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.
Nearly 373 miles (600 kilometers) long, the Strait of Magellan separates mainland South America from Tierra del Fuego at its southern tip. It provides a narrow passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, only 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) wide at its narrowest point. More than 40 lighthouses line the eastern portion of the channel between Punta Dungeness and Cabo del Espiritu Santo, most of them centuries old.
While many travelers come to experience the strait by boat—this is a popular cruise stop between Argentina and Chile—those who’d prefer to keep their feet on solid ground can opt for a driving tour to enjoy the dramatic coastal landscapes and birdwatching opportunities.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Be sure to pack motion sickness medication if you’re planning to cruise through the strait, as waters can get choppy.
- Bring your camera; this is one of the most scenic areas in the Punta Arenas region and wildlife sightings abound.
- Dress in warm layers, as it’s often much cooler and windier on the water than on land, even in summer.
How to Get There
The most popular way to reach the Strait of Magellan is by cruise ship, but it’s also possible to visit the storied body of water on a driving day trip from Punta Arenas, Chile’s southernmost city.
When to Get There
Cruises on the Strait of Magellan set sail between September and April (spring and summer in the Southern Hemisphere).
Cruises from Punta Arenas
If you’d like to get out on the water during your time in Punta Arenas but aren’t planning to cruise through the strait, the island landscapes of Patagonia offer plenty of day trip opportunities. Look for whales, dolphins, sea lions, and elephant seals on a wildlife-watching cruise through Francisco Coloane Marine Park, or catch a boat to tiny Magdalena Island to walk among a massive colony of wild Magellanic penguins.