Punta Arenas is Chile’s gateway to the Antarctic, but more famously, to Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. This isolated city faces the Strait of Magellan and is the capital of the Magallanes province in Chile’s remote southern Patagonia region. What once started as a 19th century pioneer city full of sailors and sheep breeders, today Punta Arenas is a sprawling metropolis. Home to tree-lined squares, national parks and colonial mansions, it will surprise you with its sophisticated European architecture and ever changing weather!
For Patagonia Tours originating in Chile, visitors will typically take one of the daily 3 hour flights from Santiago into Punta Arenas with the sole purpose of using this city as a jumping point to Torres del Paine National Park. However, Punta Arenas is south of Torres del Paine, which means another 5 hours of driving following your 3 hour flight. Rather than settling for an exceedingly long day of travel as you arrive into Patagonia, why not stay awhile?
What many fail to realize is that Punta Arenas is a destination unto itself, popular with adventure seekers and worth spending a few days exploring both on your own and with a guide. Stretch your legs walking around the tree lined main square, Plaza Muñoz Gamero, as you browse through the stalls of the handicraft market, admire the Cathedral of Punta Arenas, explore the ostentatious mansions built by wealthy immigrants, visit the cemetery and learn about the area’s pioneer past and sheep farming heritage at the Museo Regional de Magallanes. Punta Arenas is also a free trade zone, great for finding bargains. Its busy port is also the point of embarkation (or disembarkation) for the Australis Patagonia cruises, following the fjords of the southern edge of Tierra del Fuego and visiting Ainsworth Bay, massive Pia Glacier and Glacier Alley, mystical Wulaia Bay and the legendary Cape Horn.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in this famously windy city:
Church in on City Street in Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas, capital of the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica Region, was founded in 1848 and is located on the shores of the Strait of Magellan. You will visit its main streets and avenues: Cerro Mirador from where you will get a panoramic view of the city, the Port, the Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego Island. Continue your journey to the Plaza de Armas; the Municipal Cemetery and ﬁnally visit the Chilean replica of the Nao Victoria, a full-scale construction of the ship of Hernando de Magallanes, a true reﬂection of the Naos of the 16th century.
Magellanic penguins on Magdalena Island
Magdalena and Marta Islands
After an early breakfast, you will be collected from your hotel by a shared transfer and taken to the port in Punta Arenas to start a shared boat navigation. During this excursion, you’ll explore the Magdalena and Marta Islands, specifically known for the hundreds of thousands of penguins and sea lions. Your first stop will be at Magdalena Island where you will disembark from the boat and stay for an hour with the shared guide to learn about the natural habitat of the Magellanic Penguins in the largest colony of South America. Afterward, you will continue your journey to Marta Island where you will stay on the boat and observe the sea lions, imperial cormorants and hundreds of southern gulls. At the end of this amazing activity, you will return to the pier and then to Punta Arenas.
Fuerte Bulnes - the first settlement of Punta Arenas
Your transfer will pick you up from your hotel and take you to the meeting point with your guides. Afterwards, you will start the navigation through the Magellan Strait observing the beautiful sunrise by Tierra Del Fuego and Fuerte Bulnes, first settlement of Punta Arenas. Crossing the Froward Cape, last point of the American continental territory, you will admire beautiful landscapes, exuberant flora and big hanging glaciers from the Darwin range. Finally, you will navigate through the Marine Park “Francisco Coloane” and observe the majestic humpback whales, the Magellan penguins, sea elephants, sea lions and austral dolphins among others. After this activity, you will return to your hotel.
Wildlife of Patagonia
Between the wind and the extensive pampa, the majesty of the Cordillera de los Andes in the sector of skyring, makes this 5 hour excursion a spectacular option especially on those windy days where it is impossible to visit the colonies of Penguins and sea lions in the Marta and Magdalena Islands. You will be able to see cóquenes (wild geese), black eagles, caranchos, armadillos, and a great variety of ducks and smaller birds, a paradise for nature lovers. Departing very early, this excursion heads north of Punta Arenas, taking the road to Rio Verde and making the first stop in the largest colony of condors of the region. Then facing the Fitz Roy Channel, you will be able to observe numerous pre-Antarctic seabirds and Magellanic dolphins, then the Pioneer Stays will stand out in a surprising landscape. Closing the circuit, you will enter the Fabres crossing, a place of abundant flora where the Lengas and old Nares aborigine people are highlighted.
It’s clear Punta Arenas has much to offer you during a brief stay before you move onto your ultimate destination: Patagonia. Curious what will fill your days once you make it to this natural wonder?
Watch our webinar on EcoCamp Patagonia - the world’s first geodesic dome hotel and then head over to our Patagonia page to pursue some of our sample itineraries.