Young Punta Arenas Dancer
Language and Currency
What is Punta Arenas Like?
What is the Weather Like?
Where Does the Ship Dock?
Where is the Shopping?
What is There to Buy?
What is There To Do?
Is There Anything of a “Don’t Miss Quality?
Are There Any Great Restaurants or Bars?
Chileans speak Castellian Spanish and the currency is the Chilean peso.
Patagonia’s largest and most commercially important city, Punta Arenas, Chile is the capital of the Magallenes Province. Located on the western side of the Strait of Magellan, between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, at the foot of the Andes, Punta Arenas was once the stomping ground for European explorers, entrepreneurs, and adventurers. Now, Punta Arenas’ economy is based on farming, oil exploration and tourism. The port provides a base for South Atlantic fishing boats and Antarctic research vessels. The weatherworn streets of this bustling, active city of 100,000 are a mixture of old mansions (built during the wool boom of the late 19th century), cathedrals, homes with colorful corrugated rooftops, high rise office buildings and modern hotels. From English sheepherders to Portuguese sailors, Punta Arenas is a melting pot of various cultures.
On the gusty shore of the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas is known for its windy conditions. The average high during the cruising season is a mere 56°F, with lows averaging 40°F. Be prepared for inclement weather at this port and dress in layers.
Ships dock at Arturo Prat, only a 10-15 minute walk from the center of town, or at the more remote commercial pier, Mardones/Bahia Catalina Pier, which is a 20 minute taxi ride away from the downtown area. Metered taxis are readily available pier side. If your ship is docked at Arturo Prat a taxi into town will cost about $8 US, and if it is docked at Catalina it will run about $10 US. Taxis are also available for hire by the hour, but make sure you negotiate the price before you embark on your trip.
Stores are scattered along all the main streets in the downtown area with the bulk of them located on Magallanes, a street that runs adjacent to the Plaza Munoz Gamero in the center of town. On port days, weather permitting, the locals display their wares at a craft fair in the Plaza. There is also a duty-free shopping area called Zona Franca on Av. Manuel Bulnes at the north edge of town, near the Museo Del Recuerdo.
The Zona Franco area has electronics, appliances, perfume, clothing, liquor and cigarettes at discounted prices, but other than liquor, the bargains are marginal. Downtown stores have a very nice selection of sheepskin products and good quality lapis lazuli, the royal blue gemstone of Chile.
Historical Punta Arenas Building
This is the jumping off point for many tours to Antarctica. Some cruise lines offer a flyover of Antarctica, while others offer a more in-depth package that includes a land tour. Cost of these tours can be rather expensive, however, so you might be more interested in the regional activities. Torres Del Paine National Park has been named one of the top 10 national parks in the world and is known a miniature Alaska. Although some distance away, it requires a 50 minute flight to Puerto Natales, the city in closest proximity to the park. Once there, however, you will be treated to the best that nature has to offer. It’s well developed network of trails and breathtaking scenery provide a hiker’s paradise.
Torres Del Paine National Park
Otway Sound, about 65 kilometers north-west of Punta Arenas is a substantial Magellanic penguin colony. You can also take a half-day boat excursion to Magdelena Island (also known as Penguin Island) for yet another opportunity to see these cute creatures. Within the city limits of Punta Arenas there are various museums. The best of these is the Museo Regional de Magallanes, housed in the well- preserved mansion of one of the city’s powerful families. The original furnishings, ceiling frescos, and Italian marble floors provide a glimpse into the life of the regions wealthy, before the Panama Canal was built. The museum also provides an historical perspective of the region through an eclectic series of displays. A walk around town can also prove interesting, or venture up to Cerro La Cruz promontory for a fantastic view from the hill overlooking the city and surrounding area.
In Punta Arenas proper I did not find anything that I would classify as “Don’t Miss”. I would have to guess, however, that if your ship offered a land tour of Antarctica it would qualify. So, if any of you take this tour, please share your thoughts with me.
Yes, Sotitos is an excellent seafood restaurant on O’Higgins, very near the port. Don’t be fooled by the weathered sign and green front exterior, as once inside, you are greeted by an elegantly charming décor, white tablecloths and tuxedoed waiters. Service is excellent and they serve a fresh King Crab dish that is superb. Add a nice Chilean bottle of wine and this dining experience is primo.