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Whether your interest is culture and history, food, or the great outdoors, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Punta Arenas.

Punta Arenas has a thrilling air of remoteness, of being perched on the edge of a continent. Once you’ve left the tangle of islands and glaciers just south of the city, the next landfall is Antarctica. As such, the city has long been associated with adventurers and explorers, as many of its museums reflect.

In fact, Punta Arenas served as a penal colony in the mid-19th century, and later became wealthy thanks to a short-lived gold rush and a longer-lasting boom in sheep farming. Before the opening of the Panama Canal, the town was an important shipping port. Nowadays, it’s a freeport (which means duty-free shopping) and a laid-back base for adventure tourism.

From discovering the region’s history to exploring its fascinating wildlife and beautiful natural wonders, these are the best things to do in Punta Arenas.

Pay Homage to Magellan in Plaza Muñoz Gamero

Statue of Magellan at the Plaza Muñoz Gamero

Plaza Muñoz Gamero

In the center of this leafy square at the heart of the Old Town, you’ll find a statue of Magellan, commissioned to mark the 400th anniversary of his epic adventure. In August 1519, the Portuguese explorer set sail from Seville, Spain in search of a passage that would connect the Atlantic and the Pacific and establish a trade route to the Spice Islands.

The expedition lasted three years, and he did indeed discover the route. Now named the Strait of Magellan, ships could avoid sailing around the treacherous Cape Horn to the south.

After paying your respects to this daring explorer, you can spend time in the square, browsing the wares of the street vendors who sell everything from hand-knitted alpaca sweaters to wood carvings and anything related to penguins. On a sunny day, this is a great spot for people watching.

Climb Cerro de la Cruz

Visit Cerro de la Cruz, one of the best things to do in Punta Arenas

Cerro de la Cruz

Punta Arenas is mainly flat, but you can get a great view over the colorful rooftops from the mirador (lookout point) on Cerro de la Cruz, a small hill in the middle of the city. On a clear day, you can see the sparkling waters and wind-whipped whitecaps of the Strait of Magellan, as well as some of the rugged islands of Tierra del Fuego in the distance.

You can reach the lookout on a short but steep hike from the center of town. If you prefer to avoid the uphill trek, take a taxi up and walk down.

Read: Best Places to Visit in Chile

Admire Historic Ships at Museo Nao Victoria

Nao Victoria ship in Museo Nao Victoria, Punta Arenas

Museo Nao Victoria

A short distance from Punta Arenas on the windswept shoreline of the Strait of Magellan, you’ll find Nao Victoria, a privately-owned museum.

Its showpiece is a life-sized replica of Ferdinand Magellan’s original three-masted sailing ship. The Nao Victoria, under Magellan’s command, was the first ship to circumnavigate the world.

You’ll be catapulted back to the 16th century, when this remote part of the world wasn’t even mapped. On a tour, you can learn about navigation and daily life on board. Life-sized figures in costumes of the time add to the atmosphere.

There are two other vessels to admire. One is a replica of the tiny James Caird, the lifeboat in which Ernest Shackleton sailed from Elephant Island to South Georgia in 1916. He was on a rescue mission to save his men after his ship, the Endurance, sank in the Antarctic ice.

You’ll also see a replica of the Ancud, a schooner that claimed the Strait of Magellan for Chile in 1843 under the command of Captain John Williams Wilson.

Hike in Magallanes National Reserve

Visit Magallanes National Reserve, one of the best things to do in Punta Arenas

Magallanes National Reserve

The protected Magallanes National Reserve, just behind Punta Arenas, is one of the best hikes in Chile and a great introduction to the unique flora and fauna of Chilean Patagonia. In the forest, you’ll see trees and berries that are completely unfamiliar as they only grow here.

The lenga trees are a kind of deciduous beech species, often draped in a green-gray lichen called Old Man’s Beard. You’ll also see coigues, a spindly evergreen that grows up to 150 feet tall. Patagonian wildlife to look out for includes woodpeckers, bustards, geese, and Andean foxes.

The reserve lies at an elevation upwards of 1,150 feet above sea level, so a walk here comes with wonderful views. Take the one-mile trail up Monte Fenton for lookouts over the city and the Strait of Magellan. You’ll see the remains of old man-made tunnels along the way; these date back to the time when there was a coal mine here.

See the Penguins on Magdalena Island

Visit Magdalena Island, one of the best things to do in Punta Arenas

Magdalena Island

One of the best things to do in Punta Arenas is to take a trip to nearby Magdalena Island. This uninhabited nature reserve is home to a colony of enchanting Magellanic penguins. You can walk along the marked trails and watch the black-and-white birds bustling around, squabbling, building their nests, and tending their young.

The penguins have little fear of humans, so it’s your responsibility to give them space and let them waddle across the trail in front of you. This isn’t always easy when a curious individual approaches you and starts pecking at your shoelaces, but it makes for a great photograph.

Penguins aside, there are wonderful views from the island of the strait and the surrounding islands. On a clear day, the skies here really do feel vast.

Read: Where to See Penguins in South America

Try Local Specialties

Empanadas on a plate


Punta Arenas has a good supply of bakeries and restaurants where you can try local dishes, which are hearty, often meaty, and make excellent use of local ingredients.

For snacks, you can’t go wrong with an empanada, a pastry turnover stuffed with meat, chicken, vegetables, or even king crab, which is abundant here. For a sit-down meal, tender Patagonian lamb or a Chilean steak sandwich is a must for meat eaters.

Bowl of warm cazuela


You’ll see a lot of seafood in Punta Arenas. Try seafood chupe, a stew served in a clay pot, or the local king crab. Sometimes, crab is served gratinated (in a thick cheese sauce), the ultimate comfort food on a cool day. Cazuela, meanwhile, is a stew made from potatoes, corn, rice, and meat.

For desserts, try pancakes with manjar, better known by its Argentine name, dulce de leche, or a mousse made from the dark blue calafate berries you will see growing wild.

Wash it all down with a pisco sour, Chile’s national drink, or one of the many fine wines from the winelands further north.

Explore Fuerte Bulnes

Historic site of Fuerte Bulnes

Fuerte Bulnes

Some 38 miles south of Punta Arenas lies Fuerte Bulnes, a fort that was constructed by the Chilean government in 1843 on a rocky hilltop at Santa Ana.

The purpose of the fort was to establish a permanent settlement on the Strait of Magellan and to fend off immigrants from beyond Chile, specifically Europeans, who were showing an interest in settling on the strategically important shoreline.

The original fort has been long since destroyed, but the replica that stands here today is faithful to the 19th-century design. There’s an information center where you can find out more.

Take a Deep Dive into History at Museo Maggiorino Borgatello

View inside Museo Maggiorino Borgatello, Punta Arenas

Museo Maggiorino Borgatello Photo by Balou46 on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the best things to do in Chile is to visit the Salesian Museum Maggiorino Borgatello, located on Avenida Bulnes, to explore the human and natural history of Patagonia.

The collection is certainly eclectic. You’ll find mummies, shrunken heads, replica cave paintings, and exhibits concerning Patagonian birds and mammals.

There’s a section on the Selknam indigenous tribes who were first displaced and then brutally eradicated by 19th-century sheep farmers, including information on the myths, beliefs, and daily lives of these hunter-gatherer people.

You’ll learn about the waves of immigrants who came when Punta Arenas was a thriving industrial port, and about Chile’s relationship with Antarctica, including the research that’s going on there now.

Learn About Huaso Culture at Estancia Olga Teresa

Huaso at a farm in Chile


If you’ve ever dreamed of playing cowboy, or huaso in Chile, the Estancia Olga Teresa is the place for you.

Located in Rio Verde, a remote farming community, this working estancia gives an introduction to cowboy life, including a sheep-shearing demonstration. You’ll also be able to admire the herding skill of the farm’s sheepdogs and meet the cowboys and their horses.

Stay here for lunch and dig into tender, slow-roasted Patagonian lamb, baked empanadas, and fine Chilean red wine.

Marvel at Mighty Condors

Andean condor spotted in Punta Arenas

Andean condor

Another function of the Estancia Olga Teresa is in condor conservation. Part of the farm’s land encompasses the largest colony of condors in South America. You can take a short walk from the farmhouse to the base of the escarpment where the South American birds roost and lay their eggs on rocky shelves.

Andean condors are among the largest flying birds in the world, with a wingspan of ten feet. Because they are relatively heavy, they prefer conditions with strong wind, so they can soar on the air currents. Patagonia is perfect, hence the success of this colony.

Farmhands will help you spot these magnificent but critically endangered birds through high-powered telescopes and tell you more about their ecology and survival.

Learn About 19th Century History

Exterior of Museo Regionale Magellanes

Museo Regionale Magellanes

You’ll find the Museo Regionale Magellanes in the city center, housed in a former palace that belonged to the Braun Menéndez family. Learn about the lifestyles of wealthy 19th-century sheep farmers and admire exquisite furnishings from the time, as well as elaborate costumes.

The museum also documents the less attractive side of life in Tierra del Fuego in the late 19th century, when settlers attempted to “civilize” the Indigenous people here, leading to enslavement and persecution.

Taste the Local Beer

Austral beer at a bar in Chile

Austral beer Photo by Jorge Andrade on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Austral, the beer that’s sold all over this part of Chile, has its brewery in Punta Arenas, on Patagonia Street, where beer has been brewed since 1896.

You can join a tour to learn about the production process and enjoy a tasting afterward. Austral produces multiple beers, from the original lager to Calafate, with a hint of the calafate berries that grow wild here, and rhubarb.

After the tour, you’ll have the bragging rights of saying you’ve visited the southernmost brewery in the world.

Stroll Through the Cemetery

View of the Municipal Cemetery Sara Braun

Municipal Cemetery Sara Braun

While wandering around a cemetery may not seem like one of the obvious things to do in Punta Arenas, South American cemeteries are special. This one, the Municipal Cemetery Sara Braun, named after a wealthy businesswoman who was a prominent figure of local society in the 19th century, is no exception. It’s regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world.

Wander along pathways between beautifully tended trees, admiring the exquisite mausoleums and opulent family tombs of local aristocrats and wealthy settlers, including Sara Braun herself. Strangely, you’ll see a lot of English names, as well as Croatians, representing two of the biggest waves of settlers in Punta Arenas.

You’ll find the cemetery about 20 minutes’ walk from the main square.

Walk or Cycle the Costanera Trail

Gloomy view of the Costanera Trail

Costanera Trail

The Costanera is a paved waterfront trail that extends between the Hotel Dreams and the Monumento Al Sur. It was built in 2010 as a recreation area. The out-and-back route takes a couple of hours to walk, passing sandy beaches, wetlands, and commercial jetties.

Keep a lookout for sea lions, dolphins, and even humpback whales in the distance as you stroll. Man-made objects along the way include the rusting hulk of the Lord Lonsdale, a British ship that ended its days here in 1909, and the remains of an old jetty.

This is a wonderful photo opportunity, as it’s often occupied by dozens of seabirds. You’ll also find the obligatory Punta Arenas sign for that Insta selfie.

Wrap up warm if you decide to walk the trail as strong winds can whip in from the Strait of Magellan.

Paddle a Kayak on the Strait of Magellan

Kayak Strait of Magellan, one of the best things to do in Punta Arenas

Strait of Magellan

A kayak trip on the sparkling Strait of Magellan is a thrilling experience. You’ll be paddling through the very waters that Magellan himself discovered some 400 years ago, and looking at wild, untamed landscapes that have been inhabited for more than 12,000 years.

Throughout the guided kayak trip, keep a lookout for seabirds. You could spot gulls, Magellan geese, Fuegian steamer ducks, and cormorants. There are also pods of dolphins passing through here in season. Reward yourself at the end of the trip with a well-deserved mug of steaming hot chocolate.

Read: Visit Patagonia: Everything You Need to Know

Best things to do in Punta Arenas

Punta Arenas

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