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Punta Arenas

Why visit Punta Arenas?

Chile’s most southern city, this former penal colony is now a cosmopolitan metropolis – the gateway to exploring the Antarctic. The city prospered in the late 19th century from the wool boom, and there are many handsome European-style mansions and public buildings from that era that reflect those new-found riches. The city’s troubled – and troubling – environmental attitude and treatment of the indigenous population has undergone a welcome reversal in recent years and new science centres are being planned to embrace the city’s relationship with the Antarctic, while the city is increasingly celebrating the culture and heritage of its original inhabitants. It’s a fascinating place to visit, before you travel into the majestic, glacier-rich wilds of Patagonia, discover the penguin and seabird colonies that thrive in this region, or cross to Tierra del Fuego.
Reasons to visit Punta Arenas include:

  • Explore the lovely gardens of the Punta Arenas cemetery, with its ornate mausoleums that tell the story of families who became wealthy in the wool boom, and the simpler graves that reflect the range of nationalities of sailors and travellers who ended their days in the city. 
  • Touch (or even kiss) the feet of the statue of Ferdinand Magellan in the Plaza De Armas, Munoz Gamero - tradition says that to do so means you will return here one day. The historic buildings in this main square are very impressive. 
  • Take a tour of the Palacio Sara Braun, a Punta Arenas landmark. This magnificent 19th century mansion was built by a wealthy widow, with elaborate materials imported from Europe. 
  • Learn about the life of 16th century seafarers amongst the full-sized replica ships in the Nao Victoria Museum, discover the story of the indigenous population at the Salesian Museum, or visit the Museo del Recuerdo to get a glimpse of life for the early settlers. 
  • Travel 40 miles out of the city to the Otway Sound Penguin Colony (Pinguinera de Seno Otway). Each year Magellan penguins come here in vast numbers to find partners, mate and raise their young. 
  • Take a boat trip to the Magellan Straits. 
  • Kayak, trek or hike in stunning landscapes. 
  • Learn about the indigenous Kawesqar and Selk’nam people on Tierra del Fuego. 
  • Visit Los Pinguinos Natural Monument and meet the Magellan penguins that inhabit Magdalena and Marta Islands, along with sea lions and cormorants.

When to go to Punta Arenas

The warmest time is November to early March, though even in the summer the weather is extremely changeable and – especially in this season – the winds can reach very high speeds. In Autumn (March to May) the foliage is glorious. From June to August many attractions and hiking trails are closed, and the weather can be extremely cold and miserable. But whenever you visit, you can be sure of one thing; the weather in Patagonia is unpredictable. If you want to see the fluffy penguin chicks, late November – hatching time - is the time to visit. The adult penguins arrive in September and lay eggs in October. The youngsters head out to sea in March.  

Whenever you go, sunblock is a must. The hole in the ozone layer above the city is shrinking, but the city’s residents are diligent about applying suncream, and it’s a wise discipline to follow.  

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Punta Arenas accommodation

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facts and information

Time: GMT -4 hours

Flight time:

There are direct flights from London Heathrow to Santiago, which operate 4 times a week and take 14 hours 40 minutes. The Chilean airline, LATAM, flies via Madrid.

Language: The official language is Spanish. but other local languages are also spoken. English is spoken quite widely.

Visas:

Visas are not currently required for British passport holders staying for up to 90 days, who are issued with a ‘Tarjeta de Turismo-Tourist Card’ on arrival. You must retain this and present it to immigration on departure.

Health:

Generally none is compulsory but we recommend the following: hepatitis A and B, typhoid, diphtheria, meningitis, tetanus, rabies and polio. There is no malaria in Chile. A yellow fever certificate is required if you are coming from an infected area.

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