Tour Review: Visiting Isla Damas
When you visit La Serena, one of the most popular tours you will see advertised is to Isla Damas. I had read about the penguin sightings and wild birds, but in reality the tour was far better than I ever expected it to be.
Our hostel recommended Eco Toursimo, and we paid CHP33,000 (approx. $ 66) each for a full day tour. Pick up was at 8.30 but they were half an hour late due to traffic. When the mini bus arrived, it was almost full and we ended up sitting separately. It was cramped, but it didn’t really matter to us as the people on the tour were interesting and the scenery we passed through was enough to keep you entertained.
It was a long drive (approx. 2 hours) to the small village port where our boat was waiting. The road was windy and the driver was pretty speedy so if you get travel sick I recommend you take some sickness pills with you. Same applies for the boat – the crossing over to the first island was rocky to say the least. We were thankful for our waterproof jackets too as the boat was open topped and there was lots of spray!
It took 15 minutes to reach the first island, where we quickly zoomed over to a nearby rock where a big group of wild bottlenose dolphins were playing. I had seen wild dolphins before but never as close as these. It was absolutely amazing watching them jumping and diving together – and only 4 or 5 meters from the boat! We headed over to the coastal rocks around the island and saw dozens of large Sea Lions lounging around in the sun, resting before their night time feeding. We saw various times of sea bird, from the large grey Pelicans to the eagerly awaited Humboldt Penguins.
The boat driver brought the boat in very close to the wildlife while the tour guide explained fully about the animals and their habitats (in English and in Spanish). The photo opportunities were fab – although with the bobbing boat the dolphins were sometimes tricky to get in shot!
After a couple of hours looking at the wildlife we headed to Isla Damas beach where we had an hour to walk around and explore. This was perhaps a little long as it took us only 10 minutes to climb up to the high peak for photos, but as it was a nice day we enjoyed ourselves in the sun for the rest of the time before heading back to port.
Lunch was at a small Hacienda style restaurant on the mainland called The Olive Orchard. There was a two course menu with various options you could choose from. The food was very tasty and a great way to try traditional local cuisine while looking out at the orchard of olive trees outside.
All in all a great day for wildlife watching and sampling local cuisine. The tour was a little pricey but the guide was informative and well organised (after the bus!).