Humboldt Penguin National Reserve: Three Islands in a Desert Eden

Humboldt Penguins

Humboldt Penguins

The tour of Humboldt Penguin Reserve yesterday was amazing! The coast was overcast but we saw so many animals it was almost unbelievable. Our group of 16 was eclectic with seven Germans, a woman from the Netherlands, a Peruvian couple, a Colombian, four Chileans, and me. Commentary from our Chilean guide, Jorge, was excellent.


Bottlenose Dolphins

The drive from La Serena north to the isolated fishing village of Punta de Choros took two hours each way. Half of the drive was through the desert on rough, rocky back roads where four-wheel drive was essential.

damas island

Damas Island

Three small islands – Chañaral, Damas, and Choro – form the natural complex known as Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. The location is stunning with white-sand beaches, caves, unusual rock formations, a variety of animals and exotic birds, interesting indigenous vegetation, and radiant turquoise water.

Pretty Gull

Pretty Gull

We were fortunate to see gray whales, sea lions, sea otters, bottlenose dolphins, penguins, pelicans, albatross, cormorants, Chilla gray foxes, and sea and shore birds I’ve never seen before.  Sadly we didn’t see many Humboldt penguins. It’s the beginning of their breeding season so they’re busy preparing nests.

Cactus Damas Island

Red Cactus Damas Island

The day started with a surprise gray whale citing that lasted about 30 minutes. I was on the wrong side of the boat, too slow, or blocked and got no photos. Later there were so many dolphins – maybe close to 100 – I couldn’t keep track! They enjoyed racing in the wake of our engine and the boat captain knew what to do to get them to play.

Punta de Chotos Fisherman

Punta de Choros Fisherman

The dolphins were fast and graceful and made the sweetest sounds as they came close to our boat. Their most magnificent antics were when two or three of them jumped in the air together in tandem. We literally squealed with delight as they kept coming back and repeating their incredible acrobatic performances over and over!


I have new appreciation for animal photographers, as getting photos of the quick-moving dolphins in action was difficult. My reflexes weren’t fast enough and frankly I was awe-struck seeing so many dolphins in their natural environment.


Little Chilla Foxes

On the way back to the harbor, we stopped at Isla Damas, the only island that allows tourists. We hiked around the island, enjoyed the beaches and views, and admired the unique, colorful Chilean vegetation.

Sea Lions

Sea Lions Isla Damas

Chile’s National Forest Service manages admissions and protects the reserve. The number of tours are limited and only permitted at certain times of day to protect the island’s ecosystem. Before heading back to Las Serena, we stopped at a local restaurant for a late lunch along the coast. To add to the day’s incredible animal sightings, we spotted a few guanacos and a family of foxes in the coastal bush. The outing was a satisfying, wonderful experience – BIG smile!

Shorebird Isla Damas

Sweet Shorebird Isla Damas

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