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.
When Magellan passed through the strait bound for Chile for the first time, he cruised on past the tiny Magdalena Island, famous for its thousands of penguins. Today, travelers make it a point to stop at this scenic island that’s northeast of Punta Arenas to explore the rocky shores and get up close to the playful penguins.
Visitors can follow well-marked paths to a popular lighthouse for impressive views of the empty island, but it’s the friendly penguins that walk side-by-side with travelers that really draw tourists to this natural haven outside of the region’s capital.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Travelers can find close encounters of the penguin kind on a visit to Otway Sound and Penguin Reserve in Punta Arenas, where wooden walkways wind through the animal’s natural habitat. Travelers warn cold winds blow most any time of year. And while visitors have to stay in designated areas, penguins and other wildlife roam close and roam freely, making it a truly unique outdoor experience. Roughly 5,000 warm weather penguins make their way to the shores of the Otway Sound each September and begin laying eggs in October. By November, travelers can find plenty of fluffy gray chicks wandering the sound, which makes it one of the best times of year to visit.
Unforgiving winds, a rugged coastline and narrow passageways made the Strait of Magellan one of the most deadly channels for early explorers attempting to navigate by ship. But today, this historic route, which was successfully navigated for the first time by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, has become a popular spot for adventurers, seamen and travelers looking to experience the treacherous waters of this South American spot. Luckily, new ship technology and expert captains make for a much safer passage, but the rich history, incredible landscapes and unforgettable historic tales still make for a truly remarkable experience on the sea.
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