The Southernmost City in the World
Overlooking the Straits of Magellan, Punta Arenas in Chile is considered to be the southernmost city in the world as well as the third largest city in the Patagonian Region. Over the years the fortunes of Punta Arenas have been vastly influenced by the fact that it is strategically placed along a historic trade route, and different eras have left their mark on the city, making it a fascinating place to visit.
Punta Arenas (Spanish for “Sandy Point”) enjoyed a period of great prosperity during the California Gold Rush (1848-1855) when clipper ships traveling around South America stopped off at the settlement to replenish supplies. After the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, Punta Arenas lost some of its prominence as a port, but remains the gateway to some of the most spectacular natural wonders and historical and cultural treasures of the region.
The Plaza de Armas in the city center boasts beautifully landscaped gardens with enormous, ancient araucaria trees – a slow-growing coniferous tree that is revered by the indigenous people of the region. In the center of the plaza is an impressive monument in honor of Ferdinand Magellan known as the Monumento a Hernando de Magallanes. Visitors may note that the toes of one of the bronze Indians in the statue are well polished. This is because, in keeping with a local legend, touching these toes is believed to be beneficial and indicates that the person will return to Punta Arenas at some time in the future.
Visitors to the Historical Museum of Magallanes, located within the national monument of the Braun-Menendez Mansion, can gain insight into the history of the Magallanes region through a series of historical objects, photographs and illustrations that trace the discovery, colonization and development of the region. At the Salesian Museum on Bulnes Avenue, visitors will be introduced to the region’s history, indigenous tribes, flora and fauna, mineralogy and the work of the Salesian missionaries through the museum’s many displays and photographs.
The Patagonian Institute is a working research center for scientific and technological fields which welcomes visitors to explore the library, botanical garden, handicraft store and the Museo del Recuerdo. This museum showcases restored carriages, tools and machines that were used during the pioneering years of the region, as well as a maritime exhibit and a typical house dating back to the colonial times of the early 1800s.
The Mount of the Cross offers a spectacular panoramic view of the entire city of Punta Arenas, with its colorful red, blue and yellow roofs and sloping streets heading down to the Straits of Magellan. The wrecks of old sailing ships can be seen in the distance as well as the southern part of the Brunswick Peninsula.
The Magdalena Island and the nearby islet of Marta, making up the Penguins Natural Monument (Monumento Natural Los Pinguinos), are home to an estimated 60,000 breeding pairs of Magellanic Penguins, as well as a variety of other birds and sea lions. The Seno Otway between Brunswick Peninsula and Riesco Island is also a breeding ground for Magellanic Penguins and visitors are given the opportunity to walk among these interesting and amusing birds.
Stretching along the west coast of South America, Chile is a country rich in natural beauty, history and culture. If you have the opportunity to visit this popular tourist destination, be sure to include Punta Arenas on your list of places to see.