- From military post to big city
- Punta Arenas - the multiethnic city
- Punta Arenas - economically
- Punta Arenas - a cruise destination
- Sights in the city area
- Sights and destinations outside of Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas is a port city in the far south of Chile. The capital of the province Region 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 meant something like "sandy place".
Punta Arenas from the Cerro de la Cruz
From military post to big city
The city, which currently has around 130.000 inhabitants, emerged in the first half of the 19th century from a military post and a Chilean penal colony. The formal founding is dated on a December day in the year 1848. The Californian gold rush of 1848 to 1854 brought about a quick and noticeable boost to urban development. It and Punta Arena's location on the Strait of Magellan helped the city to flourish. The connection of two oceans was one of the most important sea routes in the world. Ships inevitably had to pass through the city if they did not want to circumnavigate 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 inhabitants are descendants of Portuguese sailors or English sheep farmers. Other residents include German, Spanish, Croatian, Russian and Swiss immigrants among their ancestors. Only a few of the indigenous people, the indigenous Indians, survived. They were almost completely wiped out by epidemics and blind murders.
Cruise Terminal with whale fluke
Punta Arenas - economically
Punta Arenas has long been economically well positioned. It lives from sea trade, the oil and natural gas business, sheep farming and tourism. For a long time, Punta Arenas was the center of the Chilean wool trade. Chile's twelfth region is said to be the richest province in the country. The attractively designed Plaza de Armas and the buildings around them 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. The city is a stopover for cruises around Cape Horn and through the Strait of Magellan. In addition, boat trips to Antarctica start from Punta Arenas. Smaller expedition ships dock at Arturo Prat Pier. Larger cruise ships are in the roadstead. Their passengers are tendered to the pier. The few inner-city sights can be reached on foot from there in a short time.
MS BREMEN at the Arturo Prat Pier
Sights in the city area
To get an overview of the city, we recommend a 15-minute, easy hike. It leads from the terminal next to the pier up to the Mirador Cerro de la Cruz. The lookout point offers a panoramic view of the city and the Strait of Magellan. When the visibility is good, the island of Tierra del Fuego can also be seen.
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 gazing resolutely at the sky. The right foot rests on a stylized bow of a ship. Two subjugated Indians sit at his feet. According to legend, whoever touches the foot of an Indian or even kisses him returns to Punta Arenas. Judging by the sheen of the bronze, this seems to happen more often. The mythical creature of a mermaid inserted in the base of the monument is nice to look at.
The tourist information kiosk in the plaza is nice to look at. Cruise ship guests can get good information at an information desk in the Cruise Terminal in Punta Arenas.
Tourist information kiosk in Plaza de Armas
The city is the bishopric. The Episcopal Church Cathedral of the Sagrado Corazon occupies the west side of the Plaza de Armas. The Romanesque basilica is 46 meters long and 18 meters wide. The appearance is quite unadorned. If one did not know better, one would not suspect an episcopal church in it.
The north side of the Plaza de Armas borders the Palacio Sara Braun. Today's national monument was built between 1895 and 1905 as a palatial residential building with an impressive, spacious winter garden. Sara Braun inherited a huge fortune from her husband, who died early, which he had acquired through cattle and trade. Before her death, she was held in high regard as the city's benefactor. The building has been used as a hotel since 1992.
Palacio Sara Braun
One of Punta Arena's sights is without a doubt the Municipal cemetery. In this cemetery, important families in the region had splendid burial chapels built as the final resting places for their dead. The cemetery reminds us of the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. In 1925, Punta Arenas' German community dedicated a memorial stone to the German Vice Admiral Reichsgraf von Spee, who died in the sea battle off the Falkland Islands in December 1914.
Location of the cemetery: on Av. Pdte. Manuel Bulnes
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
Fresh air, the sighting of sea birds, sea lions and sometimes even dolphins or whales promise a walk along the three kilometer long sea promenade Costanera del Estrecho. It was inaugurated on the occasion of the bicentenary of the Republic of Chile in 2010. Next to the promenade there are green areas, sports equipment and at least one café. At the level of Avenida Colón stands the monument to the Tripulante Goleta Ancud, the crew members of the schooner Ancud. The ship transports troops and settlers with orders to build Fort Bulnes and a settlement. The monument symbolizes sailors, troops but also craftsmen and cattle breeders.
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 that can be carried out independently of the ships are offered on site for 15.000 Pesos (around 20 euros).
Fort Bulnes is located about 60 kilometers south of Punta Arenas 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 Arena five years later. Between 1941 and 1943 the abandoned and destroyed fort was rebuilt as a historical legacy with a church, quarters, powder magazine, post office and stables.
The facility can be mastered both with tours organized by the cruise ships and on your own initiative in a time frame of around four hours. Fellow travelers we interviewed spoke very positively about the excursion.
Update March 2021