view on the city

Punta Arenas / Chile

Punta Arenas is a port city located in the extreme south of Chile. The capital of the province “Región de Magallanes y de la Antárctica Chilena” is located on the Strait of Magellan, a strait that runs between the Chilean mainland and the island of Tierra del Fuego. Punta Arenas is the southernmost major city in the world. The Spanish name originally stood for “sandy place”.

Punta Arenas seen from Cerro de la Cruz

From military post to big city

The city, which according to current projections has a population of around 145.000, emerged in the first half of the 19th century from a military post and a Chilean penal colony. The formal founding is dated to a December day in 1848. The California gold rush from 1848 to 1854 brought about a rapid and noticeable boost to urban development. It and Punta Arena's location on the Strait of Magellan were beneficial for the city's development. The connection between two oceans - the Atlantic and the Pacific - has long been one of the most important sea routes in the world. Ships had to pass through the city if they did not want to sail around the stormy and dangerous Cape Horn.

For those who drove the Strait of Magellan

After the Panama Canal went into operation in 1914, Punta Arenas lost its importance as a port city. Alternatively, it developed into the center of the Chilean wool trade.

Punta Arenas - the multiethnic city

Many of the residents are descendants of Portuguese sailors or English sheep farmers. Other residents count German, Spanish, Croatian, Russian and Swiss immigrants among their ancestors. Of the original inhabitants, the indigenous Indians, only a few survived. They were almost completely wiped out by epidemics and blind murders

Cruise Terminal with whale fluke

Punta Arenas - economically

The city has long been well positioned economically. Maritime trade, oil and natural gas business, sheep farming and tourism each contribute to relative prosperity. For a long time, Punta Arenas was the center of the Chilean wool trade. Chile's twelfth region is considered the richest province in the country. The attractively designed Plaza de Armas and the buildings surrounding it are witnesses of prosperity.

Palacio Montes - representative citizen palace in the center

Punta Arenas - a cruise destination

Cruise and expedition ships call at Punta Arenas from November to March. On an annual average, around 40 ships can be expected. The city is a stopover for cruises around Cape Horn and through the Strait of Magellan. Boat trips to Antarctica also depart from Punta Arenas. Smaller expedition ships dock at the Arturo Prat Pier. Larger cruise ships are anchored. Their passengers are tendered to the pier. The few inner-city sights can be reached on foot in a short time.

Ex MS BREMEN at the Arturo Prat Pier

Sights in the city area

Mirador Cerro de la Cruz

To get an overview of the city, we recommend a comfortable walk of around 15 minutes. It leads from the attractive terminal next to the pier up to the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz. The viewpoint offers both: a panoramic view of the city and the Strait of Magellan. When visibility is good, the island of Tierra del Fuego can also be seen.

Mirador Cerro de la Cruz

View from Mirador Cerro de la Cruz to the south 

Plaza de Armas Muñoz Gamero

In the center is the tree-lined Plaza de Armas Muñoz Gamero with the large Magellan monument. It shows us the explorer looking resolutely into the sky. The right foot rests on a stylized ship's bow. Two subjugated Indians sit at his feet. According to legend, whoever touches an Indian's foot or even kisses him will return to Punta Arenas. Judging by the shine of the bronze, this seems to happen more often. The mythical creature of a mermaid inserted into the base of the monument is also beautiful to look at.

Magellan Monument in the Plaza de Armas Muñoz Gamero
Magellan - looking into the sky
Magellan Monument at Plaza de Armas Muñoz Gamero - detail

The local tourist information kiosk is also on the plaza. However, cruise ship guests can get good information at an information stand in the aforementioned Punta Arenas cruise terminal.

Tourist information kiosk in Plaza de Armas

Tourist information kiosk in Plaza de Armas

Cathedral of the Sagrado Corazon

The city is a bishop's seat. The Episcopal Church occupies the west side of the Plaza de Armas. The Romanesque basilica is 46 meters long and 18 meters wide. The appearance is quite plain. If you didn't know better, you wouldn't suspect it was an Episcopal church.

Cathedral of the Sagrado Corazon

Catedral del Sagrado Corazón - nave 

Palacio Sara Braun

The Palacio Sara Braun borders the north side of the Plaza de Armas. Today's national monument was built between 1895 and 1905 as a palatial home with an impressive, spacious winter garden. Sara Braun inherited a huge fortune from her husband, who died early, which he had acquired through livestock and trading businesses. Before her death, she was held in high regard as a benefactor of the city. The building has been used as a hotel since 1992.

Palacio Sara Braun

A spectacular cemetery

One of Punta Arena's sights is undoubtedly the Cementerio Municipal. In this cemetery, important families in the region had magnificent burial chapels built as final resting places for their deceased. The cemetery reminds us of the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. In 1925, Punta Arena's German community dedicated a memorial stone to the German Vice Admiral Reichsgraf von Spee, who died in the naval battle off the Falkland Islands in December 1914.

Location of the cemetery: on Av. Pdte. Manuel Bulnes.

Cementerio Municipal - entrance area
Cementerio Municipal - Graves of the Italian community
Cementerio Municipal - commendable order
Cementerio Municipal - family grave

Nao Victoria open-air museum

In the north of the city is the Nao Victoria open-air museum. The private museum, opened in 2011, allows visitors to experience seafaring and the development of the region with sailing ships up close. Three historical ships have been recreated in their original size. The ships cover a period of three centuries. Weapons, navigation tools, and copies of historical documents complete the experience.

Costanera del Estrecho

A walk along the three-kilometer-long sea promenade Costanera del Estrecho promises fresh air, the sighting of seabirds, sea lions and sometimes dolphins or whales. It was inaugurated on the occasion of the bicentenary of the Republic of Chile in 2010. In addition to the promenade, there are green spaces, sports equipment and at least one café. At Avenida Colón there is the monument to the Tripulantes Goleta Ancud, the crew members of the schooner Ancud. The ship transported troops and settlers with orders to build Fort Bulnes and a settlement. The monument symbolizes sailors, troops but also craftsmen and cattle breeders.

Punta Arenas - Beach promenade and Strait of Magellan

Punta Arenas - Beach promenade and Strait of Magellan

Punta Arenas - Monument to the Tripulantes Goleta Ancud 

Sights and destinations outside of Punta Arenas

Isla Magdalena penguin island

One of the top destinations in Punta Arenas is a visit to the Penguin Island on the Strait of Magellan. In the period between September and March, well over 90.000 Magellanic penguins breed on Isla Magdalena. The island, without any charm in itself, was declared a national monument. Some sea lions and notable elephant seals don't matter at all because of the penguins. To get to the island, you usually need a two-hour boat trip from Punta Arenas.

Magellanic penguins in the reserve

Anyone who wants to see the birds in their habitat as a guest on a cruise ship is primarily dependent on the offers of the shipping companies. Because of the often limited lay times and the often time-consuming disembarkation on larger cruise ships, a trip to the penguins on your own is risky.

Seno Otway penguin colony

The penguin colony located 50 to 60 kilometers northwest of Punta Arenas on private property is now closed to visitors. The tourist information in the terminal told us that the area was closed. Poaching dogs would have wiped out most of the roughly 2.500 breeding pairs of penguins.

Magellanic National Reserve

A nearby destination are the mountain forests of the Patagonian ecosystem. They are located a good 30 kilometers southwest of Punta Arenas. The elevations of the almost 2.000 square kilometer reserve measure between 350 and 600 meters in height. A lush flora and fauna await the visitors.

3½-hour tours, which can be carried out independently of the ships, were offered locally in 2018 for 15.000 pesos (around 15 euros).

Fort Bulnes

About 60 kilometers south of Punta Arenas lies Fort Bulnes on the Strait of Magellan. It was built in 1843. The aim of the measure was to protect the sea route controlled by Chile and to found a city. However, the region's inhospitable climate prevented the city from being founded. Instead, the first settlers landed in Punta Arenas five years later. Between 1941 and 1943, the abandoned and destroyed fort was rebuilt as a historical heritage site with a church, quarters, powder magazine, post office and stables.

The complex can be completed with tours organized by the cruise ships or on your own initiative in a time frame of around four hours. Fellow travelers we interviewed spoke very positively about the excursion.

Update March 2024


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