Punta Arenas

Overview

Introduction

Chilean Patagonia's most important city, Punta Arenas (often pronounced as if a single word) was an important supply station for ships prior to the completion of the Panama Canal and the home to mansions of the wool barons who transformed the economy of southernmost Chile and Argentina. The main sights are the Plaza Munoz Gamero, with its monument to Hernando de Magallanes (Magellan); the regional museum (formerly the Braun-Menendez mansion); and the cemetery, with graves and monuments to the first settlers and pioneer families from throughout Europe, including Yugoslavia, Great Britain, Italy and Spain. Even with all the tourism operations in the area, oil and environmentally controversial salmon farms remain the primary economies of southern Chile; both are evident with the commercial shipping and salmon processing operations in Punta Arenas.


With the region's only commercial airport, Punta Arenas, 1,915 mi/3,085 km south of Santiago, is the gateway to Tierra del Fuego, large offshore penguin colonies, Torres del Paine National Park and other more remote destinations. Fort Bulnes, 35 mi/55 km south along the Strait of Magellan, is a reconstruction of Chile's initial 19th-century settlement; nearby is the site of Puerto de Hambre, whose 16th-century Spanish settlers starved to death during a bad winter. Most foreigners traveling to trek in Torres del Paine National Park fly to Punta Arenas and then take the daily three-hour bus trip to Puerto Natales, where they meet with tour operators to start their treks.


Punta Arenas is also one of the most popular ports for Antarctica cruises and the only airport that offers tourism flights to Antarctica from South America. The Punta Arenas airport offers flights two days a week to Ushuaia, Argentina, which is the other departure point for Antarctica cruises.


Tourist hotel options in Punta Arenas are scarce. There are, however, plenty of tourist-friendly restaurants offering fresh seafood, particularly king crab and eel, and outstanding beef and lamb raised by gauchos on Chilean estancias (ranches).

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