Punta Arenas and around

Capital of Región XII, Punta Arenas lies 2140 km due south of Santiago. The city was originally named 'Sandy Point' by the English, but adopted the Hispanic equivalent under Chilean colonization. A centre for natural gas production, sheep farming and the fishing industry as well as an important military base, it is also the home of Polar Austral, one of the most southerly breweries in the world. Although Punta Arenas has expanded rapidly, it remains a tranquil and pleasant city. The climate and architecture give it a distinctively northern European atmosphere, quite unlike anywhere else in Chile.

Getting there

Punta Arenas is cut off from the rest of Chile. Puerto Natales aside, the only road connections are via the Argentine towns of Comodoro Rivadavia and Río Gallegos either to Coyhaique and the Carretera Austral (20 hours; one or two buses weekly in summer) or to Bariloche and on to Puerto Montt (36 hours, daily buses in summer); it is quicker, and often cheaper, to take one of the many daily flights to/from Puerto Montt or Santiago instead. Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Airport is 20 km north of town. Buses from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas will only stop at the airport if they are scheduled to drop passengers there. There are minibuses operated by
Transfer Austral
, www.transferaustral.com
, which will drop you anywhere near the city centre. A taxi ordered at the airport costs US$13, while a radio taxi ordered in advance from the city is a little cheaper. There is a ferry service between Punta Arenas and Porvenir on Tierra del Fuego on the
Melinka
ferry (six weekly). Buses to Tierra del Fuego use the more northerly ferry crossing, at Punta Delgada (many daily) to Puerto Espora. There are also direct flights to Porvenir, Puerto Williams and Ushuaia. Puerto Natales, 247 km north, is easily reached on a paved road (many buses daily).

Getting around

Punta Arenas is not a huge city and walking about is a pleasant way of getting to know it. Buses and colectivos are plentiful and cheap (US0.60): a taxi is only really necessary for out-of-town excursions. Be careful not to confuse the streets Pedro Montt with Jorge Montt and Carrera with Carrera Pinto.

History

After its foundation in 1848, Punta Arenas became a penal colony modelled on Australia. In 1867, it was opened to foreign settlers and given free-port status. From the 1880s, it prospered as a refuelling and provisioning centre for steam ships and whaling vessels. It also became a centre for the new sheep
estancias
as it afforded the best harbour facilities. The city's importance was reduced overnight by the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. Although immigrants from Britain and Croatia were central in the growth of Punta Arenas (their influence can be seen to this day), most of those who came to work in the
estancias
were from Chiloé; many people in the city have relatives in Chiloé and feel an affinity with the island (the barrios on either side of the upper reaches of Independencia are known as Chilote areas); the Chilotes who returned north took Patagonian customs with them, hence the number of
maté
drinkers on Chiloé.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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