Punta Arenas, Chile, things do to: Nine highlights


Punta Arenas is at the confluence of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, and has a subpolar, oceanic climate. Its average daytime temperature is 15 degrees and the surrounding ocean water is typically 2 degrees: no wonder no-one is swimming. Stay warm at Hotel Cabo de Hornos on the main square, Plaza de Armas, and ask for a room on the top floor overlooking the Strait of Magellan. The 110 rooms have recently been renovated, with stylish, cosy communal lounges and a restaurant serving Chilean specialities. See hotelcabodehornos.com


Cementerio Municipal is a graveyard with the glamour to rival Buenos Aires' La Recoleta. Its grand mausoleums and hedge-lined pathways speak of the city's fabulous wealth and its incredible hardships. Seamen who died in shipwrecks and young women, buried with their infant children, are interred here. Their headstones, embedded with photos of the mournful-eyed departed, allow you to people-watch through the centuries past. 


King crab, Patagonian lamb and cochayuyo kelp, guanaco empanaditas: the end of the world ensures a well-loaded table. Kick off an evening at La Yegua Loca with a Potro Sour – a pisco sour spiked with mate, South America's addictive, grassy tea, before moving on to a Chilean wine such as a ruby-red carmenere. The boutique hotel - its name translates as "the crazy mare"  - is set in a bright yellow, 1929 timber house. Book in for dinner on the terrace for views out to the strait. See yegualoca.com


In 2020, Punta Arenas celebrates the 500th anniversary of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan's discovery of the Magellan Strait on his three-year circumnavigation of the world. Just 27 metres long and seven metres wide, the Nao Victoria was the only ship in his fleet to complete the journey. Find a full-sized replica of the vessel at the open-air Nao Victoria museum, along with replicas of the James Caird, a lifeboat on Shackleton's 1916 Antarctic expedition, and the HMS Beagle, aboard which a youthful Charles Darwin began developing his theory of evolution.


A colony of about 120,000 Magellanic penguins congregate on Isla Magdalena from October to April. It's a two-hour boat trip from Punta Arenas and several tour operators run half-day tours. If you're short on time, flock down to the walkway along the waterfront in the city, which is lined with penguin lookalikes. Don't make the rookie mistake, they are cormorants. Between December and April, keep your eye out for humpback whales, too. See chile.travel/en


Punta Arenas is closer to Antarctica than to Santiago and was settled by Europeans in 1843 as a penal colony. The city's wharves host a vast stretch of murals depicting scenes from the city's colonial past. The houses of Punta Arenas are colourful beneath the grey skies of Punta Arenas, as citizens made do with ship paint.  Painting houses in bright yellows, blues and pinks is an ongoing tradition.


Before the Panama Canal opened, the Strait of Magellan was a busy thoroughfare shipping Patagonia's coal, seal skins and whale oil to the world, while fielding taxes and customs fees from the steamships that plied the strait. For the best views across the strait and out to Tierra del Fuego, head to Mirador Cerro De La Cruz (Hill of the Cross lookout), at the top of the city.


The little Museo Salesiano (also called Museo Maggiorino Borgatello) is stuffed with mementoes gathered by intrepid Salaseian missionaries including Father Alberto Maria de Agostini, a keen cinematographer and mountaineer. A national park and one of the towers of the Paine massif in Torres del Paine are named after him. Bypass the stuffed animals and whaling paraphernalia for Agostini's photos of indigenous Onas, Aonikenk (Tehuelches) and Yaghan peoples, most of whom died from genocide or disease, particularly during Tierra del Fuego's gold rush years. See museomaggiorinoborgatello.cl


The city centre is lined with ornate mansions, including Palacio Jose Montes (now the city hall), the 1895 Palacio Sara Braun, home to the then richest woman in Punta Arenas (now a museum), and her husband Jose Nogueira's mansion (now Hotel Nogueira). The vast monument to Magellan in the main square includes a bronze sculpture of an indigenous Patagonian man: kiss his toe if you wish to return (it's quite shiny). South American specialist Quasar Expeditions can add a bespoke city tour to its other Patagonian adventures. See quasarex.com



Punta Arenas is the start of adventures up to Torres del Paine and down to Cape Horn and Antarctica.  But do give the city a day or two to put the region into historical context. Punta Arenas also has its own time zone and uses summer time year around.

Belinda Jackson was a guest of Quasar Expeditions. See quasarex.com