Punta Arenas: a hidden gem at the bottom of the world

Wallis Grout-Brown
Wallis Grout-Brown

A journey to southern Chile exposes a city full of history and adventures. Punta Arenas is a small, colourful city of about 120,000 people hidden at the southern tip of Chile. Separated from the rest of the country by icebergs, the most direct way to get there is by plane. It can also be reached by car or bus, but this requires a detour through Argentina.

It’s quite easy and cheap to get around in Punta Arenas. Colectivos—taxis that, like buses, follow a certain route—cost the equivalent of $3 per ride, travel all over the city, and are a great way to become familiarized with the area.

Punta Arenas’ fascinating history lends itself to a variety museums and architecture. The Palicio Braun Menendez displays pioneers’ wealth and luxury during settlement, and hosts local cultural events and art exhibitions. Sara Braun’s residence is a magnificent display of the wealth that was present in the region during settlement, with an exquisite facade, interior and a well-kept winter garden. There’s also a lovely bar in the back of the Residence, although it can be a bit pricey for the budget traveller.

Other things to do in Punta Arenas include the winter festival in July, touring the Austral Brewery (and sampling beer, of course), watching the traditional Chilean dance La Cueca, and touring the penguin colony at the nearby Otway Sound.

The area also offers a lot of activities for those who are more adventurous. The national park Torres del Paine is only a two-to-three hour car-ride away. During the summer season (October-April), tourists can hike, climb, kayak, horseback ride, mountaineer, ice-climb and much more.

In the winter season (May-September), day tours are still available. Visitors can also hike and ski in the surrounding area, such as at the Andino Ski Club. Another option is taking the two-hour ferry ride across the Magellan Stretch to Porvenir in Chile, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost piece of land in the Americas. In Porvenir, not only are there museums and monuments of the Selknam people (an extinct indigenous group who lived there before European settlement), but there is plenty of hiking to do as well. As you’re wandering along the beach, you may come across a group of flamingos. If you make it to Porvenir, try walking to the old abandoned stone house at the edge of the bay. I have never seen a sunset as beautiful as the one I saw in Porvenir. On your way, you may even run into a herd of guanacos, a llama-like animal found in the region.  

This description only covers the surface of this Chilean city. Puentas Arenas is full of history and adventure, and is definitely worth the journey to the bottom of the world.

Cheap places to stay: Hostal La Estancia ($10-20/night); Hostal O’Higgins ($12-30/night); Hostal La Luna ($10-12/night); Hostal Fitz Roy ($9-34/night)

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