Before the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 Punta Arenas was the main port in the navigation between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans due to it’s location on the Strait of Magellan. Seemingly because of this legacy Punta Arenas remains a big and prosperous town despite it’s remote location. In fact the quality of life in the city is thought to be the 4th best in Chile and it population on average enjoys some of the highest incomes in the country.
The city was not touristy in the slightest (although we were aware this may change when the cruise ship crowd season begins) and the people seemly relaxed and friendly (certainly if our hostel owners were anything to go by!) We had loved our experiences of Patagonia so far but realised that a lot of the towns revolved around seasonal tourism – we were keen to experience what a few days in a ‘real’ Patagonian city felt like.
Similarly to Ushuaia Punta Arenas was colourful and pretty, but with a slightly more european feel. Despite the bad weather creeping over the city the views from Cerro La Cruz were stunning.
We liked these colourful signposts indicating the distances to locations around the world….. just a little over 13,000 km back to London from here then…
We spent most of our time just ambling around the city and finding some nice places to eat. We were desperate to get our last tastes of the fantastic seafood, especially king crab, before heading back north. Our favourite dish by far was a ‘Chupe de Mariscos’ like a very thick and cheesy seafood chowder – very comforting and satisfying on a cold and drizzly evening! Perfect paired with a Calafate Sour…. like a pisco sour but made with the juice of the famous Patagonian Calafate berries.
We visited the main museum – the Regional Museum of Magallenes – and were happy to be back in Chile where most of the national museums are free (and very good!) Inside a former mansion owned by the Braun Menendez family it shows how life in the mansion (and in wider Punta Arenas) was in its early colonial days after the turn of the century.
We visited the cemetery, which was as large and as grand as the others we had visited in South America.
With heavy hearts it was time to leave Patagonia, however we were comforted by the thoughts of (much!) warmer weather. We would have a brief stopover back in Santiago to revisit some of our favourite places there before starting the long journey up towards Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula.