Punta Arenas, Chile, a port city in the Magallanes region of Chilean Patagonia, is the second most important access point to Antarctica in South America. Antarctica voyages depart here to the South Shetland Islands via charter flight. A colorful town along the coast, Punta Arenas is the perfect place to enjoy a day or two before embarking on a trip to Cape Horn or a fly-trip Antarctica. Here are some things to do before you embark!
WALK THE TOWN
Take a stroll around the city center to see the historic Plaza de Armas. Make a wish and kiss the foot of the famous “Indio Desconocido,” an enigmatic indigenous man fabled to have miraculous powers. Enter the Palacio Sara Braun museum for $2,000 Chilean pesos to learn more about the city’s early history. Stroll up the Avenida Cristobal Colón, and find a full view of the city at the top. Punta Arenas is also full of street art, so keep an eye out for the many murals you’re sure to find!
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen before your walk – there’s a hole in the ozone layer above Punta Arenas, and the sun hits strong!
EXPLORE THE CEMETERY
If you’re a fan of ornate Latin American cemeteries, you’ll love the municipal cemetery of Punta Arenas. Lose yourself among the tall, oblong cypress trees that line mausoleums dotted with flowers and pinwheels. Visit the resting sites of the region’s most influential pioneers and immigrants, as well as monuments to fallen soldiers and the “Indio Desconocido.” Note that this is not just a historical cemetery, so be respectful to visiting families!
WALK AMONG PENGUINS
For many visitors, the 4-5 hour excursion to the penguin colony of Magdalena Island is a highlight of their stay in Punta Arenas. A ferry cruise will bring you past sea lions to a colony of over 150,000 Magellanic penguins – a species found only in this part of the world and in the Falklands. For penguin fanatics, this is a great opportunity to see this unique species. But if you’re on a budget, skip the tour and get excited for the great variety of penguins you’ll see in Antarctica! Cape Horn travelers: you’ll stop at Magdalena Island on your journey.
Punta Arenas has a large tax-free commercial district, ideal for purchasing last-minute Antarctica gear or stocking up for camping trips after your journey. It’s quite a bit cheaper than shopping in Argentina and also offers a wider variety of imported products. For longtime backpackers, this is a great place to find food products (read: peanut butter) otherwise scarce in Latin America. Visit the Líder supermarket (Chilean Walmart) for all kinds of cheap buys, and then head down to the Zona Franca shopping complex for a variety of goods, including camping supplies, electronics, imported chocolates, and just about anything else you might need.
ENJOY A MEAL
Treat yourself to a dinner at the lively La Marmita – with a colorful interior, plenty of vegetarian options, and delicious cocktails, this is a great spot to enjoy an evening. Don’t forget to bring cash!
For a cheap meal, head over to the home-y Sabores de Mamá, where you can get an appetizer, entree, dessert, and beverage for $5,000 chilean pesos. Their cozy atmosphere and warm service make for a delightful experience.
Take a break in a café for a couple hours: Imago Libro Arte Café, right on the shore, offers gorgeous views and a shelves full of books to peruse, or take advantage of the free Wifi and yummy pastries at Café Tostado.