If you’re doing a fly-cruise to Antarctica (like I did when I partnered with the tour company Adventure Life) or if you’re exploring Patagonia and Torre del Paine National Park, then chances are you will spend at least some time in Punta Arenas, an unlikely tourist town if there every was one. At first glance it may not seem like there’s a lot to do, but there are some surprises lurking beneath the veneer of this southern Chilean city.
There are only a few ways to get to Punta Arenas, plane, cruise ship or car by driving from Argentina. Oddly enough there’s no way to drive there from Chile itself. When I first arrived I expected a sleepy port town, but instead was met with a city of more than 150,000 people. A drive through the downtown revealed restaurants, stores and lots of people going about their daily lives. There aren’t a lot of hotel options though in Punta Arenas and my Antarctic tour company booked all the passengers at the same hotel, the Hotel Rey Don Felipe.
Where to Stay
Hotel Rey Don Felipe – Is this the nicest hotel in town? No, not at all. But it is one of the nicer ones and it was definitely comfortable. Three of the best features of the hotel are its location close to the center of town, free WiFi access and complimentary breakfast. Proximity to the main street in town really was a great luxury and made it easy to explore the rest of the city on foot. The WiFi wasn’t perfect, but much better than I anticipated and the breakfast was fine, perfectly adequate. But the hotel is a little gloomy and while clean, the rooms felt dank to me. It didn’t help that it was relatively warm during my visit and a lack of air conditioning meant somewhat stagnant air. But the staff was nice and polite and I can’t point to any specific issues with the property. Just be forewarned, it’s not the nicest in town and does have its drawbacks.
What to Do
Once you’ve established your lodging, it’s time to explore the town. The first stop is a common one in Punta Arenas, the central square. The Plaza Muñoz Gamero is an explosion of green trees in the middle of the old part of town, surrounded by 19th century mansions highlighting great examples of Spanish architecture. In the middle of the plaza is a statue dedicated to the 400th anniversary of Magellan’s voyage, a fitting tribute given the fact the city sits on the Strait of Magellan. Surrounding the statue are local vendors selling arts and crafts clearly designed for tourists. The park is the perfect place to relax, share a picnic or just people watch.
After relaxing in the park, make the short walk through town to one of the most popular sites, the city cemetery. Built in 1894, the cemetery’s main portico and high walls were added later creating a solemn but beautiful space. One of the main features of the cemetery are the hundreds of meticulously sculpted cypress trees creating scenes of quiet beauty. Walking through the cemetery is to walk through the history of Punta Arenas. Elaborate tombs and mausoleums line the walkways, featuring names of the pioneers who made Punta Arenas their home. Chile had a hard time finding people to live in the city so in the 19th century they brought in hundreds of European settlers to establish new lives. The names may reflect a European heritage, but there’s no question they developed their own love for this city. The cemetery is an ideal spot to spend an afternoon, walking along the tombs and enjoying a few moments to reflect in peace.
As you leave the cemetery make the short walk to one of the many museums in town, the Maggiorino Borgatello Salesian Museum. Started in the 19th century by Salesian missionaries, the goal of the museum from the very beginning was to highlight the cultural and ecological richness of the region. Located on the corner of Bulnes Avenue and Bories Street, next to the María Auxiliadora Sanctuary, the museum fills its 1,700 square meters of space along four levels of themes: ethnology, archeology, history and wildlife. A visit to the museum is a great way to learn more about the history of the area.
For a panoramic view of Punta Arenas and the Strait of Magellan, head up to Cruz Hill in the middle of town. On a clear day you can see the misty mountains of Tierra del Fuego in the distance but no matter the weather you’re guaranteed an amazing view of the city.
Where to Eat
You have to eat though, right? A walk through the downtown reveals a number of small cafes and bakeries where you can get a snack or a freshly made empanada. For dinner, the restaurants seem to be clustered in the same part of town which took me a while to realize. My favorite is a place popular among the locals but thankfully largely ignored by tourists, Remezon. The atmosphere inside the restaurant is homey and comfortable, with an old fashioned wood fired oven heating the room. The house specialties are local and organic meats and vegetables, all cooked to perfection. This is my top choice for restaurants in Punta Arenas.
A close by restaurant that is also worth a stop is La Luna. The menu features fresh seafood and Italian inspired meals and a robust beer and wine selection. The night I visited there were a lot of tourists there, but the atmosphere inside was still fun and lively. The food wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it was fine for a nice dinner.
For a decent lunch at a fair price, check out Gyro’s Pizza. I know, it sounds horrible but it’s surprisingly good. In addition to decent pizzas they also feature a wide range of locally inspired sandwiches that are quite literally the size of your head.
So there you go, some suggestions on what to do in Punta Arenas. There are additional museums in town and lots of adventure activities in the region if you have even more time making this city a great way to start or end your vacation.
16 thoughts on “How to Spend a Day in Punta Arenas, Chile”
Wow that cemetery looks incredible!
It really is, and the memorials are so interesting
You discovered the dainty Chilean sandwich :) I always have to remember to explain to people who aren’t from here when I’m talking about having a sandwich that I don’t mean a healthy little deli sandwich, I mean one of those monsters.
It was huge! I couldn’t believe it.No one can ever make fun of Americans again for portion control LOL
I don’t want to sound greedy, but that burger looks delicious right about now. I probably couldn’t eat all of it, but I’d try my best!
I am very glad to see this post! I am sailing for the Antarctic Peninsula tomorrow, but I will one more half day in Punta Arenas, and then two days when I return. I will definitely be visiting Remezon! Thanks!
Yikes, that’s a long time in PA! I’d honestly look into doing a day tour on your return. There are many great options and I think you may get bored with PA by that time.
Do you think is it worth visiting Punta Arenas?
I’m thinking either Ushuaia-Puerto Natales or Ushuaia-Punta Arenas-Puerto Natales.
Mind to share your opion?
That thick sandwitch is made for bears :D
Visiting Punta Arenas for that very purpose is IMHO not worth at all. the city has nothing to offer.
However Torres del Paine national park (5 hours north) is marvellous and worth spending quite some days there. make sure your credit card has a huge coverage: everything is more expensive there than in Switzerland.
we’re stuck here a full day in Punta Arenas because our flight back starts at 7PM — after havinf spend fantastic 4 days in Torres del Paine.
I have spent 2 hours trying to figure out what to do here in Punta Arenas today:
– penguins: but alas there are only 2 time slots to see them (because overday the birds are in the water) one at 6:30AM already gone, and one at 3:30PM too late for us.
– Balnes fort… it’s a replica… it’s an hour and a quarter drive… it’s not worth the ride.
– the cemetery (well I see my standards are getting down): yes I will go there.
– the Nao Victoria (Magellan’s ship)…. also a replica… but in the city: yes I will go there, what else?
As for food and a great view on the top of Cerro Cruz: TOQUES DE PATAGONIA yesterday night was very good.
Totally agree, wrote about this for people transiting through en route to other activities.
Quick question since you’ve just recently been up to Torres del Paine – I am doing some hiking there February 7-11 and just rolled the dice with a flight out of Punta Arenas the night of the 11th. I should be able to leave the park early in the morning on the 11th and be able to get to the airport in Punta Arenas in time right………right…..right?
I should’ve clarified – flight out of PA is at 9:20pm.
Hi Matt- over breakfast at my hostel in Punta Arenas this morning, I came across your blog post on what to do with a day here! Thanks for the info!! Off to explore ?
Was just in Punta Arenas briefly as was headed to Torres del Paine. When researching where to eat, I was delighted to find this post as one of my search hits — I love your blog, especially as a fellow Washingtonian! Took your suggestion and went to Gyro’s Pizza — holy crap, delicious! Thanks so much! And yes, to everyone who ever asks, Torres del Paine is worth the travel to get to it :)
I am an independent traveler female (58) are all these places within walking distances of each other? what about fort Bulnes? I will be going their shortly on a cruise can I walk to town from the cruise ship? is there a tourist map I can follow?
thank you so much for the info
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