Things to Do in Punta Arenas
The southernmost urban hub in the Americas, Punta Arenas has long been the gateway to Antarctica, though some traffic has shifted to smaller, more southerly towns in recent years. Regardless this remains the most convenient spot in the hemisphere to see penguins, glaciers, and that fantastic Patagonian landscape of ice-carved granite peaks thrusting up through the tenacious green.
Puerto Arenas itself is a working town, busier with oil, wool, seafood, and shipping, than the enchanted tourists seeking small boats out into the immaculate wilderness. Its museums and no-nonsense charm have their own appeal, as do its modern amenities, especially after a few days camping in the outback.
Visitors to Fort Bulnes, located atop an unforgiving hillside, will surely take note of the unprecedented lengths colonizers went to in order to stake their claim on such inhospitable land.
Ancient shipwrecks that line the coastal route between this popular destination and Punta Arenas serve as a reminder of just how treacherous travel could be. While the fort’s museum, which explores the colonization history in Southern Chile and replicas of a historic church, jail, post office and stables are definitely worth the trip, visitors agree that it’s the epic views from scenic trails and the ancient watchtower that prove to be most memorable.
Opened in 1894, the Punta Arenas Municipal Cemetery is known as the final resting place for some of the area’s most famous historical figures. Relevant families—like the Menendez-Behetys—even have their own chapels here. The massive iron gate stationed at the cemetery’s main entrance was donated by Sara Braun, a wealthy businesswoman, back in 1919, and local legend says it has remained closed and locked since the day it was completed at Sara’s request. While the grounds were originally reserved for bodies of British colonialists, it also includes those of famous German, French, Norwegian and Chilean residents as well.
Punta Arenas Municipal Cemetery covers about 10 acres (four hectares) of city land, making it one of the most expansive burial grounds in the region. Visits are often included in city tours, and the cemetery’s main office has an incredible electronic database where travelers can search for individuals by name to find the location of specific plots.
Visitors to the Nao Victoria Museum can travel back in time and experience the real-life thrill of a 16th-century sailing experience. Opened in 2011, this destination is celebrated by locals for promoting national identity and preserving much of what makes this area so unique. Visitors can wander through four real-life replicas of famous ships: the Nao Victoria, James Caird, HMS Beagle and Schooner Ancud—boats that played an important role in the discovery of Magallanes. Guides are included in the cost of admission, which makes for rich storytelling while travelers explore the ships.
This historic town square is among the most popular destinations in the Magallanes Region because of its unmistakable energy and close proximity to some of Punta Arenas’ major attractions. Travelers can easily walk from Plaza Munoz Gamero to Casa Braun-Menendez, the Sociedad Menendez Behety and the local cathedral, and many visitors agree that the best handmade crafts in town can be found here.
Walking the plaza takes only a few minutes, but most visitors gather at park benches or relax in the shade of trees to take in the sights and sounds of local life. Local folklore states kissing the statue of Magellan’s feet is good luck, so visitors looking to change their fortune should be sure to do so before leaving the plaza. A central information center also offers travelers maps and recommendations, making this a perfect first stop on a trip to Punta Arenas.
This 1,700-square-foot mecca of Patagonia heritage covers an entire history, culture and tradition in just four floors. Travelers can explore the well-organized galleries created by Salesian missionaries back in the late 1800s and learn about the rich ethnology, archaeology, wildlife and diversity of the region.
Visitors rave about the Cave of the Hands replica, which is displayed in a room dedicated to Southern Patagonia, and many applaud the museum’s honest handling of colonists, too. The Salesians made every effort to preserve artifacts from the Ona, Tehuelche, Alacalufe and Yamana people, while also explaining the impact of European colonists on local traditions and the role of pioneers in helping to create modern day Punta Arenas.
This elegant and well-preserved residence was once home to Braun Menendez—an intrepid pioneer who called Punta Arenas home. Just beyond the ornate iron gates travelers will find an incredible array of artifacts that explore the rich history and cultural diversity of the Magallanes region. From lush tapestries and shimmering hardwood floors to handcrafted furniture and beautiful statues, the Magallanes Regional Museum showcases how European influences made their way to South America.
The palace is divided into three major areas, and travelers can venture through collections of artifacts brought by the family from Europe, or delve into an array of maps and photographs that explain the region’s history. And a visit to the restored servants’ quarters showcases the day-to-day routines from the Braun Menendez family’s earliest days.
King George Island is the largest of South Shetland Islands, and its scenic bays, which include Maxwell, Admiralty and King George Bays, are home to unique wildlife, like elephant and leopard seals and a variety of species of penguins.
Its protected fjords and diverse flora and fauna make the island one of the region’s premier research stations for bio-diversity, and although these scientists who come from around the world are the only human inhabitants on this unique island, there’s still some draw for travelers venturing to the area’s icy depths. The Arctowski lighthouse is known for being the southernmost lighthouse in the world, and every summer intrepid runners venture to the island for the Antarctic marathon.
Outdoor-loving travelers and visitors in search of some of Chile's most prized birds love the natural wonder of Tres Puentes Wetland. More than 50 species of aquatic birds, including the Chiloe Wigeon and White-tufted grebe, reside in this epic stretch of land near the northern part of Punta Arenas. And while wandering the lush landscape armed with a camera and a bird book ranks high on travelers’ lists of favorite activities at Tres Puentes, wetland tours by bike are also a popular choice for visitors on the move.
When Magellan passed through his eponymous strait bound for Chile for the first time, he cruised past the tiny Magdalena Island (Isla Magdalena). Today, travelers make it a point to stop at this scenic island just northeast of Punta Arenas to explore the rocky shores and observe the huge colony of Magellanic penguins at their critical breeding site.
Unforgiving winds, rugged coastline, and narrow passages made the Strait of Magellan one of the most deadly channels for early explorers of South America. Luckily, modern cruise ship technology means today’s travelers can safely cross the strait for a scenic voyage past rocky fjords, forested islands, and glaciers that spill into the sea.
More Things to Do in Punta Arenas
Famed for its colony of adorable Magellanic penguins, Otway Sound (Seno Otway) houses one of the most easily visited penguin preserves in the world. In September, thousands of the smallish warm-weather penguins—all of them couples—make their way to this large inland bay in southern Chile and begin building nests.
The Punta Arenas Cruise Port on the Strait of Magellan serves as the gateway to Punta Arenas, Chilean Patagonia’s largest and most commercially important city. A port of call for passengers looking to explore the region and a jumping-off point for expeditions to Antarctica and Magdalena Island, Punta Arenas Cruise Port is a must-visit for adventurous travelers.