.
The drive from La Serena to Punta de Choros takes about an hour and forty-five minutes. It’s an easy drive along paved roads until the very end where it becomes a well-packed dirt road.
However, we still needed a GPS map. We recommend the free Maps.me app as their downloadable maps don’t require internet access. It will direct you all the way to the car parking for the boat tickets (Google Maps took us on some bizarre routes as we travelled through Chile).
Timing is important. We left La Serena just after 8 am, arriving in Punta Choros just before 10 am. On that day in late November, it was still early in the season, and we had no problems getting on a boat. In fact, we were on the next boat of 12 passengers to leave the pier. But remember, there are daily limits, and it’s a long drive to find all the tickets sold out.
One more advantage of driving – you might see one of these desert foxes (we saw at least six of them).
More need-to-know before visiting Isla Damas
- Bring cash. We needed 10,000 pesos per person ($15 USD) for the boat, 6,000 pesos per person ($9 USD) for the pass to enter the island, and 300 pesos (45c USD) to use the bathroom.
- The bathrooms at the Punta de Choros dock are located just to the right of the ticket booth (boleteria).
- Carry your passport (or at least a copy). You will need to include your passport number on the paperwork that allows you to take the boat. No one checked for our passports, but I was glad I had it, just in case.
- Dress in layers, including one for wind on the boat.
- Sit on the left side of the boat if you can, although the boats are small, and every seat is fine.
- Always carry toilet paper when travelling in Chile.
- Don’t forget to use sunscreen. Even on a cloudy day like when we went, the sun is strong.
- Bring water.
- If you have a zoom lens, bring it with your camera. You will want it.
- Don’t miss our: Chile Travel Tips: A Guide for First-Time Visitors
Save on your trip with these resources
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- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or VRBO (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
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YOu certainly give me the itch to travel!
Looks like a great place to visit when you are traveling with kids! I am sure my son would love this place once he sees the cute penguins!
I’ve wanted to go for Chile for so long, it looks so beautiful and you have managed to capture some truly astonishing shots!
Hi Rhonda – gosh this looks to be an amazing trip … and wonderful you’ve recorded it here for us to refer to … cheers Hilary
Looks beautiful, thanks for all the info and pics on Isla Damas. Hope to visit Chile next time we travel to South America!
I didn’t know they had penguins there, would love to visit Chile and see the landscapes and wildlife.
Mary (The World Is A Book)
These are great and the penguins are adorable. What a beautiful place to tour with all the wildlife. This reminds me a lot of the Galapagos Islands. What a wonderful experience for all of you.
This post gave me some serious wanderlust! I’ve been to Chile but only got as far south as Isla Negra. I did, however, visit Puerto Madryn in Argentina and it seems that there’s a very similar ecosystem there- with penguins, sea lions, and similar mountainscapes. I’d love to go back to Chile to see Isla Damas and make my way south to the Chilean side of Patagonia.
Jessi (Two Feet, One World)
Wow, what an amazing place to visit! That fox is so cute. Great guide!
Joanne @ Migration XYZ
Beautiful! I didn’t even know you could see penguins in Chile, Thanks for this!
Wow! This looks amazing. There’s so much wildlife to see, which is one of my favorite things. The scenery looks great too. Thanks for sharing. l keep forgetting how beautiful Chile is. Can’t wait to visit someday.
The entire area looks dreary except the colorful cactus and of course the three of you weren’t dreary. See ya Rhonda.
Adorable creatures! I have never seen one in the wild and on a rare occasion saw some behind thick glasses.
I would love to get to this place some day.
Lovely captures… Those sea lions. Are so adorable. The penguins always are the king.
Love the landscape. With those lovely arches. Thanks for sharing this place with us
What a wonderful adventure! I adore your pictures, especially the ‘what you will look like.’ This makes getting to Isla Damas seem possible. It always sounded like an ordeal or horribly expensive. I love seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and ocean adventures in general. You’ve given me hope!
Stunning, beautiful photos, thank you for sharing your experience!
Beautiful photos. That would be a trip for the bucket list for sure.
I did not know there are penguins in Chili, and they are adorable! Super unique to spend the night in a dome and loving the street art in Punta de Choros
I think destinations that are a bit of a drama to get to are very well worth the effort. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be as special.
I adore your beautiful photos. I appreciate your advice regarding taking a tour. Wish my teenager spoke Spanish!! How lucky were you guys.
Amazing wildlife pictures of a beautiful place. I would love to go someday. We once stayed in Las Domas when we were visiting the Elke Valley in Chile.
Oh man! Your photos of the animals drive me crazy! I’d love to capture them (on photos) too! Did you find 1 hour on the island enough though? I understand the need to limit no of visitors but to limit each visitor to just one hour on the island, that’s like really mad considering all the unique residents that the island has. It would probably stress me out esp if I don’t get to capture any good photos in that 1 hour, lol!
What a great guide! Very detailed, and very helpful. While this isn’t something that might have appeared on our bucket list on our own, you definitely show how it’s easily do-able. I think sometimes people – us included – don’t think to include some places or activities in their dream lists because they think it might be too difficult. As you’ve shown, that’s not always the case! Thanks for enlightening us. Also, that desert fox es muy guapo! We tend to not have much luck spotting local wildlife, so hearing that you spotted so many…we think the odds might finally be in our favor. 😉
Jenn and Ed Coleman
I love those desert foxes. So cute. Isla Damas and this corner of Chile reminds me of traveling through the Baja (even carrying your own TP). I loved the Baja so this one is definitely going on the list. There was even a geodescent dome halfway across desert crossing in Baja. It had seen better days but the similarities are there.
I saw penguins on the Galapagos Islands, but I’d love to see them when visiting Chile too, hopefully next year 🙂
The penguins were quite active when I was there. They were moving about and hopping down the rocks.
Well…this is pretty freaking cool!! I would love to see those animals but even more so… to sleep in those domes! I have a thing for unusual accommodation and the domes look right up my alley. What a cool experience.
It is a very interesting area with the animals, restaurants, street art and domes.
Alan @ MorePassportStamps.com
Punta De Choros is a cute bonus. Chile looks incredible!
It’s refreshing to read about an area that I know very little about. Add those domes to the travel wish list – they look amazing.
Once I saw the inside of the domes, I knew I wanted to stay there for a night.
Everything I read about Chile seems to draw me in. There is so much more to see than I expected. I certainly want to see the Humboldt penguins. But didn’t know that so much of the population can be found in the reserve on Isla Damas! You captured some truly stunning wildlife photos. The domes looked interesting. But may be a bit wilder than I want. Thanks for sharing some good tips for a visit.
Yes, I was surprised to find out how much of the population is in the reserve.
I had to laugh at the first photo you presented in this blog, I said to myself “those aren’t penguins!” I am sure all the wildlife in this region of Chile, penguins and other birds and animals, have to be pretty hardy and resourceful. I love the fox – both the real one and the street art version. One of my fave animals! I am sure the seafood meals there are delicious.
While the penguins were the highlight for me, I was surprised at how many foxes crossed the road as we travelled to and from Punta de Choros. They did not run away and sat at the roadside looking at us while we looked at them.
Wow! Chile has incredible natural wonders. I love seeing animals in their natural environment, and Humboldt Penguin National Reserve sounds great for wildlife lovers. The sea lions, Humbolt penguins and Calpeo fox are all so adorable. And you’re right. staying in a Dome would be an awesome experience. The openable covering which allows you to sleep under the stars certainly sparks my interest!
These photos are absolutely incredible. That sea lion picture looks like it should be in National Geographic!! Just beautiful Rhonda. I would love to see the penguins and make this trek – it looks like it could be a rough trip in the winds though!
There were 2-meter swells yet the boats handled them well. I was surprised at how comfortable the ride was given the conditions.
Great information! Can you tell me how long the boat ride takes?
In 2007 we were here and climbed ashore at Isla Chanaral, using a really old wooden ladder, not at all H&S approved. We plan to be back in Punta Choros around 6 November and hope to check out the cacti on Isla Damas. The beach in the image looks an ideal landing spot!
Keri | Ladies What Travel
Sounds like a bit of work to get there, but well worth while. What a great guide, cheers!
Thanks. It was easy to do this on my own. I was also happy to see all the wildlife along the way to Punta de Choros.
You’re so lucky to get to see all that wildlife! I’d love to get to see some penguins in real life, out in the wild too!
I can see certain types of penguins in New Zealand but not the Humboldt penguins that I saw on my way to Isla Damas.
Never knew Chile is so fascinating in terms of sites and sights! Great photography. Spending the night in a dome sounds so exciting.
Yes, I wish I had stayed there at night to watch the stars through the roof.
I’ve wanted to go to Chile, but this makes me want to go even more. So much beauty and culture. Thank you for all of the great advice! It’s very useful!
LOL – We haven’t seen much of Chile, but what we have seen is lovely.
Your photos are breathtaking! Thank you for the great tips, we might be going to Chile this summer for the solar eclipse!
Thanks Julie, and how cool that you will be here for the eclipse.
These are beautiful photos of your trip! Thanks for sharing you experience with us and thanks for all the suggestions. I really enjoyed seeing the penguins.
Thanks Rosy. It was fun day, and seeing the penguins was the highlight.
L. Diane Wolfe
So few penguins. No wonder the islands are preserved.
Those hawks look like our turkey vultures. Definitely in the vulture family with that head.
I was surprised there were so few penguins here too. Now I am wondering if they are vultures or hawks. The ranger told us hawks, but that was in Spanish 🙂
I have never been to Chile before, but if I get to see Chile someday, I would really want to stop by the Isla Damas! The scenery, as well as the variety of animals found there are absolutely amazing! The pictures you took are absolutely beautiful and breathtaking!
OMG WHAT a amazing holiday!! I love animals so much this looks so cute!! Penguins are my all time favourite!!!
Chile would be great to visit some day.
have a lovely Christmas x
Ryan K Biddulph
What an amazing time Rhonda. So much fun with these cute Penguins and the rich wildlife overall.
Thanks Ryan, it was an amazing day. Probably my favourite so far in Chile.
Lydia C. Lee
That looks fantastic!
It is an amazing place. And, quite limited, only 12 of us go out on each boat.
Oh, those penguins! How fun to see them in nature. I love the red beaks of the hawks. Fabulous photos!
I am with you on that, I love to watch penguins waddle around.
Tanja/The Red Phone Box travels
great animal shots!
Thanks. The fox seemed to pose for us.
I see you guys are having a blast in Chile and I’m really glad for you. We haven’t seen Isla Damas yet, but we are planning to return to South America next year, so I’m going to add it to our list. I see the weather is a little overcast, but your pictures are marvelous anyway. It’s fun to read about your adventures, so keep them coming.
It was a really fun day, although I would have liked to have more time on the island. And, thanks.
Looks like you’re having a great time. Good for you.
Great shots. I never imagined penguins and Chile would be found in the same sentence.
Have a fabulous day. ♥
Southern Chile is quite close to Antarctica, (but we are in the Northern half of the country)