Chile boasts incredible geography, from the dry desert in the north to the icy glaciers in the south, with the forests of the Lake District, mountains of the Andes and the shores of the Pacific Ocean in between. Thanks to this, it provides habitats for a number of different incredible species of animals. Here is a list of the top 10 must-see animals to check out on your trip to Chile.
The Chilean coast is truly extensive and very rich in wildlife. There is one perhaps unexpected animal, in particular, that you can see from the north through to the south, which is the penguin. There are three main types of penguins in Chile, the King penguin, the Humboldt penguin and the Magellanic penguin.
King penguins are similar in appearance to Emperor penguins with their orange cheeks, white bellies, and grey backs, but aren’t quite so big. They don’t tend to live outside of Antarctica, but in Chile, you can find a small group of them in Bahia Inutil near Punta Arenas.
The Humboldt penguin is a medium-sized penguin that lives in the coasts of Chile and Peru. They have black backs and tails, and a black band across the chest that runs down the body beneath the flippers to the black feet, with the rest of their body white. In Chile, you can find them in many places including Taltal, La Serena and Chilóe.
The Magellanic Penguins are very similar in appearance to the Humboldt Penguins and are commonly found in Patagonia, on Isla Magdelena in particular, where over 60000 penguins live in peace in their natural habitat.
Guanacos are relatives to llamas and alpacas, with light or dark brown coloring, and not quite so shaggy fur. You can easily spot these animals either right up north as they graze in the altiplano, near the border with Bolivia and Peru, or right down south in the Torres del Paine National Park, as well as the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego. If you do go to the Torres del Paine National Park, they are probably the easiest species to find there. They live in groups formed of a single alpha male and 10 females with their kids so you’re unlikely to just see one or two!
3. Andean Condor
The Andean condor is the largest flying bird in the world due to their extensive wingspan that can reach a width of 3.3 meters (11 feet) and can weigh up to 15 kg (33 lbs). Because of their extreme weight, the Andean Condors need a little help to keep them in the air, so they prefer to live in windy areas where they glide on the air currents with little effort. You can spot these regal creatures almost anywhere in the Andes mountain range and other windy areas such as near the coast with strong ocean breezes and deserts with strong thermal air currents. The Andean condor is a national symbol of Chile, playing a large part in the folklore and mythology of the Andean regions, as well as appearing on the coat of arms.
The Patagonian Puma is one of the largest of all the 27 types of pumas registered around the world and also the southernmost. There are over 50 pumas in the Torres del Paine National Park, where on arrival hikers are given instructions on what to do if a puma is seen at night. These big cats are hungry carnivores and are known for their ability to hunt large prey, guanacos in particular. Don’t be afraid though, as you are unlikely to see one, especially close by if you hike during the day.
Approximately 30 cm (12 inches) tall, and weighing between 6 and 13 kg (14-30 lbs), a Pudú is the smallest deer in the world. Pudús are found in the forests of southern Chile, commonly in the regions of Curicó and Bíobío. However, if you want to see them, you’ll have to venture deep into the forests as they are not commonly spotted. Its coat is a dark chestnut-brown and tends to tuft in the front, covering the antlers (found on males). They like to eat bamboo, leaves, bark, twigs, fruits, and berries.
Flamingos can be spotted along the Chilean coastline, but are most common and most impressive in the Atacama desert, in the Los Flamencos National Reserve. They tend to live in large flocks in coastal zones or small bodies of water and prove quite a sight with their beautiful pink feathers. In the Atacama, the pink flamingos stand on one leg while grubbing for food in the salty water, they are definitely worth visiting on your trip to the desert!
With over 4,000 km (2,485 miles) of coastline, Chile is a great place to catch a glimpse of migrating blue, humpback, and gray whales. Thanks to the area’s unique topographical conditions and water depths, these incredible creatures come much closer to Chile’s coastline than in other parts of the world. Whale-watching season in Chile usually runs from December to March, when whale populations are making their long migration from the warmer latitudes where they mate and give birth, to the krill-filled waters of southern Chile. The top three places to see whales are Reserva Nacional Pingüino de Humboldt located about 70 miles north of La Serena, the western coast of the Parque Nacional Chilóe are some of the best places to spot blue and humpback whales on their way to Patagonia and in the South of Chile near Punta Arenas.
8. Andean Fox
Andean foxes, also known as the culpeo, have similar attributes to the widely known red fox, with grey and reddish fur and a white chin. The fox’s diet consists mainly of rodents, rabbits, and birds, as well as some plants and sometimes even sheep. The Andean fox lives in a wide variety of habitats of Chile and can be spotted throughout the entire country, including temperate rain forests in the south, deserts in the north and high plateaus in the Andes.
Rheas are very similar and distantly related to ostriches and emus, standing 1.2 meters (4 feet) high. They are large, flightless birds with grey-brown feathers, long legs, and long necks. They are grassland birds and prefer open land, so are commonly found in the Tierra del Fuego in the South and in the plateau of the Tarapacá, Antofagasta, and Atacama regions in the North.
10. Sea lions
In many parts of Chile, sea lions like to hang around on rocks, beaches, and piers along the coast. They don’t tend to do much during the day other than sleep, except perhaps take a quick swim to cool off, but become very loud and excited every day when the fisherman or restaurants throw them their leftover fish. It is not an adventure as such, but it is pretty fun to watch huge sea lions fight against pelicans to see who has the deal of the day. You can spot them in Viña del Mar and Concon, just 1.5 hours from Santiago, as well as many other locations along the coast.