Punta Arenas is the capital city of its region, the Magallanes and Antarctica Chilena, and is in southern Chile. Translated as ‘Sandy Point’, Punta Arenas is located on the Strait of Magallanes, which is a channel linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Fishing boats and cruise ships pass through these waters, and in fact, it is so far south that it is used a base for trips departing to Antarctica.
Punta Arenas grew substantially over the course of time; this was due to the amount of traffic that began to pass through its waters on track to the western coasts of North and South America. Punta Arenas also attracted an influx of European settlers during the 1880’s because of the abundance of gold and sheep farming. In fact, one of the largest sheep farms in Chile and Argentina was controlled in Punta Arenas. Punta Arenas still maintains its importance due to the accessibility to the Antarctic Peninsula. There are lots of great things to do in Punta Arenas, such as visiting the fascinating Museo Regional de Magallanes and the Fuerte Bulnes. Below is our Punta Arenas travel guide with information on all the best things to do, places to go and what not to miss.
INSTITUTO DE LA PATAGONIA – Here you can find the Museo del Recuerdos, with all the different machines and tools that would have been used by the pioneers. There is also a classic pioneer house and sheep sheers. A great place to visit and learn more about Punta Arena’s history.
MUSEO REGIONAL DE MAGALLANES – This is a museum located in a former mansion of one of the Pioneers in the area, and an example of the power and wealth of the sheep farming pioneers in the area. There is also some of the original furniture that was brought from Europe still inside. What used to be the servants’ quarters is now a café. See how a family used to live, and learn more about the city’s history.
MUSEO NAVAL Y MARITIMO – Kept here is one of the most famous stories in Chilean history - the account of the rescue of Sir Ernest Schackleton’s crew from Antarctica. There is also a replica ship contained here, and models of various parts, giving a great idea of what a ship is like. This place is educational, centrally-located, and cheap to enter – you can spend 1 or 2 hours here.
CEMENTERIO MUNICIPAL – This is an interesting cemetery due to its contrast between small, humble graves and larger, more extravagant tombs. One of the grand tombs belongs to the famous wool baron, Jose Mendez. The cemetery is well looked after, and you can learn about the history of Punta Arenas and its settlement by looking at the different graves. You’ll see surprising diversity in the backgrounds of the people buried here.
OTWAY SOUND PENGUIN COLONY – This colony of penguins located about 65 kilometres from the city is a fantastic place to visit. Here you can observe these famous birds as they return to the shore or enter the sea for a swim. Throughout the course of a year, you can witness the different cycles in the birth of the penguin. If you arrive between January and March, you may be able to see the little baby penguins that have just recently hatched and are getting ready to learn the lessons of life.
FUERTE BULNES – This is a chance to see the first settlement that was made here in town. Visit the fort, see the history behind it, and discover why it was built. You can also see barracks, a chapel, and log cabins within the fort. There is a nice view to enjoy, as the fort was built by the Strait of Magellan – look out for sea animas!
*** WHAT NOT TO MISS ***
There are plenty of trips to the different spots where you can see the penguins in the area, including trips to the shore where the penguins come to mate and have their families, as well as excursions to some of the surrounding islands where the penguins travel to. This is a great experience, and is a must-see attraction in Punta Arenas.
Zona Franca mall: Punta Arenas also has a duty-free area, where you can purchase goods tax free!
Punta Arenas is known for its cafes, and there are plenty of restaurants that can be found in the city where you can find a variety of food. Try La Marmita, which has a variety of options - from light salads to filling casseroles - and even caters for vegetarians. It’s found close to Plaza Sampaio (Av. Navarro 678), and from the outside looks like a sweet little green house. Inside you’ll appreciate its lodge-style décor, including Andean photos, art, and kitchen objects.
Other popular places to eat at include: El Mercado (Mejicana 617), which offers a nice variety of dishes, and La Luna (O’Higgins 1017), which has a lively, pleasant atmosphere, great seafood, and a bar.
The municipal fish market (Ruta 9 1548) also offers some good seafood at affordable prices. On the ground floor, you’ll see stands selling fish, and upstairs there are several restaurants.
There are a few good places to enjoy the night: Café Pub 1900 is a great option for some food and relaxed drinks. La Taberna has a cosy atmosphere, and its interior reminds you of an old ship. Kamikaze is a popular club here, especially amongst younger people, and it has a quirky Japanese WWII theme going on. Remember that it’s typical in Chile – like most South American countries - to start the night late. This means eating dinner around 10pm, so often clubs don’t open until after midnight.
The average temperature in the summer (from December to March) is about 8 - 10 degrees Celsius. The Chilean winter (from June to September) has an average temperature of about 1 – 4 degrees Celsius, with snowfall over the months of June through to September. You can’t rely on the weather forecast, as often in one day you can experience different weather conditions.
You can reach Punta Arenas by plane as there is a National Airport in the area, with numerous flights going out to Puerto Montt and Santiago. There are daily buses running from Puerto Natales and from Rio Gallegos in Argentina, and from Ushuaia in Argentina (taking about 11 hours).
Many cruise ships also land in the port of this city.
Punta Arenas has many types of hotels and lodging, including some great places for backpackers who want a cheap and easy stay in a shared room. There are also chain hotels and unique places for lodging. One option for somewhere cheap and cosy is Hospedaje Costanera (Romulo Correa 1221), where you can find dorms as well as private rooms with ensuites. It’s around a 15-minute walk from the centre. Hotel Lacolet (Arauco 786) is a small but charming place, with great attention to detail. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the centre.
Always make sure when going on tours and trips that the company is well known and safe.
Always be careful at night time when walking around the city.
Protect your skin! Wear sunblock, even if it’s overcast.