We arrived in Punta Arenas from Santiago, Chile, on the way to a five-day hike. When we arrived it was cold and drizzling. I inwardly cringed, but I knew I had to toughen up because the weather would only be more difficult in the trek. Hikers usually hike and camp through strong winds and rain in the park.
Punta Arenas is a port town–mostly a place to visit on the way to another place.
A lot of tourists come through on the way to Puerto Natales (for hikes and mountain vistas), Argentine Patagonia, Antarctic islands, or Antarctica. Chilean Patagonia is called the Magallanes region after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. He stood at the top of a statue in the city square. Because of the isolation of the region, the people feel a solidarity apart from the rest of Chile.
Tourist activities from Punta Arenas include trips to two penguin colonies (one by land and one by water) to see Magallanes penguins, whale watching expeditions (several days long), and trips to Tierra del Fuego or Argentina. The free monthly tourist brochure, The Black Sheep, provides a lot of good information about traveling in Patagonia. It’s available from most hostels.
Through The Black Sheep, I found a sweet little restaurant called La Marmita. It’s warm and cosy. The waiters bring you little yeast biscuits from an oven in the middle of the dining room. They offer traditional native dishes (from the Mapuche indians) and vegetarian options. It appears they brew espresso as well. I ate a potato and carrot stew with pesto stuffed mushrooms. La Marmita is located at Plaza Sampalo 678.
Vendors were sellilng fruits and fish on the street corner. A fish vendor was right across from our hostel. The smell was awful, but they were doing brisk business.
The Punta Arenas naval museum is in a beautiful, old house. The displays of paintings of naval officers and ships in bottles are well curated, but there is not much to gain from the museum. There are more displays than historical text or narratives.
One oddity the museum had to offer was a chunk of ice from Antarctica presented in a special freezer case.
We stayed a day in Punta Arenas and took a 9:00 a.m. bus for Puerto Natales, the starting point for Parque Torres del Paine.