5 reasons to do a Patagonia wildlife cruise

  • Discover Patagonia’s diverse coastline from the water to encounter wildlife in places often impossible to reach from land.
  • Watch southern right whales, humpback whales, orcas or even the mighty blue whale.
  • Visit remote Magellanic penguin colonies by boat to watch them raising their chicks in sheltered burrows.
  • Spot sea lions and elephant seals hauled out on rocky beaches  – and maybe even orcas scanning them for a meal.
  • Grab your binoculars for surprise sightings of dolphin pods or a plethora of seabirds.

What wildlife will you see on a Patagonia cruise?

Whale watching

Whale-watching ship plus humpback whale in Francisco Coloane Marine Park in the Southern Chilean Fjords

Watching humpback whales in the Chilean Fjords

Patagonia is a brilliant place for whale watching. There are four main species you might encounter in its waters: the southern right whale, the orca, the humpback and, most thrilling of all, the blue whale – the world’s largest mammal.

Southern right whales congregate around Peninsula Valdes in Argentina between June and December, when they visit this globally important breeding ground to both mate and give birth. Day cruises offer the opportunity to observe these colossal yet peaceful creatures.

Orcas are also commonly seen around Peninsula Valdes, but they come to eat rather than breed. In October and November they dine out on elephant seal pups, then return in March through to May for the sea lion pups. For the latter, the orcas here intentionally beach themselves to pluck their prey from the surf: a behaviour seen nowhere else on the planet.

Humpback whales are best seen in the waters of Francisco Coloane Marine Park in the southern Chilean Fjords, and accessible only by boat. Humpbacks pass through on their migration between December and April.

For the chance of seeing blue whales, head to the Corcovado Gulf, a recently-created Marine Protected Area visited by adventure cruise ships. As with the humpbacks, December to April is the time when blue whales are here, feeding and nursing their calves. 


Magellanic penguins on beach at Magdalena Island in Tierra del Fuego visited by Australis cruise ship

Magellanic penguins in Tierra del Fuego

Patagonia is home to four species of penguin: Magellanic, Humboldt, rockhopper and king penguins. In a number of places you can visit them on day trips by land but the most rewarding experiences all come from the sea. October to March is the best time to see penguins, when they come ashore to breed and raise their chicks before returning to sea.

Magellanic penguins are Patagonia’s most iconic penguin species. The most interesting colonies to visit are also the remote: the Tucker Islets or Magdalena Island, both of which can be visited on a Cape Horn cruise around Tierra del Fuego. Magellanic penguins are a burrowing species, nesting in short tunnels they return to every year.

Magellanic penguin colonies can be found at spots all the way along the Chilean Fjords as well as Peninsula Valdes. At Puñihuil on Chiloé, accessible only by boat, they share a colony with Humboldt penguins, the only known place where the two species can be found together.

When cruising in in Tierra del Fuego, keep your eyes out for rockhopper penguins which nest on remote islands near Cape Horn. They’re well-named for the way they scale cliffs to their nesting sites, but may equally be seen swimming close to shore.

South America’s only king penguin colony can be found at Useless Bay in Tierra del Fuego, a day-trip by boat (rather than cruise ship) from Punta Arenas.

Swoop Says background image

David says

Something people never tell you about whale-watching in Patagonia? The smell! It's an incredible experience to be close enough to one of these giants to literally catch some of their breath when they come up to the surface.

David Hilton Patagonia Product & Partnership Manager

Seals and dolphins

South American sea lions hauled out on a rocky coast in the Chilean Fjords, seen from the water

South American sea lions in the Chilean Fjords

While whales are a major attraction during wildlife trips in Patagonia, there are numerous other marine mammals to spot on board.

The South American sea lion, the most commonly seen seal species, resides in colonies along both Patagonia's Atlantic and Pacific coasts. You can find them scattered around the Chilean Fjords and Tierra Del Fuego, particularly on the islets of the Beagle Channel and in a sizable resident colony at Peninsula Valdes.

South American fur seals are often mistaken for their sea lion cousins, but are typically found in the northern Chilean Fjords. They have a shorter bear-like face, unlike the more dog-like face of sea lions.

The Southern elephant seal, Patagonia’s only true seal species, can be encountered in Peninsula Valdes or isolated colonies like Guardrimo Fjord in the southern Chilean Fjords or Ainsworth Bay in Tierra del Fuego. The massive males engage in battles for harem control just before the cruise season begins, but you can still see them on beaches, and from October/November, plenty of their pups.

Patagonia's waters also host various dolphin species. In Tierra del Fuego, keep an eye out for Commerson's or Peale dolphins, both displaying striking black and white colouring similar to a panda. Further north on both coasts, common dolphins, dusky dolphins can also be spotted, along with the Chilean dolphin, exclusive to Pacific waters.


Imperial cormorant in flight off the coast of Tierra del Fuego

Imperial cormorant off the coast of Tierra del Fuego

Don’t let Patagonia’s charismatic penguins steal the limelight on a wildlife cruise: there are plenty of other birds to be seen during your trip.

Two species you’ll quickly become familiar with are the imperial cormorant and the Magellanic cormorant (also known as the rock shag). These agile divers are often seen perched on rocky outcrops, drying their wings after a successful fishing session; imperial cormorants are a glossy dark blue and white, while Magellanic cormorants tend to black or oily green.

In Tierra del Fuego and the Corcovado Gulf you may be lucky to see the Southern Ocean’s most graceful bird: the albatross. Black-browed albatross may be seen off the coast, along with the more chunky southern giant petrel in Tierra del Fuego. Both fly with an almost effortless ease and it's a true joy when either follows your ship. Smaller sea birds include the sooty shearwater and  Austral and Dominican gulls

Not a seabird but something special to look for nonetheless is the Andean condor, the world’s largest flying bird. Always keep a close eye out for its distinct wing profile whenever your ship is hugging the mountainous coastline: it’s one of Patagonia’s most iconic species.

When hiking off the ship, always keep a watch for the Magellanic woodpecker. These can be found from the forests of Tierra del Fuego up to the tip of the northern Chilean Fjords. With its black plumage and bright red head, it’s instantly recognisable and a great addition to anyone’s bird list, so keep your eyes peeled and binoculars at the ready! 

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What our customers think of Wildlife Cruises

Customer Image

The Whale Watching was incredible, we saw over 40 whales in just 3 days!

Travelled: March 2016

Eddie -


Planning your wildlife cruise

A zodiac with tourists with agellanic penguins on the Tucker Islets in Tierra del Fuego

Visiting a Magellanic penguin colony on the Tucker Islets

Patagonia’s wildlife cruising season runs from October through to the start of April, which is the period when wildlife is most active.

Different species are more active at different times of the season. For example, humpback and blue whales may be seen from December through until April, when they pass through on their migration. Magellanic penguins lay their eggs from October, with chicks starting to appear by early December and starting to fledge in March. Sea lion pups appear around the same time.

Exceptions to this calendar are the southern right whale, who come to Peninsula Valdes from June through to December, and are visited on day trip vessels from Puerto Madryn.

Longer cruises take place on small ships, carrying just under 100 passengers in the Chilean Fjords and up to 210 passengers in Tierra del Fuego. Expert wildlife guides on board will help you spot the animals and give educational talks (in English and Spanish) about their ecology, as well as the history and culture of the region. All ships have comfortable en suite cabins in a selection of classes. Daily excursions are made to remote locations by small boat or zodiac.

Humpback whale trips to Francisco Coloane Marine Park take a slightly different shape – sailing by small boat to a remote research station, where you stay in a camp and take cruises with local marine biologists who can identify almost every individual whale by name.

Patagonia Cruises: FAQs

  • Will it be expensive?

    Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t have to be. If you plan in advance and book early, you can snap up a cabin in the cheapest category before anyone else. We work very closely with a range of cruise and operators in Patagonia and know the best early booking discounts. There are some excellent low season rates too, if you’re willing to travel at the start/end of the season.

    We offer cruises and boat trips to suit a wide spectrum of budgets, from around $600 USD for a 1 day whale watching trip to $4,000 for the best cabin in high season on a luxury adventure cruise vessel.

  • I’m not normally a cruise person. Is an adventure cruise really for me?

    Our Adventure Cruises have been described as ‘cruises for people who don’t do cruises’. Basing yourself from a boat is a great way to explore deep into the sparkling, mountain-lined fjords, both on and off the vessel, to watch crashing glaciers calve before you and wildlife going about their business, and experience the peaceful channels as the pioneers once did - with barely anyone else around.

  • How big are the ships? I don’t want to be on a big boat...

    We work with 15 different ships, small boats and sailboats, with capacity of between 10 to 210 passengers. Each ship has a different style and focus and we can talk you through the pros and cons of each, to help you to choose the best cruise for you.

  • How active will it be?

    We can help you choose the right cruise to suit you, depending on how active you want to be. All of our cruises and boat trips offer the opportunity to be active, but it’s not compulsory; excursions are optional and there are different effort levels available on some cruises, so that you can mix challenging hikes with more relaxed excursions - the choice is yours.

  • What routes do Patagonia cruises take?

    The most popular Patagonia cruise routes run between Ushuaia (Argentina) and Punta Arenas (Chile), and are a great alternative to flights or bus journeys as they combine border crossings with sightseeing along the way. There are also a number of ‘there and back’ trips, for example from/to Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Ushuaia, Puerto Montt and Puerto Aysen - great if you want to start and end in the same place.

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Ready to plan your Patagonia adventure?



We'll spend some time listening to your aspirations, then discuss the kind of experience that might suit you.



Next we'll discuss the options, shortlist the best trips for you and present you our impartial recommendations.



We'll place a 24 hour hold on your preferred option - without obligation - whilst we talk through the details.

Whatever your budget, group size, length of stay, preferred activity or appetite for adventure, we can help.