The Top Things to See and Do in Punta Arenas, Chile

A Punta Arenas Penguin | © Jose Luis Hidalgo R. / Flickr
A Punta Arenas Penguin | © Jose Luis Hidalgo R. / Flickr
Photo of Carrie Back
26 July 2021

Chances are you’ve got some time in the south Chilean town of Punta Arenas en route to Antarctica – cruise ships depart regularly for the White Continent between December and March. Or perhaps you’re en route to or from the jagged horizons of Torres del Paine National Park. Whatever your reason for being in this remote outpost – 2,220km from the capital of Santiago – you won’t want to waste a minute as cycle rides, cemeteries, history and just a little mystery are waiting to be explored. Travel to the end of the earth and discover the best things to see and do in Punta Arenas.

Relax in Plaza Munoz Gamero

Architectural Landmark
Map View

Settle in and admire the most impressive plaza in Punta Arenas, a focal point in the heart of the city. This grand square has bright flower beds, green leaves and tranquil, tree-lined paths. Seek out the statue of Hernando de Magallanes, the Portuguese explorer after whom the adjacent Magellan Strait is named. Kiss the base of the statue and, it is said, you will return to Patagonia. Now cross the street to admire baroque-grandiose mansions, chiefly the Palacio Sara Braun.

Learn up at Nao Victoria Museo

Map View
View of the Nao Victoria Replica ship, Museo Nao Victoria, Punta Arenas city, Patagonia, Chile, South America
© Dave Porter / Alamy
You’ll get a picture of what daily life was like for explorers in the 16th century at the Nao Victoria Museo, where intriguing exhibits include life-size replicas of wooden vessels used by Antarctic adventurers. Step aboard and you’ll get an up-close look at how these boats actually worked. Among the several on display are copies of the Nao Victoria, the smaller James Caird boat, the Ancud schooner boat and the majestic HMS Beagle, which brought Darwin to South America.

Breeze along Costanera del Estrecho

Architectural Landmark, Natural Feature
Map View

Hire a bike and cycle – or simply take a stroll – along the waterfront Costanera del Estrecho. Among the highlights of this coast-hugging thoroughfare are murals depicting the city’s maritime history, and a large statue, the Monumento a Tripulantes Goleta Ancud. Surrounded by carved mermaids and water, this epic landmark pays homage to the crew aboard the Ancud, sent by Chile to conquer the Magellan Strait in 1843. You might spot dolphins and sea lions if you’re lucky.

Get to the top of Mirador Cerro de la Cruz

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Cerro de la Cruz, viewpoint of Punta Arenas, Chile, South America.. Image shot 2016. Exact date unknown.
© South America / Alamy

For the best view of the city and the bay, haul yourself up to this remarkable observation deck, commanding one of the highest hills in Punta Arenas. The view is astounding – a panoramic sweep of multicolored rooftops, with mountains and the Strait of Magellan beyond. On a clear day, you might even be able to see the Tierra del Fuego archipelago in the distant south. Have a coffee or an ice cream, then meander your way back down to explore this unique neighborhood.

Discover history at Fuerte Bulnes

Museum, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View

A visit to this historic tourist landmark, south from Punta Arenas, is a journey in the wake of sailors. The original fort was built in the mid-1800s, meeting Chile’s need to defend the Strait of Magellan. After decades of neglect and slow disintegration, with the help of historical documents an authentic replica was raised in the grounds in the 1940s. Admire the rebuilt church, jail, stables and post office, and glean more of its history in the little visitor center.

Get back to nature in Alberto Agostini National Park

Natural Feature, Park
Map View

Snowy peaks, ancient glaciers, forests and death-defying landscapes define this stunning wilderness, about 80 miles southeast of Punta Arenas. Designated a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, it can only be accessed by boat as part of a tour group. There are no hiking trails but, weather permitting, you can explore parts on foot and visit the beaches. Camera-lens magnets include the Cordillera Darwin, an extensive mountain range, and numerous glaciers.

Ski the slopes at Club Andino

Ski Resort, Hiking Trail, Natural Feature
Map View

At Club Andino de Punta Arenas, more than 15 ski slopes run across the park, catering for every level of ability. During the winter, you can sign up for lessons – one-on-one and group. Skis, snowboards and other equipment can be rented at affordable rates. In the summer months, nature-lovers flock for hiking, mountain-biking and riding. All this – and it’s one of the only ski clubs in South America to enjoy ocean views and panoramas of the city below.

Ponder the mystery of Lord Lonsdale

Historical Landmark
Map View
The wreck of the Frigate Lord Lonsdale beached at Punta Arenas, Chile.
© Peter Sumner / Alamy

South of the city, not far from María Behety Park, lies the ghostly shell of a ship. Lapped by shallows, the Lord Lonsdale shipwreck is an enduring mystery, inviting many theories as to how it washed up here. As various legends have it, the vessel, built in 1899, caught fire in the Falklands on a final voyage from Hamburg to Mexico, and was towed by a salvage company to Punta Arenas via the Strait of Magellan. Whatever the true story, it’s a glittery sight at night, when it’s illuminated.

Explore Cementerio Municipal

Map View

In the center of Punta Arenas is this curious local hangout: a manicured, hedge-lined cemetery that resembles an English garden or park more than a place of burial. Follow the cat’s-cradle of pathways that surround the ornate graves, unique cylindrical shrubs, statues and grand mausoleums. It’s free to enter, and you can easily devote a whole afternoon to exploring the expertly crafted, often avant-garde tombs here, in the southernmost secular necropolis in Chile.

Bird-watch on Isla Magdalena

Natural Feature
Map View
Chile, Patagonia, near Punta Arenas, Isla Magdalena, Magellanic penguins
© Nigel Hicks / Dorling Kindersley ltd / Alamy

Lying north of Punta Arenas and only accessible by ferry, Isla Magdalena is a highly recommended place to visit if you can get out of town. In summer visits are permitted to this lonely island, uninhabited except for masses of Magellanic penguins – as a protected reserve it attracts many species of migratory birds, and other wildlife. Tours usually included an hour on land, long enough to wander the pathways, perhaps entering the little lighthouse for great views.

This is an updated version of an article originally by Will Lees.

These recommendations were updated on July 26, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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