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A cruise to Punta Arenas, Chile, takes you to the gateway of Chilean Patagonia. You’ll often hear Punta Arenas referred to as the southernmost city in the world, and its location against the Strait of Magellan with a backdrop of the Andes does indeed make you feel like you’re at the end of the earth.
During your Punta Arenas cruise port of call, you can explore the city or head out into the wilderness. Discover the wonders of Patagonia and its myriad of fjords and mountains, rivers and lakes, and scenic lookout points from your South American cruise.
Plaza Muñoz Gamero is the central plaza in Punta Arenas’ Old Town area. It’s a picturesque square lined with 19th century mansions featuring Spanish architecture. A prominent statue of Magellan is located in the middle of the plaza, which was created to celebrate the 400th anniversary of his historic voyage. Adding to the intrigue of the square are local vendors, great people-watching opportunities, and a plethora of leafy green trees.
The City Cemetery of Punta Arenas is one of the most popular sites to see due to its history and beauty. The cemetery dates back to 1894 and features a portico entrance and high walls. Throughout the cemetery, you’ll find sculpted cypress trees, grand tombs, and mausoleums. Many of the graves here are for some of Punta Arenas’ earliest pioneers, many of whom came from Europe to start a new life in Chile in the 19th century.
This museum was started in the 19th century by Salesian missionaries who wanted to build a place that would focus on the cultural and ecological richness of the region. Within the museum, you’ll find a variety of exhibits that focus on ethnology, archeology, history, and wildlife. Anyone who wants to learn more about the area during their cruise to Punta Arenas will appreciate a visit to this educational museum.
During your Punta Arenas cruise, visit Magdalena Island, which is home to a colony of Magellanic Penguins. Magdalena Island has a natural reserve which was created to protect the penguins and other indigenous birds. Spend the day at the reserve and watch the penguins waddle around while surrounded by the incredible scenery of the island and Strait of Magellan.
Located right in the middle of town, La Cruz Hill provides an excellent view and makes for an exhilarating walk. From the top of La Cruz Hill, you’ll be able to see the rooftops of the city and the sparkling waters of the Strait of Magellan. Additionally, a clear day will boast views of Patagonia’s natural wonders, including Tierra del Fuego archipelago.
Explore the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica Region with a trek through Magallanes Forest. During this ecocentric hike, you’ll likely see some of the wildlife that call this forest home as well as unique plant life. Hike up Mount Fenton on a trail that’s just over a mile long. You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a panoramic view over Punta Arenas, Tierra del Fuego Island, and the Strait of Magellan.
Get some coffee made with Chilean coffee beans at one of the numerous cafes dotting the downtown area. Downtown Punta Arenas is also a great place for a quick snack, like an empanada. Other delicious items to eat while in Punta Arenas are cazuela, a type of stew made with potatoes, corn, rice, and beef or chicken; pastel de choclo, which is a corn casserole filled with meat, and Chilean steak sandwiches. The national drink in Chile is the Pisco Sour, and you’ll find it on the drink menu at most bars and restaurants in Punta Arenas.
Though its location seems remote, Punta Arenas has continued to grow in size over the years as its importance in maritime traffic and trade has increased. Prior to the construction of the Panama Canal in 1914, the Strait of Magellan was the main route for getting between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It lost some of its prominence after the Panama Canal was built, but today it is bustling once again due to being at the center of Chile’s oil reserves. It also owes part of its busy port ambiance to the cruise ships that visit it each winter (which is summertime in Chile due to its location in the southern hemisphere).
Punta Arenas is a tender port, meaning your ship will anchor offshore from the city’s harbor and you’ll be taken to Punta Arenas aboard a tender boat. The ride typically takes a half hour. Upon arrival to the cruise tender terminal, you’ll be met by inspectors for the Chilean Agriculture Department, who will check your bags to ensure you don’t bring any dairy products or fresh food items on land. The terminal where your tender boat drops you off also has a small café, bathrooms, wifi, and vendors selling local crafts.
Punta Arenas is home to numerous bus routes that take visitors around the city and to top natural attractions. The buses’ destinations are usually displayed on the front windshield. Ferries will also take you to nearby coastal attractions.
For the best shopping and souvenirs in Punta Arenas, head to Plaza Munoz Gamero and see what the local vendors who set up shop there are selling. Some of the popular souvenir items to look for are alpaca sweaters, jewelry with lapis lazuli crystals, handmade wood carvings, and souvenirs featuring penguins.
The accepted currency in Chile is the Chilean Peso. The best way to get pesos for your day in the Punta Arenas cruise port is at an ATM. You can find several by the city’s central plaza. Some businesses will also accept the U.S. dollar, and you’ll find that credit cards are widely accepted. Tipping in Chile is often already included in the bill as a service charge. If not, 10% of your total bill is a customary amount to leave.